Thursday, March 27, 2014

Fairytale Fails: Awful Royalty

A while back I did a post on Disney princesses who have the potential to be awesome Ladies of War. That got me thinking about how many fairytale royals fall short. Here they are, folks.
1. Sleeping Beauty's Father

So here you are, running a pre-industrial era kingdom in which your textile production is dependent on spinning wheels. Many poor farmers supplement their income by spinning, or live off it entirely. The existence of spinning wheels allows weavers, shepherds, seamstresses, spinners, tailors, and merchants to make a living. Then you find out your daughter is cursed to die by spinning wheel.
Oh wait, no, she's not going to die. She's just going to fall asleep until a prince comes around to kiss her. What are you going to do? Introduce her to several princes at a young age so she falls in love with one just in time? Give her a crash course in spinning safety? Jumpstart the industrial revolution so you can do away with spinning wheels all together?
No. The king gets all the spinning wheels in the land, piles them in a big ol' heap, and lights it on fire.
You're just asking for a working class revolt here. And if you can't produce cloth, what exactly to plan on wearing for the next sixteen years?
2. The Naked Emperor

Speaking of naked rulers, let's talk about that stupid emperor. He's stupid enough to pay these alleged weavers hefty sums in order to make clothes he can't see. And if he can't see them, how does he know he's stylish? How does he know he's not wearing a giant pink T-shirt that says THE EMPEROR SUX HAHA? Of course, we can't place too much blame on the emperor because he comes from a kingdom of inherently stupid people. Except for one child who's smart enough to know what a naked guy looks like. Keep it up, kid. You're the hope of your sorry little country.

3. The Twelve Dancing Princess's Father
The King's twelve daughters have been mysteriously wearing out their shoes in the middle of the night. Never mind that he's a king who can afford however many shoes he wants. This is a serious problem. Apparently this kingdom doesn't have any of those annoyances that plague other countries-like war, famine, and whether or not his subjects have clothes.
So he tells all the princes in the land that they can marry the girl of their choice if they solve this mystery. And if not? They DIE. Yeah, that's a great way to build relationships with your neighboring kingdoms. Kill of their heirs. In the end, a random gardener with no experience in politics gets to marry the eldest daughter. That means he'll be king. Are you sure he's qualified?

4. Cinderella's Prince
So Princey is having the time of his life when his date runs off, leaving nothing behind but a shoe. Lacking any other clues, he decides to shove the slipper onto every foot in the kingdom so he can find his bride.
No, no, no. He danced with this girl until midnight. Shouldn't he know her name? Or at least her face? Why can't he just knock doors and look at the women? It wasn't even a masquerade ball in the original story. I seriously hope this prince is blind. That's the only good excuse.
Oh wait, he isn't. Because even if he doesn't know what she looks like there are hundreds of partygoers who do. And is Cinderella the only woman in the land with size five feet? Sounds to me like he could end up marrying some random chick.

5. Rapunzel's Prince
Princey number two is riding along one day when he finds a maiden cooped up in a tower. She has enough hair for him to climb up, but apparently she's never thought of using it to slide down. So they have an affair and everything's hunky dory until the witch finds out. So shoves the prince out the window and he falls into a thorn bush. Every part of his body is fine. He can walk away from the tower. But two thorns pierced his eyes and now he's blind.
Let's look at this logically. When I'm falling I put out my hands to catch myself. If it's from someplace high, I close my eyes. My hands should hit the thorns before my eyes. But Princey's too stupid to fall out of a tower the right way.
Also, if this tower is low enough that the fall can't kill him, why is Rapunzel still there? She could've put on thick clothing, closed her eyes, and jumped into the thorn bush. Or better yet, lower herself as far as her hair will let her and then jump. No injuries.
Anyways, Princey is blind and spends the next few years wandering around the countryside, living off roots and berries and other people's charity. Um, excuse me? Princes generally have rich family members. He can just go home. Fortunately, Rapunzel gets banished from her tower, meets her prince, and cries into his eyes. Then they heal, because her tears are magic, yay!
Oh, what's this? She had magical healing powers all along? Then why didn't she just jump out of her tower to escape? She could've cried to heal all those thorn ouchies.

