Snow White, Warrior Princess: Madonnas, Cinderellas, and Villians, Oh My!

Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin) and the Evil Queen (Lana Parrilla) from "Once Upon a Time"

Stereotypes – we know them, we fight against them, we scoff at them. But like it or not, they have stuck firmly to the portrayal of people in the media, especially for women and minorities. And while we know they are wrong, we indulge in these characters who are flatter than paper, and less substantive than air because they are easily likeable, or unlikeable, mostly because they fit to whatever the plot needs them to be.

There’s a Freudian theory known as the Madonna-Whore Complex, which basically states that men view women they are attracted to in one of two categories: the pure hearted Madonna, who he wants to be his wife and bare his children, and the whore, who he wants only to have a very frivolous, carnal relationship. With the first, he cannot achieve the sensuality he wants, and in the second he cannot count on her fidelity. This dualism is often seen in women in early film – most females are either purely good, or purely evil.

In a way, this theory follows most princess stories, where the two types of women are enemies. Cinderella and her stepmother. Sleeping Beauty and Maleficent. Snow White and the Evil Queen. While it would be difficult to say that all of these “whore” archetypes are supposed to sexual attractive, they are the fit for the women embodying only evil with no other depth, and in a way share attractive qualities. Cinderella’s stepmother is a woman of means and class, Maleficent has power and strength, and the Evil Queen was at one point the fairest in all the land.

A lot of this princess-related media tends to be allegorical – good vs. evil, beauty vs. beastly, kind vs. cruel. After all, the purpose of these stories was to teach children morals. So then a good question is what does this new re-vamped Snow White teach us? That you have to fight for what you want? That women can be strong and independent without compromising love? That producers know what sells now-a-days?

But let’s also talk about the previous fad – Cinderella stories. Yes, Cinderella is probably the best known of the fairytales, with its iconic glass slipper and love-at-first-sight, and the hope that yes, one day your life filled with misery and woe can become amazing.

But many of you may have forgotten, once upon a time, in the late 1990s-early 2000s there was a Cinderella media craze. It’s hard to pinpoint where the trend began, but I’m willing to bet it all began with the tele-musical Cinderella starring previous R&B superstar Brandi and the now deceased Whitney Houston. It was so popular in fact, that it was adapted into Japanese and was performed as a live stage play, starring the singers from Morning Musume, and become one of the most popular all-female performed plays of the decade – that’s what’s called international appeal.

Though it's a pretty loose adaptation...I don't think it's supposed to be quite that colorful...

And that’s why fairytales are popular subjects – everyone knows these characters, no matter where you’re from. There’s no need to explain who Snow White is because almost everyone knows that story from childhood and the dispersion of popular media.

But the trend didn’t end there. In 2004, “A Cinderella Story” was released to teen audiences nation-wide, starring Hillary Duff and Chad Michael Murray. The film was a cliché mess of overacting, contrived plot, and a horrible modern-day adaptation for the young starry-eyed girls who just want a steady boyfriend. And you, dear reader, should therefore not be surprised that while this movie was critically panned it made huge amounts of money, enough [so] to convince the studio to release two terrible sequels, in 2008 and 2011. But Cinderella’s new image was hardly a change – rather than a woman from long, long ago, she became a young teenage girl, usually from a less than loving but strangely affluent family. All of this still fitting into the same, simple stereotypical role of the pure, innocent young girl and her purely evil stepmother – the Madonna and the whore.

However, what makes this specific Snow White trend different is that Snow White is featured in a TV show and two movies all around the same time. Are they trying to play off one another’s popularity? And if so, which came first? Both television shows and films can spend years in development limbo before ever seeing the light of day, so something must have triggered this outpour of Snow White media. The character, and her short friends, are one of the most popular faces of Disney, and are well integrated into the merchandise, so the story has never been far from the public eye. So why now and why the change? My research continues on!

Speaking of research, it goes slow. I’ve been reading up on my Disney history and theory, and am currently waiting on an almost arrived copy of a Marie Louise von Franz’s work on women and fairytales, since apparently it only exists in three libraries in the US. As far as interviews go, I have scheduled one with Laura Shamas, but have not heard back from any of the other academics I intend to interview. For now, I will dig up as much as I can on both of the films, and the television show to see if perhaps in interviews or articles I can find of the writers, director, or anyone involved in the production of these media discussing choices surrounding the script and story.

In next week’s post, I will discuss the film “Mirror Mirror,” which sounds awful, but I will go forth and watch the horror that is Julia Roberts’ terrible acting for science!…I mean, for journalism!


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