December 11, 2005

The world is full of zanies and fools

Friday night, I drove to Camera City to see Drama Niece in a school play. She goes to a special school for the arts, and they take their plays very seriously. That means gorgeous costumes and set designs. It also means that they tend to actually stick to the script, which is most unfortunate, because they were performing Cinderella and the script could seriously use some tweaking to bring it up to date.

I couldn’t help but think of the changes I would have made if I were in charge of the play. For instance, when the king and queen were fretting over their son, wondering how they could find him a woman, planning the ball as a ritual of heterosexual pairing, I so wanted the Prince to walk in and announce that he was gay.

If I were Cinderella and I was trying to seduce a man, I think I would stick with the peasant outfit she wore in the first scene, with its tight-fitting bodice that showed the shape of her breasts, the lowcut white peasant blouse, and the brown skirt that kept hiking up to show bare nicely shaped legs. I mean, that whole outfit was just way sexier than the puffy princess dress, with all the frills, the heavy make-up, and her hair pulled severely back. That godmother sure as hell didn’t do her any favors.

The fairy godmother's dress was beautiful, pink and glittery, but she must get tired of always smiling sweetly. Even a fairy godmother ought to be able to have a bad day once in a while and throw a few lightning bolts around just for the heck of it, or tell the annoying whining Cinderella to fuck off. It is hard to believe that a woman would have all kinds of amazing magical powers and then use them simply to conjure up another princess costume.

Of course, I blame Cinderella for that. I mean, if you were a poor peasant girl and you had just one wish, would you use it to turn a plain yellow pumpkin into a golden carriage? Maybe she should have asked for college tuition instead.

The one good part of the play was that that it was not totally sexist. I mean, the male characters were pathetic too. The prince, who was not charming in the least and had not a single line that revealed any sort of intelligence, curiosity, or wit, had this pathetic scene in which he says he will never be complete unless he finds a woman. Specifically, he needed the woman in the princess costume he had known for ten minutes. It was all I could do not to leap from the audience screaming, "Honey, you need therapy!"

Of all the myths about romantic love that I detest, this idea that a person is incomplete without a spouse is perhaps the one I despise the most. Who would want to marry a pathetic Prince who thinks he is incomplete without a woman? Especially an arrogant Prince who just assumes that every woman would want to marry him. Who would want to marry the peasant woman who thinks her only route to happiness is to marry Old Money? Especially one who is as mild and meek as a mouse. Ugh. Fuck. I mean, fol-de rol and fiddle dee dee.

I think the fairy godmother was completely irresponsible. She not only listened to Cinderella’s pathetic plan to go to the ball, but went along with the plan. I would have had more respect for the fairy godmother if she’d slapped Cinderella upside the head. And clearly the king and queen should have swallowed their royal pride and sent the son to therapy before listening to one more sappy song about how he was lying in the loneliness of evening. Clearly, the prince needs to figure out who he is, and become complete and confident, a whole person himself, before he is ready for marriage. Sheesh.

The part with the glass slipper has never made any sense anyhow. We are expected to believe that Cinderella's feet are such an unusual size that no other woman in the entire kingdom could wear her shoes? Yeah, that is attractive. I thought the way to update that scene would be to make the item of clothing she left behind a bra. I mean, we all know that getting a bra to fit correctly is indeed difficult. And that would explain what the two were doing on the balcony during the musical interlude. If she'd left a bra behind at midnight, Prince's panting pursuit of her would make a bit more sense. The scene where all the village girls line up to be fitted, eagerly thrusting their bare feet at the royal guard, would be far livelier if it were a bra they were trying on. And unusually sized breasts seem somehow more appealing than unusually sized feet.

In the end, I guess I just had a hard time rallying enthusiasm for a heroine who acts the part of the helpless woman, sitting alone in her own little corner in her own little chair, waiting for a fairy godmother or rich man to rescue her. The only person in the whole damned play that I could admire was the evil stepmother. Okay, maybe she was a little bossy, but at least she had personality.


EmmaNadine said...

I'll never be able to watch Cinderella again. I have that same visceral reaction when I watch Snow White. Is it wrong of my to hope that is Drama Niece's next production just to read your entry about it?

Girl said...

