Sunday, December 26, 2004

No sex, lots of violence: the Grimm roots of American media

A guest post from S. -- the first time I've been able to blog-capture one of her wonderful insights:

It’s a commonplace that the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tales are now considered excessively violent. Birds peck out the eyes of Cinderella’s stepsisters; Snow White’s stepmother is made to wear red-hot iron slippers and dance to the death; and Rumpelstiltskin literally rips himself in two in his anger.

The Brothers modified the oral tradition to expunge sexual elements, tighten the narrative structure, and introduce a moral element (see Jack Zipes’ translation and introduction to the tales). For example, in the 1812 edition, Rapunzel’s liaison with the prince is discovered through her remark:

“Tell me, Mother Gothel, why do you think my clothes have become too tight for me and no longer fit?”

By 1857, this is revised to:

“Mother Gothel, how is it that you’re much heavier than the prince?”

Now consider the norms for US television:

· No sex.
· High levels of violence.
· Every 30-minute show finishes with a neat moral.

Not much that I can see has changed from the 19th-century bourgeois temperament.

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