I think I understand why monarchies are unpopular now.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Seeing Yourself in Art

I hate small talk. So every once in a while, I come up with an interesting icebreaker question and use it until all my friends have heard it. "What would you do if you found out your parents were time traveling assassins? How would you define yourself in one word-no adjectives allowed? If you were stuck in a room for thirty  years and all you could do was listen to the same song over and over again, which one would you pick?"
I'd been thinking over that last one for a while. I wouldn't want anything depressing because that would remind me of my own predicament. But happy songs would make me grow cynical. And really, if I heard a song that many times I'd go insane. I'd pick something long and without lyrics, like a symphony, so at least I don't have words drilled into my brain for eternity.
Then I wondered how long it would take me to insane. Listen to song fifty times and you'll think deep thoughts that never occurred to you the first time around. In thirty years, you could listen to a four minute song 3,942,000 times.
We naturally apply songs to our lives. When Taylor Swift sings about a very specific breakup with a very specific boy, it's our own love lives we think about, not hers. Listen to Evanescence and you'll remember every moment you've felt small, shut out, and alone. And if the song has absolutely nothing to do with our lives? After 3,942,000 listens, we'll find a way to relate it. That's all part of the descent into insanity.
But is it really insanity if we do it already?
Last week I discovered this song. It's about an anglerfish. Yet I see bits of my life inside it.
Hank Green did not write this song for me. Yet I treat it like it is. Just as I do every other song-and every other piece of art.  Why do we stubbornly insist on seeing ourselves in art that wasn't created for us, by people who know us, or with people like us in mind? Except for special cases-like love songs or poems written for dead friends-the only people artists create for is themselves. Yes, they create for fans, and keep in mind the things those people will like. But that's people-in-general, not a specific person.
You can only ever see the world through your own eyes. You can't hear out of any ears that aren't your own. But is it possible to experience art without thinking of yourself?

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Don't Kill Hitler

Whenever I talk about time travel with my friends, someone says that they'd like to go back and kill Hitler. "That way World War II will never happen."
Friend, meet Brick Wall. Would you like to bash your head into it or should I do it for you?
Killing Hitler would in no way stop World War II. You'r forgetting that it was a world war. We've still got Italy and England and France and Japan and Russia and so many other nations involved. Even if we could pull Germany out there would still be war. And why would erasing Hitler get rid of Germany? Someone would take his spot. With all the chaos going on in Europe they'd be dragged into the conflict as well. We would still have battles. We would still have concentration camps.
You know, Hitler gets all the blame and glory. Sure he is (mostly) accountable for killing 11 million people in concentration camps. But there were other camps around the globe. When was the last time you talked about the Lithuanians deported to Siberia, the Indonesians put in Japanese camps, and heck, the Japanese camps here in America? Granted, those weren't quite death camps, but they're not happy places either. Why do we want to kill Hitler? Why not Mussolini or the Hirohito? Or FDR? Or Winston Churchill? You could end the war, but the side you like may not win. Why not knock off Einstein? Sure, the atom bomb ended the war. But it's still a tragedy. Admit it, you don't want a happy ending. You just want your team to emerge victorious.
And who says we have to stop at dictators? If we can kill Hitler, who else can we knock off? When a serial killer shoots eleven people it's a tragedy. But that's not eleven million. Is it worth it to trade one life for eleven? For a hundred? For one?
Even if you can get a time machine and come up with a practical way to approach this, there's still the tricky business of shooting the man. He survived 42 known real life assassination attempts. Some of them by a very narrow margin. Most of them carefully calculated. How are you going to get close to the guy? He had ridiculous security as a politician. Do you want to kill him as an infant? "Sorry, Mrs. Hitler, I need to borrow your baby for a minute. Bang! You're welcome."
Say this works. Hitler is dead. Someone else is in power, and that guy shoves a few people into concentration camps, but not so many. Different people die in battle. Different people are spared. Let's say...fifteen million lives are saved. How many descendants do they have today? And what have they been doing? How many politicians lost an election to the grandson of a would-be holocaust victim? How many of them cured diseases, resulting in a million more saved lives? How many of them spread diseases and eliminated another million? How many of them designed new cars, new kitchen tools, new weapons? How many of them started new wars?
We like to think of history as a parade of politicians and generals. But it's not. Wars are won with soldiers and nurses and spies and bullet factory workers. Elections are won by voters. You want to destroy a politician? Kill their campaign manager. Kill their PR director. Kill a talk show host who had an opinion.
Any event that changes history is part coincidence and part cooperation. So if we do develop time travel sometime soon, let's not kill Hitler. Let's study history first hand. Let's save shipwreck victims and bring them to the present. Let's take pictures of our great-great-great grandparents.
Time is an infinite stream of change. One bullet wouldn't change the world nearly as much as we think it would.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Relating to Wanda