My goodness, this is wonderful!

I like 'Ever After' with Drew Barrymore...the prince is still wishy-washy (but at least he is hot)...but Drew's portrayal of Danielle is as a strong-willed woman who knows the value of education. However, the best part of this movie is Angelica Houston as the Step mother. She is wicked and brilliant. I highly recommend the movie for her sake alone!!

Thanks for the laughs this morning.


RageyOne said...

Ohhhh...sounds like fun...reworking those children's classics to modern times. would I change Snow White & the 7 Dwarfs. Thinking deviant thoughts...

mindspin said...

Love this post.

As for that glass slipper, I have just the foot. Size 5, a bit wide, high arch. Not a winter boot to be found that fits. Since shoes in shoe stores generally don't fit me, I figure a glass slipper that fits me wouldn't fit anybody else.

If I were working with a group of young people on a performance of Cinderella, I think we'd start by reading the old script, taking it apart, and then writing a new one of our own!

peripateticpolarbear said...

I'm loving this. The bra that fits would really spice up the show. Dare I ask what part your niece played?

jo(e) said...

My niece was, of course, the evil stepmother ....

Lucy said...

maybe you'd like this awesome fairy tale retelling (Snow, Glass, Apples by Neil Gaiman):
also an excellent audio play:

wolfangel said...

Have you read 'Ella Enchanted'? Not the movie, which changed the plot considerably. At least some of those annoying elements were removed -- the quesstion of why Cinderella was so obsessed with a ball was explained, as well as why she stuck around as a servant.

Snow, Glass, Apples rocked. I love almost all modern retellings of fairy tales.

sheepish said...

So is that like a three-star review?

I think I'd greatly enjoy seeing your version.

New Kid on the Hallway said...

I second the _Ever After_ recommendation - I actually get huge kick out of the wishy-washy whiny prince. I love it when Cinderella saves him from the gypsies. ;-)

Terminaldegree said...

I have a love/hate relationship with these fairy tales, especially as interpreted by Disney.

My young students love to play Disney tunes, and I let them, because it keeps them practicing. But I hate, hate, hate "I Can Show You the World," from Aladdin, because how the heck is Aladdin, who's never been out of the city, so much more of an expert than the Princess, who has travelled all over the place? Sheesh.

I like your rendition of Cinderella. I betcha you could have a 2nd (or 3rd, or 4th) career re-writing fairy tales for a modern audience!

ehj2 said...


just a moment here ... i know you're mostly having fun ... and you know all of the following ... but at least give these thoughts some brief recognition ...

your interpretations are so masculine i worry that if i gave you pearl earings, you would think they were poorly made ball bearings.

this story is in service to one of the most important neglected values in the world; please don't simply creatively discard it without understanding what you're doing ... or you are indeed taking apart pearl earings to make ball bearings.

imagine that we have ignored the psyche for so long that we don't know her language or her strivings or even remember her symbols.

fairy tales and mythology are not about what is happening "out there" but what is needed to happen "in here" in the psyche.

of course the inner cinderella has fallen asleep, we keep neglecting to ever visit her "in here" while looking for physical treasures "out there." and without her ... and a marriage to her ... everything "out there" is meaningless. she's asleep for an entire culture ... an entire world. she's every feminine treasure (Spirit) we ignore for productivity and efficiency.

the dominant elements of the psyche are masculine ... and everywhere in the outer world we look, cinderella is indeed cast in the ashes, because this is where she is cast in each individual psyche ... in our strivings for power and mastery. "i'll take time for the Spirit tomorrow, today i must make money."

the story says most of us don't even know which inner energies to trust when we finally pause ... which inner experiences to listen to and "marry." there are many "still small voices" within.

the fairy tale leads the way ... with a motif from one of the most powerful myths of our culture ... the feminine power who can wear the glass slipper is the one.

the foot touches the world constantly, and thus is an inner symbol of "experience" ... good and bad. if you want to understand another's path, walk in her shoes. Jesus washed the disciples' feet ... and in this myth cleansed them of worldly experience. many were told, "if you enter a town that will not heed you, shake the dust from your sandals and it will be as if you were never there."

