thinking big: feminism, media, and pop culture

Posts Tagged ‘once upon a time’

Forever Young, Forever Violent: Imagination, Sadism, and Once’s Peter Pan

In ABC Soaps, TV villains, violence, white masculinity on September 11, 2014 at 11:40 am

(Or, “Violently Inclined, Part II”)

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Phoebe B.

In many children’s stories, young men function as the site of imaginative production. Books from Peter Pan to Harold and the Purple Crayon are populated almost exclusively by young boys who dream big and create their own worlds. Boys’ imaginations, these stories suggest, are capable of creating universes well beyond the scope of their immediate existence.

In Harold and the Purple Crayon, Harold draws his own world. Max ventures into the land where the wild things are; the little prince sketches his way through adventures to escape the adult world; and Christopher Robin traipses through the woods with a bevvy of furry imaginary friends. And in Peter Pan (the book and the movies), Neverland is a welcome escape for young white boys and even Wendy Darling—a place of youthfulness, fun, and a little benign mischief. 

On this last point, the latest season of ABC’s hit fairytale mash-up Once Upon a Time begs to differ. Instead of fun and clever mischief, Peter Pan’s creative landscape is a site of destruction and violence run amok. In Neverland, as Pan says, nobody ever says “no” and violence is a casual, everyday occurrence. This Neverland more resembles the heart of darkness or Lord of the Flies than Disney’s previous Neverland versions replete with laughter, song, and light. 

In Once’s fairytale world, Peter Pan is a permanent villain. His island is cloaked in darkness; his shadow—far from the playful version in the Disney film—is evil and entirely capable of murder. The character has kidnapped hundreds of kids over the years to keep him company in his eternal youth, preying on lost and lonely boys by convincing them that no one else cares for them, thereby breaking their bond to any worldly place or people. He even keeps Wendy Darling in a cage as if she is his permanent possession, using her captivity to turn her brothers into Pan’s personal henchmen for a century.

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Two All-too-Similar Tales of White Womanhood in Once Upon a TimeGrimm

In gender, race on November 6, 2011 at 9:01 pm

Phoebe Bronstein

A few weeks ago, I watched the pilot episode of Once Upon a Time (ABC), one of the two new fall fairytale shows (the other Grimm (NBC), premiered on Friday of the same week). The basic plot goes like this: Snow White and Prince Charming and all of their fantastical kingdom replete with a myriad of magical characters—from Rumplestiltskin and the Seven Dwarves to Red Riding Hood and her gran—are cursed by the Evil Queen. The terrible curse sends the whole magical world to Storybrook, Maine on the very day that Snow White and the Prince’s child is born. But not to worry, the child is saved! Which is a good thing, as she (named Emma) seems to be the only cure for the terrible curse. In present day Storybrook (dubbed by the Evil Queen to be the worst place on earth, which seems a little unfair to Maine), the residents of the fairytale world forget who they are while remaining trapped in a world and town with no happy endings.

Once Upon a Time Cast (Snow White in White, Emma in Red, and Henry in the front)

Then on Friday of that same week, I came home from happy hour with high hopes (that I was fairly sure would be dashed) and turned on the new fairytale mystery Grimm, set in Portland, OR. This show maps Grimm’s fairtyales like “Red Riding Hood” (the topic of the pilot) and “Goldilocks” onto modern day Portland, with a crime drama twist. The main character, Nick, is the last of the “Grimms,” an ancient bloodline it seems bread to hunt down the evil creatures of the Grimm’s fairytales. So it turns out, that in this fantastical world, all the gruesome Grimm’s tales are true. Eek!

The Grimm Detective Duo

Okay so they are both modern day TV adaptations of fairytales, but what are they doing in the same post? Fair question. But here is why: They both participate in the cultural politics of elevating the white female body as both victim and martyr. Both shows, at least in their early episodes, rely on the presumed power of the white female body to enact sympathy, but also as the last hope of civilization. Put another way, she is the body that is most in need of protection, as she is the most productive body and thereby the hope of the future.

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