Sunday, March 25, 2012

Cinderella Story in Real Life

Rags to Riches: the American Dream

Is Cinderella's "rags to riches" story possible? Can one go from a truly horrific life to a blessed one? In short, is the American Dream possible? And what roles do magic and marriage have in a rags to riches scenario?

In the various Cinderella stories we have read, the heroine is able to reach a better life using magic and marriage. In each case she is a "good" person: she is patient, kind, and intelligent; she does not disrespect those that treat her terribly, and she longs for a better life. In each case, a helper presents himself to aid the Cinderella character: a fairy godmother, birds, a cow, trees, etc. Each of these helpers uses magic to get the heroine into a good situation.

In real life, this magic cannot happen. The idea that a fairy godmother can turn a pumpkin into a coach is obviously not true. But are there other ways for one to go from rags to riches? I think so.

First of all, marriage is definitely possible as a means to improve quality of life. For an extreme example, look at a country like Haiti. Haitians know that if they can marry an American, they will be able to go live in America. This is not to say all Haitians are desperate to leave, nor that they all dream of marrying Americans; however this is a good example of how a marriage can really and truly take someone from one life into a completely different life. This exists within America too, surely, but we do not typically think Americans can be living as poorly as Cinderella originally lived.

I also think there are other examples of rags to riches that may not be perfect mirrors of Cinderella, but are similar. For example, many athletes can quickly go from being under-appreciated and overlooked to celebrated and famous (see: Jose Bautista, Jeremy Lin, Brady Anderson, Tom Brady, Jacoby Ellsbury, the Miracle on Ice team, etc.).
In Michael Lewis' Moneyball, two players in particular are presented as completely unwanted: Scott Hatteberg and Chad Bradford. Hatteberg, apparently too injured to play, thought his baseball career was over; Bradford, who pitched in a most unconventional style, was never considered a real pitcher. Billy Beane, however, saw through the "outer ugliness" of both players - an ugliness that is comparable to Cinderella's dirty clothes and lack of social position - and signed them to play for his team, where they became, like Cinderella, stars. In order for this comparison to work, Beane would have to be considered both the helper and the Prince.

Cinderella and stories like hers are important because they give people hope. They help people believe that if they keep working hard, pushing through, enduring and persevering, that one day they could be rewarded.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

It's a Sign!

Last week professor Rust gave a lecture on American Sign Language (ASL) and how it parallels fairy tales. Before his talk, if you had asked me to describe the relationship between fairy tales and sign language in one word, I likely would have said, "non-existent." However, I now know that the two subjects have a great deal in common.

Hopefully you remember me talking about the fluidity of fairy tales - each time someone tells a fairy tale, they are likely to embellish it and fashion it uniquely. In this way, although the story stays basically the same, fairy tales can look very different when conveyed by different people. Well ASL is very much like that. Even though the signs for words are pretty much the same, the attitude and facial expressions of the signer can reveal a lot more emotion. Thus in both fairy tales and in ASL do the "speaker" take the story and tell it as his or her own.

The coolest part of Professor Rust's lecture was the videos that he showed us. I never before realized that ASL could be taken to such an art form. For example, one signer mimed golfing a ball, using four distinct motions - motions, which, in fact, spelled out G-O-L-F. Another signer told a whole story of riding his snowmobile, crashing, recovering and continuing by using 26 signs which were the letters A-Z.

So if i had a thesis to this post, it would be : like fairy tales, ASL is malleable and fluid, allowing the storyteller to add his own ideas and inspiration, while still following the basic structure of the story.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Peer Review

Part of my MidTerm exam is to do a peer review of Becky Kaler's blog:

In my opinion, Becky has mastered the concept of the blog: she seamlessly combines personal knowledge and informal style with intellectual content to create articles that are clearly hers, yet not overly opinionated. For instance, Becky freely admits some faults - her preference of happy endings, for example - yet does not make excuses or avoid them, choosing instead to tackle them head on. While it is impressive that Becky maintains this informal-yet-academic style, what is truly astounding is that her work is so easily readable. Also, Becky's post titles are interesting and often witty.
If I had to criticize Becky's blog I would say that her style does not invite readers in; it assumes that the reader has some prior knowledge in the subject, and she doesn't always take time to explain an assignment before jumping into it. Also, a few of her pictures don't show up, at least on my computer.

In short, Becky's got a great blog, and I would recommend that you all read her at least once.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Polar Opposites

Rammstein is a German heavy metal band. Here is their official video for the song "Sonne."

This version of Snow White is very different from what most people are used to. Where is the Queen? the King? The hunter? The Prince? All are omitted. Instead we are shown only Snow White and her dwarves, who interact very differently than typically. Here, the dwarves seem to fear her, and are pretty much her slaves. She takes the gold they mine and snorts it, forces them to polish her apples, and takes other drugs with capital provided by the dwarves. In the end it is a falling apple, not the Prince, that awakens her from her slumber.

With the absence of the Queen, it falls to Snow herself to provide the masculinity in this tale (in the original, the absence of the King forces the masculinity to the Queen). Instead of doing the housework while the dwarves work, Snow forces the dwarves to do the work and provide her with what she needs. In this way Snow is a much more dominant figure - a fact reinforced by how much bigger she is than her diminutive (Joel-sized, some might say) workers.

However the video keeps many of the images that we associate with Snow White: apples, dwarves, Snow's clothing, a comb, and of course, the glass coffin. The coffin is even placed at the top of a mountain, as it is in the original. In this way, Rammstein is reminding us that it is still the same story; only the interpretation has been changed. Instead of being a completely innocent, perfectly cute, and thoroughly uninteresting character, Snow White has been turned into someone with an almost over-bearing personality. She has presence. She is powerful. In many ways, she is the Queen, despite where she lives.

While I enjoyed watching this video for the experience, I do like the original better if only for the lack of drugs and the clever disguises of the Queen.