the glass slipper is transparent to Light (a symbol of purity and the presence of Spirit) and the gestures of the prince in fitting it to the inner feminine echoes the references in our religious canon. it is the inner feminine with purity and "clear" experience that you can trust and marry.

these stories (all true romances) are about an inner marriage of masculine and feminine powers ... the meeting of the inner King and Queen ... and the stories say quite clearly what the world (the psyche) is like until they meet ... a wasteland.

the inner prince without the inner princess is indeed lost ... and the two of them need all the help of every inner strength to find each other. the fairy tale says these forces will be present if the prince will but try.

look at the world around you and the plight of the feminine and tell me you truly believe this story has no resonance or relevance ...

just saying.


ehj2 said...

okay, a little amplification:

sorry to dwell on this, but good mythology is relevant to almost everything.

one of the most important motifs in the story is the detail about the evil step-sisters (who represent false inner values).

in authentic versions of the tale, one of the step-sisters cuts off a toe to make her foot fit. of course no observant and attentive prince would miss this ... and that's exactly the point. he's intellectually and spiritually lazy and takes home (into his psyche) the false value.

maybe he buys a more attractive house with pretty gardens, or some other cosmetic but ultimately unimportant thing. these are false values and ultimately they won't satisfy him.

speaking politically, george bush hasn't changed in the last fifteen years ... but many now wish they hadn't "married" him. if they'd looked a little closer a few years ago, they wouldn't have chosen and "taken home" a false value. he "sold" himself as truth and freedom, but he was and remains neither.

the psyche pays a big price when it chooses the wrong thing and the story says "be attentive to what you marry in this inner Kingdom."

i love the way the prince (essentially the ego) kneels in honor and acknowledgment of cinderella's purity (a symbol of the authentic inner value). he touches and personally confirms this value for himself. and the Kingdom is restored.

which means Transformation. tada.


Bad Alice said...

Yeah, I like what ehj2 is saying. I'm all for The Uses of Enchantment. I love fairy tales, because they have more questions than answers, and they're weird. Angela Carter's retellings of fairy tales are amazing. I know her collection was made into a movie, Into the Woods or something like that. Her Bluebeard's Castle sends chills up my spine (the original is pretty creepy, too). Also, Ann Sexton's Transformations are fabulous. However, I'm not bothered particularly by the lack of feminist values in fairy tales, mainly because I've heard the criticisms far too often, and by now the old stories keep getting reshaped and redone (as in the stories and poems I mentioned above). Disney can be cloying, but the women certainly have more backbone now than they did when Snow White twittered away in that helium voice.

And everyone's right about Ever After--great retelling of Cinderella.

Songbird said...

One of the most powerful workshops I ever attended dealt with the Cinderella myth in Jungian terms, particularly dealing with the development of the feminine in the absence of the mother. Some of the women in attendance had lost their mothers to illness at an early age, as had the workshop leader, Carolyn Russell Stonewell.
Her work is powerful and gives back the depth stripped away by Rodgers and Hammerstein and Disney.

oliviacw said...

Perhaps next year they should Into the Woods (Sondheim) as a counterpoint? It's all about knowing what you want and what you have to do to get it - and whether it's worth it in the end.

reverendmother said...

Drat! Olivia beat me to it!

Into the Woods is so worth a look.

(And I played the Baker's Wife in college!)

Yankee T said...

jo(e), I heart you. This is a terrific post.

jo(e) said...

ehj2: I think I was seeing the Rodgers and Hammerstein version, with some Disney elements thrown in. It was not a version of the Cinderella myth that would lend itself at all to your interpretation. I am sure that there are older versions of the myth that are vastly different than the shallow version that was written for a television audience.

Bad Alice: I think Disney still promotes incredibly sexist ideas and rigid gender stereotypes. Some of this seems to be almost worse than it was when I was growing up -- I am appalled at how much of the Disney Princess stereotype has crept into popular culture. Someone on a blog the other day was talking about how her eight-year-old daughter went to a "Princess" birthday party where the girls put on cosmetics and princess costumes, and practiced walking around in heels. I think encouraging such artificial ideas about what is feminine --and defining beauty in such narrow terms -- can be incredibly damaging. Not a surprise that so many American women are uncomfortable with their bodies.

ccw said...

