Monday, March 7, 2016

Agency, Fairy Tales & Brainwashing the Younger Generation

Recently, I took my son to see a puppet show theater adaption of Hansel & Gretel. The sets were phenomenal. The puppets were not as emotionally-scarring as they might have been and the production value overall was fantastic. What wasn't so fantastic, however, was the play itself. To say the script writer took a few liberties with the original story is like saying a dirty limerick version of War & Peace captures the full scale of the original novel.

Just in case you aren't familiar with the original story of Hansel & Gretel (WHO ARE YOU!?) here's the Cliffnotes version: A woodcutter with questionable parenting skills and his murderous wife lead their two resourceful kids into the woods and leave them there to die. The starving kids stumble across a gingerbread house and decide eating someone's home is no big deal. The witch who owns said sugary cottage objects, tosses the little darlings into a cage and makes plans to eat them. Ultimately, Gretel saves herself and her brother by tricking the witch and shoving her into an oven. The kids live happily ever after. The end. Girls kick butt. Okay there was some crying in there, but ultimately, Gretel took action and saved the day. Woohoo girl power!

Now let's take a look at the version my son & I saw. First, the kids get lost in the woods rather than being led there because no way is that murdering your kids crap going to get past CPS. I'm willing to let this slide. It's a small change.

Next, the kids fall asleep in the forest as some crazed sandman imp cavorts over their heads like a slighter more terrifying version of Chucky and a host of angles forms a holy bridge to protect the kids in the night from ... well not Sandman Chucky 'cause they arrived with that guy. To be fair, the kids were eating berries just prior to this scene, maybe they grabbed some bad mushrooms as well. I'm still okay with all this, if really, really confused.

Fast forward to the gingerbread house. The witch strikes and tosses Hansel into a cage! Eek! She freezes Gretel with a spell, then goes off to get cooking supplies because apparently she doesn't keep that sort of thing around (her being a kid-eating witch and all). Gretel weeps. A lot. Her tears undo the spell and she can move! That's right, Gretel's super power is crying. Alrighty. But wait, the witch comes back before Gretel can do squat and Gretel pretends to still be frozen. That whole proceeding scenes was pointless because two seconds after she arrives back, the witch unfreezes Gretel.

Here it comes, the big oven scene. You can feel the anticipation. Gretel is poised. And yet ... she isn't. Gretel is genuinely mystified and saying she can't see any cookies in the oven. The angry witch peers into the oven and HANSEL TELLS GRETEL TO PUSH THE WITCH IN. *This is the point in the play where my eye started twitching and I began having the urge to stab things.

In geek circles in recent years there's been a lot of talk about something called agency. Basically, agency means being able to act on your own behalf. Far too often in fiction, comic books, fairy tales, and popular media women and girls have a distinct lack of agency. Women are not masters of their own fate. They are not in control of anything. Needless to say, quite a few women, myself included, object to that portrayal.

What makes me utterly furious is seeing a fairy tale that otherwise featured a female character saving the day rewritten to take away any agency she might have had. Her super power was crying for heaven's sake! What sort of message does that send to kids, girls and boys, in that audience? Boys are clever. Boys solve problems. Girls take orders and do what they're told. Girls cry a lot. Argh!

I read my son the real version of Hansel & Gretel last night and we talked about how clever both kids were in the story. Because that should be the real takeaway from Hansel & Gretel - that children, regardless of gender, can be clever, tricksy little creatures who defeat the bad guy and save the day.

My kids and I will be skipping future puppet shows at that theater. Maybe we'll stage a few of our own at home and my daughter and my son can both play the hero.

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