Blog Post 7: Storytelling in ASL

In class on Thursday, Dr. Mark Rust from the Department of Deaf Education spoke about storytelling in American Sign Language (ASL). It was fascinating.  Basically everything in this blog post is new information courtesy of this lecture.  I really enjoyed it.  I haven’t had much experience with ASL, so it was great to learn more about it.

So far, we’ve talked a lot about the origins of fairy tales and folk tales through the oral tradition.  English is an auditory language, as Dr. Rust pointed out, and even literature is just a representation of that.  In ASL, stories are told visually, so there is a visual history rather than an oral one.  This means that it’s difficult to transcribe ASL into words, and the history is quite dependent on video recordings.  This means that it’s not possible to go very far back to look at the morphology of the language.

Stories told in ASL rely on the kinetic shape of the hands, body, and face rather than literary devices.  The sound of rhyme and rhythm become irrelevant.  We watched several ASL videos, and it was so interesting to have to watch the text.  ASL has it’s own “literary devices”- repetition, rhythm, facial expressions, etc.

The visual nature of ASL creates different kinds of folk tales than the ones a speaker of English is familiar with.  There are personal stories, ABC stories, stories based on limited hand-shapes, and even a form of music! It’s quite exciting, really. I wish I had learned ASL, but it’s hard to get into those classes unless you’re in your first or possibly second year here.

I wonder if hundreds of years from now, there will be ASL forms of fairy tales and folk tales that students study in class, just like we’re studying the folk tales and fairy tales of hundreds of years ago.

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A response to Jason

This week, we were asked to write a response to the blog of the person who sits to the left of us in class.  Jason, this is what I have to say:

I enjoyed reading your blog, mostly because of your sardonic tone.  Your tongue-in-cheek comments are humorous, and successfully brought some lightness to topics that could potentially be dull.  “Ghana[rrhea]” = best title ever.  You are very honest about your opinions, and you don’t even tame down your thoughts.  It’s refreshing.  I especially love your captions!  They’re the place your voice comes out the most.

Your posts are well-organized.  It seems like you plan your responses effectively. You do a great job of including examples in each post, and they often clarify or further explain points, which someone unfamiliar with fairy tales would greatly benefit from. You do a good job of incorporating background information on each story you’ll be talking about, something I hardly do, which also is a great way of relating to an audience unfamiliar with fairy tales. Your use of AT numbers is another positive aspect of your blog posts.  Additionally, good job citing your sources.  Both of those things, I don’t do but probably should.

I also like how at the end of your posts, you often bring the topic around to something personal, which again differentiates between just an explanation of a topic and something more.  However, I do wish you included more personal ideas.  In your recent posts, you’ve started to do that more, and perhaps it’s because the response questions of late have more led themselves to that kind of response, but your posts are always so much more interesting when you let your voice and ideas in.   This is especially true given the fact that you were completely unfamiliar with fairy tales before taking this class, which makes what you have to say inherently more interesting.  I wonder if your interpretations or ideas are unique because of that. I am slightly sad for you, though, to have not experienced fairy tales as a child, because it’s way different looking at them now; however, you seemed to turn out just fine without them, so perhaps it’s not a huge tragedy.

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Blog Post 6: Symbols of Snow White in “Sonne”

The music video for Rammstein’s “Sonne” is rife with symbols from multiple versions of the fairy tale, Snow White.

The first thing that really stood out to me is that the Snow White character in this video is dressed like Disney’s Snow White.

All photos are screenshots of the music video.

This is interesting because the original fairy tales never really describe Snow White’s clothes, so I’m assuming the video makers made this choice to make the references to the fairy tales more obvious to the audience.  Snow White’s Disney apparel is quite recognizable in current culture, so it made the symbolism in this music video accessible.

This video has more footage of the dwarves than of Snow White, which is different from the stories, in which the dwarves are merely supporting characters.  Some other differences include a lack of an evil stepmother queen, no huntsman, no talking mirror, and no prince at the end, which I found surprising until I started looking at what the video did include, and I realized that the fairy tale aspects incorporated within this video match with the psychological interpretation that Snow White is not only the protagonist, but also the antagonist.  She is the evil queen.

