Not A Tale As Old As Time

photo of beauty and the beast pictures
I was born in the later 1980s and I grew up in the 1990s. Disney’s Aladdin was the first film that I ever saw in a theater. While my two favorite Disney films were Sleeping Beauty and The Little Mermaid, I also watched and enjoyed Beauty and the Beast. Not as much, admittedly, because Disney films are all about the villains, and Beauty and the Beast is one of those Disney films that did not have a “Disney villain,” but rather an actually detestable, genuinely villainous antagonist—Gaston. As a preschooler, I wanted to be friends with Maleficent, Ursula, and Jafar. I genuinely hated Gaston.*

Speaking of Gaston, who else loved the fate that befell him on Once Upon A Time? (And who else is totally shipping Belle with Ruby? Oh, that’s right. Almost everyone who watches the show.)

Once Upon A Time is not the only recent show to borrow from fairy tales. I am speaking, of course, of The CW’s Beauty and the Beast, which premiered a few weeks ago and plays on Thursday nights after The Vampire Diaries (a show which I absolutely adore).

Now, I love The CW. Vampire Diaries, Supernatural, Arrow, Gossip Girl. For every unwatchable Heart of Dixie, they have something that I look forward to every week. The CW has been very good to me. The Secret Circle was also just wonderful, but was for some reason it was canceled. And this year, Beauty and the Beast has taken its time-slot.

Unfortunately, this show is . . . not the best.

I found the pilot episode reasonably enjoyable. I love the leading actress (she was Lana Lang on Smallville, which was a great show if you can ignore the terrible writing and just concentrate on Tom Welling), and this show’s biggest strength is the protagonist, who is a detective, and her partner, another female detective. I love their interactions and their dialogue. And it’s almost primarily a crime drama, and I love crime dramas. Plus, the protagonist kicks ass, and I love kickass female protagonists. As you may have noticed.

It’s shortcomings? Well, it’s a reboot of the kind of the weird Beauty and the Beast series from the 1980s, but with a lot of differences. It borrows from Dark Angel (remember Jessica Alba in post-apocalyptic Seattle?). The crime in the pilot episode is directly stolen from a season one episode of The Closer. The type of poison used, how the poison was delivered, and even the motive for the poisoning.

But, possibly more importantly, the “beast” himself is just not terribly interesting. I mean, he’s a handsome guy. But his entire story has to do with his deep-seated anger issues which arose from being the subject of horrible experiments. I . . . I am just not interested in watching a show in which one of the main character has explosive outbursts of anger. It makes me uncomfortable, and I spend any scene with him in it feeling anxious. Not everyone feels that way, but a lot of the comments on tumblr seem to be that his behavior is “triggery.” And that’s accurate.

The CW is a wonderful network. But Beauty and the Beast just did not appeal to me enough to keep up with it. Does anyone disagree?

 

*Plus, “every last inch of him’s covered with hair.” Gross. I know that they didn’t have Nair or laser hair-removal (which, thanks to ambiguities in the English language, sounds like a process that removes laser hairs) back then, but they had scissors, razors, and wax. Pick one, Gaston.



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The Bechdel Test Is Good, Not Always Enough

photo of bechdel comic strip pictures
Two female characters in a film, television show, or book have a conversation with each other. The conversation is not about a male character.

Pass.

That’s how the Bechdel Test works. When I first learned about this test, I was horrified that any work of fiction might not pass that test. I mean, typical women’s lives, thoughts, and conversations do not revolve around men. I know this because I actually know women. It seems simple, right? And there are some horrible writers out there who apparently think that female characters only exist to further the characterization or story of male characters. Sickening and horrifying.

The Bechdel test does not always work to determine if a show has quality, obviously. It also does not determine if a show is reasonable in its portrayal of women. I cannot recall a single instance of Hermione having a talk alone with another female character in the Harry Potter series (like I even needed to name the series). This is because the series is almost exclusively told from Harry’s point of view in, primarily, a third-person limited voice. Basically, that means that few things happen directly on the pages of the books that Harry does not personally experience. And yet I think that most people would agree that Hermione is a strong, empowering female character.

The same problem might arise if a book’s protagonist is female but she finds herself surrounded by male characters. She can be a powerful female protagonist without having a female best friend—or even a female friend.

The Bechdel Test still has value, however (a friend mentioned that The CW’s critically panned but totally watchable and fairly enjoyable pilot of Beauty and the Beast, which aired recently, totally passed the Bechdel Test. So far, everyone, including me, loves the female protagonist and her female fellow detective but does not care so much for the Beast part of the story). And it can be applied beyond its original scope. Or adapted, anyway.

