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Tacit Acceptance of Prince Charming

February 15, 2012

A child is born, a sweet baby girl with tiny fingers and a tiny voice. She is born to a single mother, a hard-working woman who plays the hand life has dealt her without shying away from her responsibilities. The girl begins to grow. First she can walk, tottering like a frightened robot. Then, before her mother knows what is happening, the girl can talk. The child is sweet, not overly intelligent, but not a bag of bricks either. Her mother reads her stories at night before sending her to sleep, fantastic tales of gallant youths that stand defiantly before dragons and charming tales of princesses that live in luxuriant castles waiting for the hero to come. Of course, a hard-working mother cannot be there every waking moment to engage with her daughter or entertain her. So, at the times when she is not in her mother’s immediate care, a grandparent, an aunt, and even the mother herself turn to that magic nanny, friend and enchanter, teacher and deity, the television. Of course it is at the foot of this wise old enchanter that the girl learns about life. She is introduced to the new fairy tale. She is taught the alphabet by surreal blue puppets. She learns the dangers of strangers from a soft-spoken man who is never satisfied with his sweater. She is informed of the virtue of inquisitiveness from a wisecracking backpack and a stoat with an eye patch. But her most favorite, prompted in part by well-meaning relatives, are the ones with the princesses.

The formula is simple. A princess, or a young girl who the filmmakers make clear has all the qualities of a princess but is steeped in poverty, feels out of place in her environment. While her friends or parents (if any are still alive) are happy to live in their workaday lives, the princess (or soon-to-be-princess) is not. She longs for something more. Something intangible that is just over the horizon. The princess is both beautiful and intelligent with an independent mind that is the bane of both guardians and suitors alike. But then, a hero appears, sometimes arriving in the guise of a hapless goof who is only trying to prove his mettle. The princess is at first turned off by this bumbler/freak/hero. But as he performs impossible feat after impossible feat while at the same time displaying a glowing inner goodness, her heart begins to melt and she realizes that the intangible thing she was wishing for in the beginning was this lovable goof who is actually a hero. She sets aside her independence and embraces completeness with her prince. They stare/ride into the sunset and the credits roll.

The girl, like most children given the chance, watches these movies over and over, idolizing the beautiful princesses. She is encouraged in this by the same well-meaning relatives, due in part to the fact that it makes buying Christmas and birthday gifts that much easier. She is kitted out in the branded clothes and given the dolls to play with, the harmless fun of being a child.

There is a fundamental message here, though, that is anything but harmless. It is a message that follows the girl from the cradle to the grave and is so entrenched in our culture that to question it guarantees relegation to the fringes of society, irrelevant to the national, and now global conversation. The message is one that permeates movies, music, books and political discourse. And while this essay may be directed toward the feminine side, the message is not gender specific. The message is this: to be independently minded, beautiful and intelligent is not enough. No one is complete who is alone. It is a crushing belief. There is no way to satisfy its demands. If you are alone, you are not enough. Therefore you must find someone with whom to share your life. The media in all its forms would have you fall in love, find a smoldering passion with someone that you loved at first sight. It is, on the whole, an impossible task. Even if it does happen, maintaining that onscreen chemistry for the entirety of a marriage is out of the question.

The princess movies are problematic in several ways. There is the notion that the heroine is less than human without a mate. It can color a child’s worldview, setting unrealistic expectations on reality. In the case of our young girl with the hardworking single mom, the child may unconsciously view her own mother through the unreal lens of the princess film. Her mother is alone; her mother is inadequate. One might hope that the girl would grow out of such beliefs but then she is followed into adulthood by a staggering amount of adult media, chick-lit, romance novels, the increasingly popular teen romance novel, romantic comedies, romantic dramas and several others that propagate the misconception that a person is not a person that does not want to be with another person. It is a recipe for unhappiness. The aftermath of these fictional relationships is never portrayed or is glossed over. Where is the scene portraying a tense couple silently eating with the only sound to accompany their meal being their own mastication? Where is the movie that has the wife relegated to the role of a maid that performs the occasional sex act when she can distract her once active husband from the computer long enough to notice her? Where is the show that portrays tumult in a relationship as a problem that cannot be wrapped up in twenty-two minutes with commercials? Where is the book that tells you love is similar to the popular symbol for a heart, the one shaped like two swans facing each other? It bears almost no relation to the shape of an actual heart. Likewise, the popular notion of love bears almost no relation to commitment. The love that we are told to strive for has much more in common with lust, but it is dressed in the clothes of a princess and hero. True love cannot come from someone that only feels complete when they are with another person. Once a person has become comfortable with who they are and aware of the fact that there is no shame in being alone and independent, then they can truly learn to love.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 2, 2012 9:44 am

    I was just thinking this morning of how there is this model of happiness we all long for in the form of a happy smiling family unit and how loneliness is a bad thing everywhere, everything you write here is what i have been thinking a lot about.

  2. March 2, 2012 10:16 am

    Thanks for reading. I would love to hear your articulations on this subject. It is something I spend a lot of time with.

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