Sunday, January 1, 2012

Does Liking Fairy Tales Make Us Realists?

For the record: great show.
Why have we recently become so engrossed in the idea of fairy tales? Some of it, granted, is the burgeoning of a genre suddenly popular. Mirror Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman, for example, were in what is charmingly referred to as "pre-production Hell" for years until interest in fables came around. Red Riding Hood, Jack the Giant Killer, "Once Upon A Time," "Grimm," "Locke & Key.""Fables." Movies, television, and comics once considered eclectic, literary nods are becoming hugely successful mainstream products.

Why? What is the root cause of this popularity in the first place? How did a few trepidatious attempts grow wildly successful in the first, and what is it about the concept of magical folk stories that fans the fire amongst the general population?

I remember an era of intense, explosion-ridden action films that left you feeling wired and hopeful for the future, specifically movies centered around the idea of narrowly averting world-wide devastation. This era was the late 1990s, and it's where Michael Bay cut his teeth.

Armageddon, Independence Day, Deep Impact, Mars Attacks! These were all space-based disaster movies released in either 1996 or 1998. Bill Clinton was reelected to a second term in office, our nation had a surplus for the first time, and peace talks between Palestinians and Israelis were actually amiable and preventing deaths. America was still cresting, and our taste in disaster movies reflected that. There was a hope for that slim chance at success in the face of impending ruin, and the belief that we are strong and brave enough to make a concerted effort at that chance and come out the other side victorious.

Near-Apocalypse movies are for cultures approaching their peaks, a possible collapse ahead to be overcome with the zeal of the present.

What indicates a society becoming cognizant of its own acme? Apocalypses are the turning point, the destruction we see as inevitable and the collapse that will ruin most of us. Only the strongest–those of vitality, cunning, and questionable ethics–will survive. Corporations and bureaucratic politicians are frequently to blame for the disaster, or at least exploit the downturn for their own profits.

The Day After Tomorrow, the Resident Evil franchise and the rebirth of George Romero's zombie sagas, Terminator 3. These are the end for most of us.Come what arguments may about who would die first, all but the barest, strongest, luckiest of us would die soon enough. There is no hope, no future but what you make, and the only ones capable of making that future are not us. We are not special, and we will fall the same as Egypt and Rome and England before us.

Fairy Tales are for a post-defeatist culture. We have accepted our mortality and are ready to move forward into a new age. Maybe we won't be in charge. Maybe we'll all agree together or maybe we'll be blown to bits somewhere down the line. We're still here, though, and there's plenty of life worth living between now and any possible future. We have to maintain our society without the promise of ever-reaching progress, because to do otherwise would be the only guarantee of failure.

Fairy tales are indicative of a wistfully, dreamily, hopeful people, a culture desirous of the quick-fixes and happy endings they do not in their hearts expect. Fairy tales are for a society witnessing collapse and struggling with the burden of actually fixing its own problems, willing to work hard and make tough decisions.

But in their escapist vacations, these people still yearn for a simple, elegant, magical solution to their everyday problems, one which minimizes the larger world's impact by superimposing a grander scale with different rules, different physics, and the import of various figures. We have no simple enemies, not even petty dictators; they are just men with some power. There are no cure-alls or incantations, no Midas touch to steady inflation, not even the promise that leading a morally righteous and unwaveringly goodly path will grant a being anything in return.

There are no rules promising us punishment to the wicked and fortune for the just. We have only ourselves and ourselves are not long-lost princesses.

But fairy tale princesses are lost princesses. And when they inhabit our world, they are dragged down like the rest of us. But unlike us, they are still empowered by the magic of stories. They can break the spell that holds them down and keeps them from expecting to live happily ever after, which while we don't believe, we secretly wish for as well.

Oh, wouldn't it be nice?

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