For example, two gay characters can be non-lovers and have a discussion that involves neither other guys nor various gay stereotypes.

The problem with sloppy (or just bad) writing is that sometimes characters exist to serve the plot, and so their lines are written to reflect that. If you want to describe a male protagonist’s body without making potential homophobic readers uncomfortable, have two women talk about him outside of his presence in a scene.

But that’s not how characters work. That’s not how good writing works. Conflict drives a story, but above all else, characters and their interactions with each other and their environment should drive a story and dictate the events. Everyone and everything should be well-rounded and complete in order to present the best story in a compelling manner. If everyone is reduced to stereotypes and exist only as shallow vessels for the writers to convey information, it weakens the story and does not do any favors for the sorts of people represented.

 

PS: I am a writer, and I checked recently, and even just from outlines, my first book definitely passes the Bechdel Test. But also, you know, more than that. It’s good—you should never have to consciously modify your writing to pass the Bechdel Test. There are a lot of interesting things in the world aside from men that women might discuss. And no, I do not mean “like shoes.”



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Spoof of Belle Really Funny … But Brings up Some Serious Points

So a recent YouTube craze involves “Advice From a Cartoon Princess,” which takes themes from “princess” films and plays them up in a way that makes the movies themselves—and the heroines portrayed therein—utterly ridiculous.

A few months ago, we ran a piece on the arguably misogynistic message sent by Disney princesses, which are not exactly empowering to women. Through the wonders of YouTube, this is being brought to the next level.

I should probably start out here by saying that Beauty and the Beast is my favorite Disney movie. First, Belle has brown hair, not the more traditional blonde or raven locks usually idealized by the stereotypical damsel in distress. Also, she’s a bookworm—totally love Belle.

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Disney Princesses Play into Gender Stereotypes, Set Bad Examples for Little Girls

photo of disney princesses

Humorous cartoons bring to light some rather harsh truths about the portrayal of so-called “Disney Princesses” in many movies made by the Walt Disney Company. One depicts the perspective of the princesses while the other looks at it from the princes’ sides.

The Little Mermaid
Ariel, a mermaid obsessed with the human world, falls in love with Prince Eric after saving his life at sea. She trades her voice to the evil sea witch in exchange for human legs, and is of course not able to tell Eric the truth about who she is (although she is capable of writing her name when she signs Ursula’s scroll, but whatevs).

Ariel: “It’s okay to abandon your family, drastically change your body, and give up your strongest talent in order to get your man. Once he sees your pretty face, only a witch’s spell could draw his eyes away from you.”
Eric: “Women have nothing important to say.”

While Eric is taken in by Ariel’s pretty face and sweet ways, he doesn’t seem bothered by her silence—in fact, he might even prefer it. And the fact that Ariel gave up every ounce of her true self—singing voice, fins, sisters, the little crab/fish combo she chillaxes with—for a man is really pretty disconcerting.

Snow White
Snow White is sent deep into the woods by a woodcutter who was supposed to kill her but lets her escape, where she finds refuge in a house of seven dwarfs. She’s pretty happy there, until the jealous queen poisons Snow White with an apple.

Snow White: “At first it may seem terrible being so beautiful that other women get jealous enough to try and kill you. But don’t worry, once your beauty attracts a man, he’ll protect you.”
The Prince: “Necrophilia is a good dating strategy.”

Yeah, it sucks to be so beautiful, Snow White. Karma, though … you’re a good person, you take care of the dwarfs in ways I don’t even want to consider, and then, okay, you end up dead for a while, but then a prince comes along so impressed by your beauty that he kisses your dead lips and voila!

Aladdin
So called ‘Street Rat’ Aladdin meets the beautiful Princess Jasmine when she leaves the palace to see the world away from her sheltered life. The two hit it off, but Aladdin is convinced that Jasmine could never love a homeless street kid. Enter Robin Williams as the Genie, and Aladdin becomes the rich and powerful Prince Ali.

Jasmine: “As a woman, your political worth is reduced to your marriageability.”
Aladdin: “Just lie, it’ll totally work.”

Yeah, Jasmine has the connection between politics and relationships figured out pretty well, all things considered. She was definitely the brains in the relationship. And Aladdin? He’s an opportunist—you lie and then smile winningly when caught, and it’ll all work out all right.
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