Your ideas are fabulous! I love your proposed changes; it would certainly be more entertaining your way.

The bra fitting is so true, a bra that truly fits is a rare find.

Bad Alice said...

Joe: I think the princess thing has been accellerated by Disney's vast marketing machine. Every movie has product. And then there's the weird bithday thing (you've blogged on this before)--spinoff products are marketed for birthdays, and magazines then explain how to create these elaborate thematic parties. The big message seems to be consume these products (to be the perfect princess, have the perfect birthday, be the perfect mom). Train girls at an earlier age to want these things so they'll start buying them earlier.

Still, I find Belle and Jasmine a lot easier to take than Snow White and Sleeping Beauty.

halloweenlover said...

I am still laughing. I love that drama niece was the evil stepmother! Good for her! If she's related to you, I'm sure she has great personality ; )

delagar said...

Actually, the "small foot" is probably another bit of the anatomy, displaced -- it usually is, in mythology (see that interesting tale at Exodus 4.24, where Zipporah touches Moses's "toe" with the bloody foreskin -- that's some classic displacement right there, it's no toe getting touched with anything there, folks) -- anyway, in this fairy tale, it is not Cinderella's *foot* which is smaller and tinier than anyone else's in the land; nor is it a glass slipper she has to try on.

No indeed.

(You know what they say about men with big shoes. Heh. Heh.)

delagar said...

And can I just add, so long as I am here, that once you know what feet mean, in mythological terms, that whole Christian feet-washing ceremony becomes really interesting?

Bad Alice said...

Oh dear--now I've got the giggles. Delagar, are you saying that the Prince was a bit small, and so was Cinderella? Oh my. Or maybe Cinderella was really a fella. Now THAT would make one helluva play!

Dr.K said...

I'm a guy, but I'm having trouble with ejh2's assertion that "the dominant part of the psyche are masculine"--I'm surprized that more of the readers here haven't jumped on that one.
I generally don't have an appreciation for musicals, but I had such a huge, wounding crush on Leslie Ann Warren back when I was a kid that I watched Cinderella every time it came on TV for years. Oh, those big brown eyes! Man, she broke my heart. I'm also laughing about the shortcomings of the mild little prince, and about Cinderella's glass bra. I've also always felt sorry for the step sister who creaks.

jo(e) said...

Dr. K: I don't really understand the way in which ejh2 is using the terms masculine and feminine. I tend to use those terms to refer to socially constructed values but that doesn't make sense when talking about the psyche. And s/he is clearly not talking about the play I saw but something else altogether so I imagine most readers did not read the whole comment.

Delager: The things I learn from my readers!

Anonymous said...

I once played the fairy godmother in Cinderella and the Prince of Pollution, my 8th grade drama teacher's rendition. Cinderella played an environmental activist who worked to get the (possibly handsome, but that wasn't the issue) prince to stop polluting the environment.

Best current version: Cinderelmo, with Oliver Platt as the Fairy Godperson.

I am a Milliner's Dream, a woman of many "hats"... said...

Seems to me when I sang Cinderella in Rogers & Hammerstein's "A Grand Night for Singing", there was a line that said, "the world is full of zanies and fools..."

I think? :)


What Now? said...

Yeah, I didn't really buy ejh2's reading of the story, and especially not the assertions about masculine and feminine.

Jo(e), I totally want to see your version of the play!

Running2Ks said...

I never got a taste for the "rescuing" thing either. Life is not about waiting to be swept away.

dice_singer said...

Visiting via *statgirl* 's page and loving it! There are two kids' books that are updated fairy tales, "The Frog Prince, Revisited" and "The Paper Bag Princess" that I love to use when I teach an adult relationships course. I use both as examples of how our beliefs as adults about relationships would be different if the mythology around relationships we are taught as kids was different. And I love all the changes you would make in Cinderella!

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

Ursula LeGuin has a story called "The Poacher" in which a young man wanders into the Sleeping Beauty myth. You would love it, jo(e). It's the last story in the collection "Unlocking the Air."

Julie said...

Oh ha ha, a bra! Seriously, though, I really enjoyed the way you, um, unpacked the text. I have never liked the Cinderella story for a lot of the reasons you mention.