When we tell stories to our children, they become normalized and expected as elements of their reality. In the same way that a four-year-old doesn’t quite grasp the sleight of hand required for a card trick, they also don’t recognize when they are presented with false representations of reality. So, we can pretend a coin can exist and then disappear, and they buy it, much in the same way that they will just accept the binaries we put in front of them.
When a four year old is a boy, and watches a film in which no man ever cries, has a certain body type that might not even be healthy, and is told he has to “get the girl” to be a success in life, why would we expect him not to aspire to those goals as he grows up? His parents – for the time being – are the moral arbiters of the universe, so when they sanction an ideology, it’s unsurprising that the child will take it as gospel. Where then, is the space for development of that child? If from the earliest age he is indoctrinated with the belief that man falls in love with woman, and then begins to have feelings which put into question that dogma, there will be psychological turmoil.
Why do we continue to read our children these stories then? Well- it’s because they are stuck. They are stuck in our collective consciousness—as a society – because we grew up with them too! It might not be our fault, but we are conditioned to believe that these stories are somehow wonderful moral tales which will indoctrinate the leaders of tomorrow with all the correct narratives they could possibly need. Only, there hasn’t been a lead character of questionable gender identity, or sexuality, or even someone who isn’t perfectly beautiful. So, we teach our kids not just that it’s the straight, good looking, monogamous individuals who succeed, and also, probably more importantly, that any other identity actually doesn’t exist. Never confronting a child with the reality of the multitudes of varying human experiences is tantamount to instilling ignorance, and should be avoided at all costs.
Not only do fairy tales instill regular norms regarding the way we “should” behave, but they trap us into believing that we can’t be happy without money. As Marx would love to remind us, modes of production are controlled by the few, and cinema is simply another mode of production for the self fulfilling capitalistic ideologies permeating its creative output. The simple binaries regarding gender, sexuality, relationship type etc. all work because we already are conditioned to believe it. We are literally being controlled by a corporate elite, told what to think and who to accept, because it brings more capital into their pockets and out of ours. Cinema, but more specifically fairy tales (and their production in film) reflect a firm ideological stance of the majority of our society, thus morally and financially bankrupting us from the inside.
Fairy tales, we might say, are four times removed from the truth. They don’t attack any real fundamental truth, they don’t even show us our physical reality, and then—extending Plato’s original concern – they don’t even represent the truth of human experience. We are beings of many levels, almost everything is on a bell curve, and we can’t be stuck in one or another binary. So, stop reading fairy tales, and start thinking more critically about our culture.