The dwarves are miners.  They work hard, sweating and getting dirty, doing a stereotypically male task.  They use a lot of drills (phallic symbol? or unavoidable mining tool?) One of them finds something shiny, a piece of gold.  Gold mining did not seem particularly strange at first, until Snow White barged into the Dwarves’ room while they were eating, and they handed it over to her.  That’s different.  In the tales, Snow White was a demure woman who offered her cleaning and homemaking skills in exchange for safety and a place to stay.  In this situation, it seems as if she’s in control, especially when she punches the dwarf in the face.

Things get stranger from there.  She spanks the dwarves, which could be sexual, but is at least definitely dominating, because they seem to be afraid of her.  Some of them polish apples (fairy tale symbol!) while others groom her, and still others hold up a mirror (ah, so there’s the mirror).  She admires herself in the mirror while posing seductively, admiring her beauty, perhaps, just like the evil stepmother in the fairy tales who wanted assurance that she was the most beautiful in the land.  And indeed, Snow White is acting like their queen.  They cluster around her, grabbing the fabric of her Disney dress, kneeling on the ground.  Why are the dwarves her servants?

BECAUSE SNOW WHITE IS THEIR DRUG LORD!

The dwarves mine for her each day so she can get drugged out on gold, they fear her, they are submissive in her presence…

But then she overdoses.  Suddenly, they no longer seem as afraid.  They seem worried or sad.  They encase her within a glass coffin and take it to the mountaintop, just like in the stories.  One difference is that the coffin has apples in it (there’s random apples everywhere in this video, although they probably aren’t actually random- I just haven’t yet figured out their purpose).   It is snowing, and the surrounding white is a sharp contrast with Snow White’s blood-red lips (another similarity to the text).

Then, an apple falls from the nearby tree, shattering the glass coffin and arousing Snow White from her death sleep.  She catches the apple.  At first, I thought this could represent a loss of virginity.  If an apple is representative of a man (Adam’s apple), and it shatters her glass protection, it seems possible.  Or it could be rape, because she didn’t look like she was expecting that to happen.  I don’t think that’s what it means, though, and I know I’m missing something with these apples, because that’s the part I’m hung up on.

After she wakes up, the dwarves are back to mining, back to seeking gold.  So, Snow White is still demanding drugs after her overdose…but what if she is the drug?  A quick Google search told me that “snow white” is a slang term for cocaine, which can be both snorted and injected, as per the video.  Maybe the dwarves feared her because they knew their lives had been taken over by this substance, and they were sad at her death because they were sad at what they had become.  There’s a lot of different ways this could be interpreted- maybe her death is an attempt to detox and stop using, or maybe she actually died, or maybe it was just a drug hallucination.  Google also told me that “snow lights” are visual hallucinations after cocaine use, featuring images of flashing bright lights.

This seems even more possible when you account for the lyrics of this song.  I found a YouTube video of the song with English lyrics.  Rammstein frequently sings “Here comes the sun,” and talks about the sun’s power, how it burns and never goes away- it won’t set tonight.  Is Snow White the sun?  It sounds that way to me, if Snow White is cocaine, because cocaine has those powers over addicts.

I think the possible interpretations of “Sonne” by Rammstein are far more fascinating than those of “Snow White,” because I’m so disenchanted with fairy tales at this point, with all of their sexism and patriarchy.

But if you want some more negative portrayals of female fairy tale characters, albeit in a more humorous way, check out this clip from SNL.

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Blog post 5: Cupid and Psyche

At first, “Cupid and Psyche” seemed to be more like a “Snow White” tale than a “Beauty and the Beast” tale.  The similarities to the latter became apparent when Psyche was told she must marry a monster, and again when she was punished for her selfish curiosity by not being allowed to be with her husband any longer.

“Urashima the Fisherman” is quite similar to this, because Urashima ends up marrying a deity, but then losing her by opening a forbidden box, which is what happened to Psyche, but it is also different because Urashima wasn’t forced to marry this deity; he just happening upon meeting her.  He never gets to see her again.

“The Swan Maiden” is also similar, because the man betrays his wife by taking her swan skin, and she flies away upon discovering this.  Again, this marriage was not mandated.

It’s interesting how similar all of these “Beauty and the Beast” tales are.  They all share commonalities, but not always the same commonalities.  Back when we were discussing the origins of fairy tales in class, it was more difficult to find credence with any one in particular, but now, after reading various different sets of tales, it is still different, but for a different reason.  When the stories have the same similarities, it seems more likely that Jung’s collective memory is plausible, but now, with these tales, the idea of the stories traveling orally by trade routes makes more sense.  For these reasons, it is quite difficult to choose one tale that is most similar to “Cupid and Psyche.”