Last week my school's theater department went to state level with a short play called Wanda's Visit. It's about a married couple, Jim and Marsha, who have fallen out of love with each other after thirteen years of marriage. Out of nowhere, Jim's high school girlfriend, Wanda, shows up and proceeds to make their lives miserable in every way possible. I suppose you could create a character more obnoxious than Wanda-but I've never seen one. She's loud, whiny, messy, talks to much, and has no sense of personal space. She rambles on and on about her troubled, sexually explicit life, and forcibly kisses Jim in front of Marsha.
But she's also hilarious. The audience laughed at her more than polite Jim and soft spoken Marsha. I'm sure the actress who played Wanda had the most fun developing her character.
Halfway through the play, I thought, It's a good thing Wanda isn't the main character. She's unlikable in every way, shape, and form. The audience wouldn't relate to her. But then I thought, Who is the main character anyways?
Some scenes take place before Wanda arrives and after she leaves. That gives Marsha and Jim more stage time. If they're the first on and the last off, shouldn't that mean they're more important? They also turn and address the audience from time to time, something non-protagonists rarely do. But Wanda drives the story. She acts, Marsha and Jim react.
I asked my friend Lindzi, who played Marsha, but she didn't have a good answer for me. She agreed that Wanda drives the story, but thought that meant she's the antagonist. Marsha, Wanda's foil, would be the protagonist, and that makes Jim the sidekick. She wasn't sure, though. That was just her interpretation.
Close your eyes. Remember your favorite book, play, movie, comic, or TV show. Not an obscure one that's special to you and you alone. Something with a big fan following. Who is your favorite character? And who do your friends like?
It's almost never the protagonist. People like the love interest, the snarky sidekick, the vile villain, or the guy who gets the coolest death scene.
You spend the entire story line looking through the protagonist's eyes. If you don't like the way they see things, you pull back and say, "Nope, I don't like this character. This story's not for me." I've often heard that main characters should have flaws because no one can relate to a perfect person. But one of the most common complaints I see in book reviews is "I couldn't relate to the main character, he's too whiny." When I read these,  I wonder why this is even an issue. 100% of characters won't be %100 like you %100 of the time. Why can't we just appreciate main characters for their depth and complexity, like we do the sidekicks?
I've thought over Wanda's Visit for days and I still don't have a good answer. I think I'll ask the actors who played Wanda and Jim who they think it is. I suspect both of them will name their own characters because that's how they see the story.
Marsha, the prim, quiet housewife, is the most likable of the bunch. Jim's slightly attracted to Wanda, so he does a few things he shouldn't when Marsha's out of the room. That makes him lose sympathy points. And of course you're not supposed to like Wanda. So far as relatability goes, that makes Marsha the best candidate. But to be honest, she's boring. Wanda talks too much for Marsha to get a lot of lines in. She keeps walking out of the room to escape Wanda's chatter. We never get to know her. Lindzi called the character one dimensional.
Do main characters really need to be relatable? Or do we even need main characters?

Friday, March 14, 2014

Magic and Candy

On the way back from the mall today, I stopped by a gas station to pick up some tortilla chips. I've had this avacado sitting on the the counter for the last week just begging to become guacamole. When I took them up to the front, I noticed the cashier had the word MAGIC stitched into his shirt in the spot where names usually go.
Me: Is that really your name? Magic?
Magic: Yeah, it's my name.
Me: Is it the one you were born with or one you chose for yourself?
Magic: My name's Dave Magic, but there are enough Dave's in the word, and that's what I've always gone by.
Me: Do you know any other Magics?
Magic: Not personally, but there's always Magic Johnson.
I wanted to ask more. What was his mom's thought process? Do his brothers and sisters have cool names? Does he get teased for it? Does he go by Dave in serious situations, like job applications? But even though he was good natured about it I felt like I'd already invaded his privacy.
In ninth grade, my friend Camille and I interviewed applicants for our school newspaper. One of the seventh graders who wanted in was named Candide. When I read off her name, she told me, "I go by Candy." Camille asked, "If you could chose one candy to be associated with her name what would it be?"
"Reese's Peanut Butter Cups," she said without hesitation.
Her speed and confidence impressed me. She probably gets "What's your favorite candy?" all the time but Camille went for a more confusing angle. I gave her a higher score than any of the other applicants. Over the next week, I kept asking our teacher if Candy had made it on. It wasn't her name that caught my intention but her reaction to it.
I've always pitied infants who get saddled with cutesy names, like Rainbow or Bunny. If you're searching for a lawyer, discover Bunny Bates and Brenda Brown are equally qualified, who do you want defending your case? But maybe a name doesn't mean so much after all. Yes, it's the first thing people will learn when they meet you-or even before-but you can twist it any way you like.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Be a Disney Princess in 8 Easy Steps

1. Be born royal

Feel free to skip this one.

