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The other day I was talking with one of my best friends about academia. And how it kills absolutely everything it touches. You like Dickens? Take a class on him, that’ll fix that problem. You’re a fan of writing about and analyzing interesting cultural phenomena? Go to grad school, so you can learn to write so well you’ll be unintelligible. Want to share ideas with like-minded people? Learn how to speak jargon so well that you’ll never be understood by humanoid life forms again.

Image Credit: http://cyrano.blog.lemonde.fr/2008/01/20/jorge-luis-borges-foresaw-the-internet/

You too can speak like a library with lungs, just like Borges!

Ah, sweet academia. Being outside it – at last? finally? unfortunately? – feels odd to me. For the first time in a long while, I find myself outside a scholarly community, living in “the real world,” even if only for two years, after which time I shall go to grad school and become a Slave to Academia once more. But this little respite prompts me to ask: is academia useful? For studying fairy tales? Folklore? Does studying something actually partially destroy it, as I’ve suggested elsewhere?

First of all, before you even say it: yes, I agree. Academics need to make themselves – and their work – more accessible. It’s part of the reason why I write this blog, and why I write it the way that I do. I write about what I’m working on, and I write to be read. Understood. Much though I love certain academic thinkers, they specialize in being obscure. Like Lacan! Reading Lacan is like doing mind-gymnatics: how well can you perform on the balance beam? Can you do a triple flippy thingy? Those who cannot do a triple-flippy-thingy are abject failures whose minds are worthless. Or so the prevailing attitude goes.

Some people seem to think of academia the way that Miranda Priestly thinks about fashion. Click here to listen to Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada explain it all, as she rants at her assistant for not caring about fashion. But fashion actually controls us all!

For those international viewers who can’t watch the clip, I’ve copy/pasted the relevant text here: Read the rest of this entry »

I’ve been thinking a lot about speaking lately. This is because I’ve been doing far less of it than usual; my Vietnamese is pitiful, and many of the people I interact with on a daily basis speak little to no English. It’s an odd feeling; I have this whole (crazy, nerdy, whatever) self that I am completely unable to communicate to the world. Same goes for those trying to speak with me, I guess, except their problem has less to do with “the world” and more with “that gal.”

So I’m a mute in my own life. This makes me think about fairy tales! And cultural crticism! Surprise! Joseph Jacobs – collector of English Stories from the late 19th and early 20th centuries – is my target today. Like many fairy tale collectors, Jacobs saw himself as preserving a vanishing tradition. England, he warned, was losing its folk culture due to industrialization. Also, and way more importantly, they were being shown up in the Folklore arena by the Germans and the French. SO not okay, people. But! In his otherwise rather pedestrian Preface, Jacobs says something really interesting:

Who says that English folk have no fairy tales of their own? […] The only reason, I imagine, why such tales have not hitherto been brought to light, is the lamentable gap between the governing and recording classes and the dumb working classes of this country–dumb to others but eloquent among themselves. It would be no unpatriotic task to help to bridge over this gulf, by giving a common fund of nursery literature to all classes of the English people, and, in any case, it can do no harm to add to the innocent gaiety of the nation.

Dumb to others but eloquent amongst themselves. When you first read it, it’s pretty easy to dismiss the comment as dated and classist. And in a way it is. Though Jacobs isn’t using dumb to mean “stupid;” Laura Gibbs of the University of Oklahoma believes that Jacobs’ comment refers to a lack of literacy in the non-governing classes. And this might be the case. But I think that there’s something more in Jacobs’ comment, soemthing more telling, even if there’s also a hefty dose of elitism mixed in.

Joseph Jacobs

I'm a bald elitist with a large moustache, but I still may have a point.

Thing is: the idea that the underclasses – for lack of a better word until later – can’t communicate themselves may have a grain of truth in it. But it’s not because of a lack of intelligence. It’s because of the nature of communication itself. Read the rest of this entry »

You hear it everywhere, don’t you? People describe things like “Twilight” as “dark fairy tales.” Romantic comedies are always “fairy tale romances.” Any book with love, magic, a fairy, a prince, even *a pony* must be called a fairy tale. I think it’s written somewhere in a Very Important Book. Does this make me shudder? Yes. What do I think we should do about it? Absolutely nothing.