Since such a choice is necessary, I must go with “The Frog Princess,” because it is the only tale we read in class where, after the prince loses his wife, he gets her back, just like Psyche got her monstrous god back.  Additionally, both of these tales involve siblings, specifically siblings who find marriage first, yet prove envious of the protagonist’s marriage.

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Blog post 4: “Little Red Riding Hood” cartoon

A quick Google Image search provides countless different “Little Red Riding Hood” cartoons – some political, some humorous, some completely irrelevant.  There were several with highly sexualized females, some with an interesting spin on characterization, and some with funny asides to current public issues.  It was interesting to me how most of them were based on the idea of “Little Red Riding Hood,” but not the actual content.  What I mean by this, is multiple cartoons focused on the “What big _____ you have” moment, or another salient feature, but never on the actual content of any original form of the cartoon.  None of the gruesome content, specifically.  I thought this was interesting.  It seems to reflect something I noticed while watching the Bachelor last week (see here for more on that)- when people think of fairy tales, they think of the idealized, Disney-ified versions.  So when choosing a cartoon, I found it to be particularly difficult, since most of the ones I saw seemed very relevant to the way I think of the story.  For this reason, I chose not one, but three cartoons that all relate to a similar theme.

This cartoon to the left is the only one I saw in my perusal that referenced the sexual nature of the original versions of the tale.  However, it doesn’t allude to the fact that Little Red was raped by the wolf.  I understand that this is supposed to be a humorous card, and therefore not accurate, but it seems likely to me that the creator of this cartoon must have had some awareness of the sexual aspects of the story to use as the basis for this card. This cartoon flips the situation, creating a consensual sexual encounter rather than a non consensual one, and while it is funny, upon closer analysis, I’m not okay with it.  In class this week, Sammi read about Bettelheim’s interpretation of “Little Red Riding Hood,” referring to Red as a “fallen woman,” because she allowed herself to be seduced by this male figure.  This, to me, is a huge contradiction, because seduction implies that the woman wanted the sexual experience to occur, and yet, there was a rape, so clearly there was no consent.  This represents a problem that apparently existed back when Bettelheim wrote his analysis and is still present today.  Women are often blamed for their rape, either because their clothes were “asking for it” (the entire reason behind SlutWalk), or other reasons that only serve to blame the victim, rather than blame the rapist.  (To clarify, not only women are raped, and rapists are not only men, but for the purposes of this post, I’m discussing parallels to “Little Red Riding Hood,” and therefore, am focusing on woman as victim and man as aggressor.)  So, to say that the seduction makes it the woman’s fault (as is implied by the term, “fallen woman”) is evidence of a greater issue (remember the morals of the various tales also seemed to make it the woman’s responsibility to avoid such situations, rather than telling men to simply not rape).  Female sexuality has been oppressed for hundreds of years and is oppressed today still.  There’s a strange contradiction with shaming women for wanting sex (allowing themselves to be seduced) and blaming them for being raped because of their behavior or attitude, but holding men to a completely different standard.  This is part of rape culture, and based on “Little Red Riding Hood,” it has been evident long before now.  I wonder if fairy tales such as this serve to reinforce rape culture, slut shaming, and victim blaming.

Even as this is happening in the tale, a double standard exists.  While the female character is held responsible for the violation of her body, the male wolf is allowed to contradict social norms.  He dresses up as a woman.  He cross-dresses.  Cross-dressing was allowed in the theater, as women couldn’t perform onstage at first, but outside of that realm, it was a problem.  Think of the Oscar Wilde trial.  Cross-dressing was a huge part of that, because it was socially unacceptable for a man to dress up as a woman.  For a time, it was also unacceptable the other way around, as it was scandalous for women to wear pants, but for the purposes of this blog, that side of things is not so relevant.  The fairy tale is so focused on instilling patriarchal values upon female readers that it completely ignores this other aspect that based on the way things were back then should have been socially unacceptable.  These socially constructed specificities of gender should have been more important, in such a context, and it is surprising to me that it was just a part of the story we aren’t supposed to take seriously.

