Beauties, Beasts, and a Lesson Most of Us Don’t Want To Learn


This is a good read, an important read, and I’d like you to read it all. Gyzym is gentle but firm in explaining why movies like Beauty and the Beast can be jarring for those who didn’t realize that the fairy tale is actually a classic domestic violence scenario.

That’s important to face. And for those who would rather not face it:

We can argue for media that doesn’t push the horrible shit we need to unlearn as a society to get to a healthier place, or we can point out the flaws in our preexisting media, or we can do both. But “Just shut up,” isn’t an option. “Just shut up,” can’t be an option, because we can’t keep playing the “Nobody told me because nobody told them,” card. Nothing will ever get better that way. Nothing will ever improve if we keep not telling people this shit.

People not shutting up and speaking hard truths to hear may have caused me some discomfort and made a few favorite films, songs and books impossible to enjoy without acknowledging their deep flaws, but those folks who said “No, I won’t shut up” and continued to speak the hard truths made me a better human being. When I get back to fiction, they’ll have made me a better writer telling better stories. And they’ve made me unwilling to shut up my own self, which may not be the popular thing, but is a necessary thing, so fuck if I’ll stop. Even if I end up with kids (not necessarily my own, mind you). Even if they groan and grump and implore me to STFU during their show. Like George Wiman said when he posted this link, this is “Why it’s important to do MST3K with your kids when you watch movies.” Because while there’s such a thing as willing suspension of disbelief, we need to be trained that suspending disbelief should be a conscious act, and revocable upon return to the real world.

Fiction is useless except as a panacea if we can’t use it to compare and contrast with our real-world lives, if we can’t use it to throw our conditions and relationships and societies into starker contrast, if it can’t help us think. Escapism is lovely, and I love engaging in it. We all do. But we need to be conscious what we’re escaping from, and escaping in to, and watch out that we don’t allow our lovely bit of escapism to subtly normalize very problematic things*. Performing the occasional MST3K exercise on movies we enjoy is good practice for recognizing problem patterns in life. It’s necessary for separating fiction from fact.
And for those who want to cry, “But it’s art! You don’t need to take it so seriously!!” I have just one thing to say: art was never advanced by people passively enjoying the status quo. “Just shut up” isn’t an option for life, but it isn’t an option for art, either. If you truly love art, you will give it no quarter.**

We can do better.

The Beast with a rose. Image courtesy Nieve44/Luz on Flickr.

The Beast with a rose. Art with a problematic message can still be loved and appreciated as art. It can help us navigate the complexities of our world. But only if we’re willing to engage it. Image courtesy Nieve44/Luz on Flickr.

*Read this link. I mean it. Miriam hadn’t even written it when I wrote this piece, but it’s like she’d read my mind and knew I had this post sitting in drafts, and wrote it for the line I inserted it in to, and it says much of what I intended to say, and more.

**Nothing in the above should be construed as advocating for the position that art must always faithfully reflect reality. Fuck that noise. When artists hold mirrors up to life, I like the glass to be at least a bit wibbly.

Comments

  1. rq says

    Took me a while to read it all, but I did. Lots to think about. Thanks for this post! You’ve hit on something I’ve been noticing more and more lately, through reading FtB. Your link is an excellent articulation. Lots to explain to the children when they’re older (separating movie from reality is already an issue we try to address, especially with the prevalence of violence and other nonsense in children’s movies – see Cars vs Cars 2 – terrible!).

  2. says

    A really good read (Miriam’s piece, too). I’m glad the piece you linked to brought up Love, Actually; I’ve found that I get yelled at when I express a dislike for a given romantic comedy because of its problematic elements. Sometimes there’s just too much of them to suspend my disbelief(/humourless feminism)!

    Also, here’s an essay I read a while ago about balancing the suspension of disbelief with critiquing media that normalize problematic behaviour: http://www.socialjusticeleague.net/2011/09/how-to-be-a-fan-of-problematic-things/

    • rq says

      See, I like the movie Love Actually. But the strangest thing is, I just re-watched it a month ago or so, and the first thought that crossed my mind (when it got to that part), was – Why the hell is he mad at her? Suddenly it all made so much sense. And yeah, other romantic comedies are also terrible. I think that’s why I actually like Music and Lyrics as a romantic comedy. It has its bad points, but overall, I think it’s a fantastic film (until someone comes by and deconstructs it, of course!).