I think that one of my pet peeves is when purists in any given field start whining about how the Great Unwashed Masses are “doing it wrong.” “They just don’t understand” seems to be the sentiment. Why can’t they realize that the fairy tale is a historical, literary form which sprang up from a combo of French Salons, “blue books,” German bourgeois culture, with a little folk culture mixed in? Now what’s so hard about that?

Here’s the thing: I think that the over-use of “fairy tale” should actually be studied as an interesting phenomenon rather than decried as something silly. People are using the words because they mean something, or because they think they should mean something. So what exactly is that “something,” anyway?

Let’s look at two of my favorite example of this phenomenon. I know you’ll like the first one: it’s that timeless Julia Roberts movie Pretty Woman

Pretty Woman

The Fairy Tale of Our Time

You remember that scene from Pretty Woman , right? That one where Richard Gere asks Julia Roberts what she wants from him, and she gives him that whole spiel about the prince and the white horse rescuing her from the tower. “I want the fairy tale,” she says. Usually, this is the point in the film when I have a stroke. Read the rest of this entry »

Psychoanalysis is no way of life. We all hope that our patients will finish with us and forget us, and that they will find living itself to be the therapy that makes sense.
– D.W. Winnicott, “The Use of an Object and Relating Through Identifications.”

Ok, so remember that post I did about fairy tales and psychoanalysis a few days ago? Well, I’ve been thinking about the topic some more. A lot more, actually. And I want to revisit the last part of that post, in which I posit that there is a way for people to relate to fairy tales that is not destructive; this way involves relating to fairy tales in a Winnicottian sense. That is to say: fairy tales can be used by individuals as objects.

Yeah, I know. This sounds a little heady to me, too. Also because I’m not a psychoanalysis type of gal. But! I realized today that Joss Whedon’s TV show Dollhouse actually has an episode that would be perrrrrfect for analyzing this phenomenon! It’s called “Briar Rose.”

Dollhouse: Briar Rose

Successful Use of a Fairy Tale

Ready? ‘Cause this is gonna get pretty fun.
Read the rest of this entry »

This is a post about how the word fairy tale came to be, and what it’s turned into. I would like to start off by warning you: I am no friend to the bridal industry. That doesn’t mean marriage: that means the commercialization of marriage. And what that commercialization has done to fairy tales. Here’s a preview: The following image is from Disney Bridal. They name all their dresses after fairy tale heroines. You can, in fact, even buy matching brides maids and flower girl dresses. This one is Giselle:

I might be sick...

I might be sick...

…okay. Anyways. To start with: Haven’t you ever wondered why the heck we call these things fairy tales? Many of them have no fairies in them at all…especially (my favorites) the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm. Where did the term come from? Who originated it? And why ‘fairy tales,’ for pete’s sake?

Well, the term was originally coined by Marie-Catherine Le Jumel de Barneville, Baronne d’Aulnoy, a French Baroness who was a great figure in the Salon culture of the late 1600s. She was the first person to coin the term “fairy tales.” In French, the term is Les Contes des Fees (tales of fairies).

For a fairy tale author, I dont look very happy, do I?

For a fairy tale author, I don't look very happy, do I?

Madame d’Aulnoy’s tales were – shall we say – not exactly for children.
Read the rest of this entry »

In Defense of Fairy Tales

Why do I write this blog, anyway? Why am I going to devote my life to studying fairy tales, writing articles and doing research that no one will ever know about or read? Why don’t fairy tale scholars do something more ‘useful’ – like cure cancer, or work at a battered women’s shelter?

Why do fairy tales matter?

It’s a tough question, actually. And tricky especially for me, I suppose. I was raised in a household where I was always told that I should grow up to give back to society. Studying fairy tales might be a lot of fun, but doesn’t seem to really give anything back to society. Or does it?

First, I want to dismiss the argument that a lot of people probably think of when they’re trying to justify their existences. The argument goes like this: “Well, it matters because it’s beautiful. Man cannot live by bread alone! Art and scholarship are needed, just like we need medicine and engineering.”

No. Art is a wonderful, glorious thing. But we don’t need it like we need medicine and electricity. And man can live without the artists, the writers, and the fairy tale scholars. Would they miss us? Maybe. After a while, probably. But taking away their doctors and engineers would be a lot more noticeable and hurt a lot more because society truly needs things like medicine and infrastructure.
Read the rest of this entry »

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