This past week our readings were focused on a series of Cinderella tales from various cultures. All these tales featured a “rags to riches” type theme and most an accompanying “don’t judge a book by its cover” moral. At their core most of these tales revolve around the struggles of a woman who is either driven away from home by a lustful father, or else is subjected to servitude and humiliation by her “evil” stepmother and jealous siblings. Eventually the heroine is freed from her servitude by a prince who, sometimes with a heroine’s helpful hints, finally sees through the “rags” of the heroine’s condition to her true inner beauty, normally with the aid of a conveniently fitting ring or shoe. The heroine of course marries the prince and they live happily ever after.
Despite a multitude of understated themes the tales offer to discuss (the dynamics of sibling rivalry, the heroin’s rejection of incest, or the sexual nature of the fitting of the heroine’s foot into her shoe) the basic “rags to riches through magic and marriage” setup of the tales is also worth examining. Though many people enjoy the tale of Cinderella, it would seem that very few take the time to consider the absurdity of such a theme. Perhaps there was a time when someone really could sit around waiting for a suitor to save them from their problems, but in our current culture the idea is unrealistic. A person’s success in life is no longer determined by their ability to find a successful spouse. With all but one of the tales revolving around a female character, the tale and its message are particularly demeaning towards women in their suggestion that freedom from hardship lies only in their own passivity and eventual marriage/salvation with a man.
I was very interested to hear what Dr. Rust had to tell us about the ASL story telling tradition. To begin with he answered a question I had held for a long time but had never actually asked anyone: How does ASL express tenses? He explained that verbs in ASL aren’t actually given tense, but are governed by indicators at the beginning of a sentence. So for example if you begin a sentence in ASL with “yesterday,” or maybe “once upon a time,” it is implied that the following statement is to be in past tense. Though it seems like a simple concept, it is something I had wondered for some time now and which is an important aspect of story telling. Besides this concept, Dr. Rust also explained the several most common types of story telling in ASL, one of which was Folk Tales. He also explored some other interesting ideas about translation from spoken languages to visual languages. While the translation of novels is difficult, he explained that the translation of songs can be perhaps be even more difficult as several words (in English let’s say) can be expressed in a single motion in ASL, which makes literal translation clunky and generally unimpressive. He also talked a little about the translation of obscure concepts as are expressed in the poem “The Jabberwocky” by Lewis Carroll. In this case translation often relied on the flexible nature of ASL and was expressed by the speaker through body language. Another concept Dr. Rust explained to us was the cinematographic nature of story in ASL which can employ anything from slow-motion, to close ups, and a sort of frame changing between characters in a story. While I understand the need to approach the topic of fairy tales in sign language from such a broad perspective, I was still a little disappointed that Dr. Rust did not get the chance to look at fairy tales specifically. I think it would have been interesting to see the ways in which ASL may have adapted to obscure concepts in fairy tales as it was forced to in the poem “The Jabberwocky.”
Despite everything Dr. Rust had to say about story telling in ASL I think the most interesting idea that he introduced me too was the idea of cross-cultural exchange between different sign languages. I think it is interesting that he spoke of ASL in almost the same terms as an invasive species might be spoken. He talked about the ways that ASL can infiltrate the sign language of another country and create discrepancies in the translation between a native cultures spoken language and its sign language. What I would be most interested to explore would be the cultural or linguistic features of a country and its language that cause its signing population to adopt or reject different parts of ASL. I would also be very interested to explore the shortcomings of ASL in another country if it was unable to evolve to meet the communicative needs of its speakers.
For today’s midterm we were asked to read and review the blog of the person who sits to our left in class, which means I had the pleasure to read through Mary’s blog at http://mcfairytales.blogspot.com.
Overall I was very interested in what she had to say. I share her trouble of remembering stories and tales from my childhood, and so a feel that in some ways we are probably approaching some of these tales from the same uninformed perspective. I was especially interested in reading what she had to say in her comparison of “The Tiger’s Bride” and “Cupid and Psyche,” not just because “The Tiger’s Bride” is my favorite tale we have read in class so far, but also because I am impressed with the connections she made; connections I myself didn’t make while writing the same assignment in the context of a different comparison. I was also interested in the way she found to analyze her Little Red Riding Hood. I came across the same cartoon while I was looking and at the time thought the cartoon had very little to offer a scholarly or analytical point of view. I would not have thought to compare the image to other common images, and conclude from this comparison the most typical depiction of such a well known tale. I would have been interested to read a further examination of possibly why this scene is so popular as a representative of the tale.
The thing I think I can most take away from Mary’s writing however is her personable style. I know I have a tendency to write in a very straightforward style which can sometimes get rather dry. Perhaps if I were to take a page out of Mary’s book (or blog so to speak) I might find that even I enjoy writing a little more.
Rammstein’s music video for they’re song “Sonne” represents an interesting twist in the tradition of the Brothers Grimm tale “Snow White.” While the tale is recognizable in the music video, it varies from the Grimm version on several details. The most notable of these variances is perhaps the absence of the Evil Stepmother/Queen figure. In the Grimm version of the tale, as well as in others, the Queen is a the center of the tale’s action, to such an extent that some analysts have suggested the tale would be more aptly named “Snow White and the Evil Queen.” Interestingly, although Rammstein does cut out the character of the Queen, the character qualities of the queen are still very present in this version and are embodied in Snow White herself. Snow White is depicted in the video as cruel and cold, manipulating and abusing the dwarves she lives with. To draw a further connection between the qualities traditionally assigned to the Queen and embodied in Snow White in this version, Snow White treats the dwarves like her children, spanking them and comforting them. The fact that she is cruel as well, and that she is obviously not their natural mother, makes her into an archetypal evil stepmother figure. Snow White also performs actions previously performed by the Queen in the Grimm version. At one point we see Snow White admiring herself in a full length mirror held up by the dwarves. She also in the end is the agent of her own poisoning, though not by an apple. It is interesting that Rammstein was compelled to take the beloved Snow White character and imbue her with the traditional evil qualities of the Queen. They are so similar we are forced to ask which character, the Queen or Snow White, Rammstein was hoping to portray, and also if the distinction between the two is important. Perhaps it is as some fairy tale analysts have suggested and in actuality Snow White and the Queen are two halves of the same coin, reflecting the passive acceptance of misogynistic societal limitations in stark contrast to the desire to rebel against them.