2. Lose at least one parent

But really, two is better.

What's that, you say? You'd rather keep your parents? Alrighty then. But they can't raise you.

3. Be raised in isolation

No friends or siblings allowed.

But pets are okay.

4. Be curious about the outside world

5. Refuse suitors

Violently if necessary

6. Despair

6. Get a supernatural helper

Or at least anthropomorphic animal friends

7. Boldly take control of your destiny

8. Find Your True Love

9. Consider coming back for a sequel

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Stephanie III: Or, Why My Family Sucks at Naming

If you're thinking up names for a child, and you notice one of them is on the Top 50 Baby Names-or, heaven forbid, the top ten, ditch it immediately. Here's why.
My mom had two older sisters, Stephanie and Susan. Both parents divorced and remarried. She got a half sister through her dad named Jenny. Her mom gave her two half sisters, Carolyn and Hailee, and a half brother, Garrett. Then there's her stepbrothers, Troy and Kyle.
Now, despite all the divorces and halfs and steps, you can pretty much keep this family straight. Then they had to go and get married. Kyle, who has absolutely no connection to Jenny, marries a woman named Jenny. Troy marries a Stefani. He knows he has a half sister with the same name and he doesn't care. They weren't really raised together. Then Garrett had to go and find a Hailey. She's nice and all, but I still don't understand how you can meet a woman with the same name as a sister you've known your entire life and feel attracted to her. When I meet guys with my brothers' names, my gut reaction is, "Go away! There can only be one of you in the universe."
Also, Hailey Walker has the same last name as Hailee Walker. You can tell them apart on paper, sure, but they sound the same aloud. Which lead to conversations like this.
Me: "So who's coming to the party?"
Mom: "Stefani Walker's organizing it, but it might be at Hailee-my-sister's house. Hailey-Garrett's-wife is bringing the kids."
Oh, and it doesn't end there. My dad is Steve. Steve Smith. The most ridiculously ordinary name in the Western Hemisphere. Oddly enough, he wasn't the problem here. My grandma, Sharen, thought it would be a good idea to name her daughter Sherry. It took me twelve years to figure out she wasn't named after her. Then she had another son, Michael. Michael married...wait for it...Stephanie. We call her Stephanie Ann to tell her apart from the rest.
And it doesn't stop there. My dad's sister Lisa married Nathan (first name) Taylor (middle name). They had five kids, Melissa, Jessica, Aimee, Taylor, and Michael. This makes family parties fun. Even though Uncle Michael goes by Mike, he still looks up when someone calls for Michael.
At least, that's what I thought their names were. Michael and Taylor were all pallbearers at Jessica's funeral. When I looked down at the program, I discovered my cousins were actually William Michael and Nathan Taylor, Jr.
It doesn't stop there either. Grandma Sharen dies, so Grandpa Scoop (real name Kenneth Wayne but that's another story) marries Cori. Cori has her own daughters, named Amy and...Erica.
Look at the top of this blog. What's my first name?
So let's recap: In my family, I have 3 Stephanies, 2 Jennys, 2 Hailees, 2 Nathan Taylors, 2 Michaels (one really William), 2 Aimees, and 2 Sherrys. This is why I refuse to think of the that other Erica as my aunt, even though Aunt Stefani Walker and Aunt Jenny-wife-of-Kyle aren't blood related to me either. I won't even get started on the almost names. Jenny-my-sister has kids named Jake and Emmy. I have a brother Jacob and a cousin Emma through Stefani Walker. If I think of that boy as Jacob, my head will explode.
I suppose I could have it worse. Marie Antoinette-birth name Maria Antonia-had ten older sisters, all named Maria. Sure, the Maria was mostly for show and they went by their middle name. But that didn't always help. Do you need a Maria Josepha when you already have a brother named Joseph? And a Charles Joseph? And if Maria Elisabeth and Maria Carolina both die as infants, that doesn't mean you need to pop out two new daughters with the same name. Their mother was Maria Theresa. All of her sixteen children-except for the ones who croaked early on-named their firstborn daughters after her. Maybe due to family loyalty. Maybe because they wanted to tick off historians.
People, don't do this. I understand if you fall in love with a woman and you don't care that she has your sisters' name. But don't go naming your child after relatives who aren't dead.