Continuation of Fairy Tales
Since the time of the Brothers Grimm, fairy tales have evolved tremendously and have not only been enjoyed, but also utilized and modified. Fairy tales were used in classrooms to teach young children to follow the desirable and favored behavior emitted by the protagonists, along with educating them on morals and ethics. Fairy tales, however, were also used as propaganda during the time of Nazi Germany, aiding in indoctrinating children to faithfully follow Hitler and the Nazi Party along with their beliefs and policies. The impact of fairy tales on modern-day society is significant, seeing as not only are they still present globally, but have been transformed into highly popular films.
The Grimm Brothers’ fairy tales were firstly present in the school syllabi of Prussian elementary. It is assumed by many scholars that fairy tales are taught in classrooms because children’s “minds are open to influence and instruction through what they experience and read”. In the Nazi era, the Nazi Party recognized the importance of fairy tales and their impact on German Youth, a social group that the Nazis saw as a target for their propaganda. During the time period of the Nazis, there was great value placed on the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tales seeing as they were a part of German culture that already embodied some Nazi ideals, such as for example, anti-Semitism, the belief that Jews are the lowest race in the social hierarchy and should be persecuted. These “classic fairy tales [were] re-fashioned by Nazi propaganda chiefs to recruit German children to support the Third Reich”. For example, in the Nazified version of Little Red Riding Hood, she “wears a swastika-emblazoned cloak” and is saved from the wolf by “a man wearing an SS uniform”. Cultural context during differing time periods effect how gender roles are portrayed in fairy tales, and in this example, the concept of the ‘damsel in distress’ was unchanged by the Nazis from the original Grimm fairy tales seeing as it promotes their policy of anti-feminism, the belief that a woman’s role is domestic and to bear future children.
In modern day, the most common form of fairy tales is portrayed in the form of movies, specifically from The Walt Disney Corporation. Disney’s fairy tales firstly consists of films made between 1930 and 1960 and considered classics, such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Cinderella. Classic Disney fairy tales are the films that closest resemble the themes and traits of the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tales and have female protagonists with the common traits of being young beautiful who are passive, obedient, and usually silent. Like the original tales, the women protagonists’ happy ending is from being saved by a handsome and flawless Prince. The antagonists, on the other hand, are also all women, however they are powerful and envious of the protagonist, going great lengths in order to get what they want. This brings to light that Walt Disney is reflecting the views of the larger society in his films, both idealized and flawed traits, where Disney made sure that specific traits were given to the female protagonists and antagonists so young girls watching these movies would learn and understand what traits to adhere to and from. This reflects the time period when these movies were made, reflecting similar beliefs of the German society in the time period of the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tales. Traditional gender norms continue to be perpetuated in fairy tales.
Secondly, there are also fairy tale films made between the years 1989 and 1998, known as the “Disney Renaissance”. The characters in these films hold only a few common characteristics with the characters of the Grimm Brothers’ tales, seeing as these films portray progressive ideas with strong female heroines. An example is the movie, Beauty and the Beast, where the female protagonist, Belle, enjoys reading and strives to learn more. Instead of sticking to seeking marriage and acquiring domestic roles, women have the freedom to question and understand the world around them. Another trait is that the female heroines have the power of decision-making, such as ones that defy authoritative figures. This can be seen again in Beauty and the Beast where Belle defies her father’s wishes and bravely takes his place as the Beast’s prisoner. From Disney, it is seen that female stereotypes from the 1960s have changed, and women are given more freedoms. These movies portray women in various roles, and people learn that women, aside from being princesses or villains, are also capable of heroic acts.
The third category consists of fairy tale films made in the 20th century, and these films show even more modern ideas, where traditional gender roles completely change. A prime example is the acclaimed movie, Frozen. In these films, the female protagonists journey on a quest and fight against a force out of their control, not necessarily an antagonist. This teaches the viewers that problems are not necessarily the fault of a person or people in general. In Frozen, Elsa’s powers are the uncontrollable force of nature that is the basis of the issue in the movie. These movies also show that the protagonists do not fall in love with a man right away or at all. Frozen even goes to the extent of ridiculing marrying a man instantaneously after meeting him, and this can be seen as Disney showing their viewers that true love actually takes time to develop. A popular view in modern day is that true love does not necessarily need to be a romantic love between a man and a woman. Frozen is also significant since it shows that there are different types of love, seen from Anna’s act of sacrifice to save her sister, Elsa – an act of true love. The modern-day fairy tales fit the popular view of society today, influenced by mass media and culture, seeing as traditional gender norms changed significantly compared to the original Grimm Brothers’ fairy tales to Disney’s 20th century fairy tale movies.
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