In the cartoon to the left, even the “transvestite wolf,” the male that is subverting gender norms and violating a societal standard (not one that I agree with, but still), is still held higher than the young female child!  The woodcutter is protecting him, instead of saving Little Red.  How is it that this wolf’s right to dress as a woman is more important than the girl’s right to safety of body?  But it’s the choice of the male woodcutter.  Most of these choices are by males- in the recent birth control hearing in the Capitol, all of those testifying were white males.  Fairy tales, from what we’ve read so far, seem to merely reinforce the patriarchal structure of society, for the most part.  Granted, you must take the time period in which they were written into consideration, but that still doesn’t justify it, in my humble opinion.  The thing is, people and children today are reading these outdated tales, so these outdated ideas are still having an effect.

When there is an attempt to update a fairy tale, such as Roald Dahl’s version, it’s almost laughable.  Giving Little Red a firearm, and thus, the ability to protect herself against the wolf and control of her situation, just isn’t something taken very seriously.

It’s interesting, and almost disappointing, to look back at fairy tales as an adult, because these are the things that I get out of them now.

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Blog post 3: Fairy Tales and Psychology

Fairy tales, like all literary works, can be criticized and analyzed from a variety of perspectives.   This week, we focused our time on psychological analysis of fairy tales.  Dr. Mazeroff spoke to our class on Thursday on this topic.

Psychology attempts to explain the way people think and behave.  When applied to fairy tales, it can be used to explain why we like certain stories more than others or why we relate to certain characters.  Fairy tales can be used therapeutically, as a sounding board for someone’s innermost problems that they otherwise struggle to talk about.

There are two main psychologists whose theories are applied to fairy tale analysis: Freud and Jung.  Freud identified the id, ego, and superego as the parts of personality, and these parts are located within the conscious, pre-conscious, and unconscious.  Psychoanalysis and the use of fairy tales can be used to reveal what lies deep in the unconscious, where experiences, thoughts, and feelings are repressed and difficult to retrieve.  Freud is famous for his work on the interpretation of dreams, and fairy tales can be interpreted as dreams.  Jung’s work focuses more on archetypes, which are based on universal experiences.  An example of an archetype is the wise old man, exemplified as Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings.  His ideas about fairy tale analysis are based on his theory of “the collective unconscious,” a difficult to access part of the human psyche that is shared by all people, genetically passed on.  

Dr. Mazeroff also spoke about the parts of the Hero’s Journey, as outlined by Campbell, as well as Thury and Devinney’s methods for analyzing fairy tales.

Psychological criticism of literature is fascinating to read, but it isn’t something I’d usually choose to apply, as I favor other methods, but it sure seems relevant to the analysis of fairy tales.  Especially because fairy tales are often read to or by children, it is interesting to see how they relate to child psychological development.

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Blog post 2: Definition of a Fairy Tale

A fairy tale exists in both the oral and literary form, but the origin of the fairy tale is only traceable through the written works.  There are two main theories of how they came to be: first, that fairy tales originated somewhere and were spread orally through trade routes such as the Silk Road; and second, that similar fairy tales were developed in areas across the world because of the inevitable similarities of the human condition lend themselves to shared human experiences. 

A fairy tale differs from a folk tale, because folk tales are part of the oral tradition.  A folk tale can become a fairy tale, but a fairy tale can not really become a folk tale.  A fairy tale is also not a legend, because legends are generally accepted to be based in some sort of truth.  A fairy tale is not a myth, because myths are about Gods, and fairy tales are not.  Fairy tales are generally not religious, except superficially.

A fairy tale is understood to be fictional.  It includes some element of magic or fantasy, often in the form of a supernatural character.

A fairy tale lends itself to multiple interpretations, but is similar in structure to other fairy tales.  Fairy tales have 31 Distinct Functions as determined by Vladimir Propp.  In most cases, the functions in a fairy tale do not change, but the Dramatis Personae (main characters) do.  Aarne and Thompson have classified the fairy tales by the motifs they have in common, and all variations of fairy tales have a unique AT number.

Fairy tales shape the values and morals of a culture.  They represent a culture’s morals and values.  They sometimes explicitly state the moral, but often do not.  The reader learns these morals by inserting herself or himself into the story, because the characters are often flat enough to do so.

Most importantly, in my opinion, fairy tales shape childhoods.  Children learn about themselves by reading fairy tales, either independently or with their parents.  I read so many fairy tales when I was younger, and before I could read, my parents read them to me.  Fairy tales facilitate the development and exploration of imagination.

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