Thursday, April 3, 2014

Frozen and the Female Psyche

Along with most of America, we bought FROZEN on DVD a couple weeks ago. Once at-home viewing was possible, a lot more men (dads) were seeing this movie, and many of them took to the internet to express their displeasure.

I'm pretty sure I know the reason: They aren't women.

Stay with me, this isn't a "girls like sparkly dresses and cutesy songs" thing. It's a lot deeper than that, and Disney deserves a lot of credit for finally tapping into the thing they've tapped into here.

In case you're part of the tiny population who doesn't know, I'll give you the short version (Spoilers... just in case): Elsa has a magical power to create snow and ice with her hands. She's young and can't control it, but she's told to hide it at all costs. Literally, all costs. She locks herself in her room, never speaking to anyone or doing anything because she's terrified of letting anyone see who she is or what she's capable of.

Eventually she cracks, putting on a dazzling display of power, creating life (sound familiar?), and proclaiming that she doesn't care what others are going to say.

Here's why I think men don't really see the power of this metaphor:

These men have never been told to pretend to be incapable.*

They've never been told that they'll be more attractive if they are helpless.

They've never been told that being smart is intimidating and nobody will want to date them if they're too smart.

They've never been told that their feelings are completely irrational and should be hidden at all costs. Yes, men are encouraged to appear "strong" and keep their "girly" feelings hidden... but that in and of itself should say something: Hide your girly feelings. Girly feelings are bad. Imagine if all your feelings are girly. 

I've heard all these things. I've done all these things.

I've pretended not to know things because I didn't want to appear contrary, even though the guy I was talking to was so stupidly, epically wrong, it took actual physical self-control to restrain myself.

I've pretended to be totally helpless because I could tell the guy felt good about being able to "teach" me how to use a Dremel. I wanted him to associate good feeling with being with me, and so I pretended not to know what I was doing.

I've pretended not to know my way around a gym, a music store, or a mosh pit (I was an expert in all three).

I've pretended to be weaker, stupider and more vapid than you can imagine.

And it worked.

Every time, it worked. Every time I pretended to be weaker than I was, it drew more men to me**. Not creepy, rapey sort of men. Nice guys, the kind of guys you're willing to take home to mom. Every time I pretended to be stupid, people liked me more. Men and women both are much, much nicer whenever I pretend to not know answers and say "I just don't get it" or "I don't understand."

This is why FROZEN speaks to women on a level that most men can't understand. The lyrics to "Let it Go" speak very specifically to our experiences and every one of us has to have Elsa's breakthrough at some point. We all have to actively decide that we are going to be strong, smart, and not care if that means we're alone.

This is what Disney finally tapped into and this is why women are reacting to this movie more strongly than men are.

* I know this won't apply to all men, but that it applies to those who don't "get" FROZEN. 

**I'm very lucky. My husband is not one of these guys. He knows what I'm capable of and he loves me for it. He knows how smart I am, how much I value learning, and he encourages me and is my partner in this. He's wickedly smart in his own right and isn't the slightest bit intimidated by a woman knowing the answer to a question he asks. 

Click the picture to be taken to the artist's site.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

On Disappointing Endings and Who Owns the Creation

HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER ended this week. I'm sure you heard the wailing and gnashing of teeth, no matter where in the world you were.

Last fall, ALLEGIANT, the final book in the DIVERGENT trilogy was released. And again, you probably heard the wailing and gnashing of teeth over that one, too. Though it probably wasn't as concentrated; a book takes a little longer to consume than an episode of a television show.

Both stories ended with a somewhat controversial ending, and ending that some said was inevitable, and others said was no better than a trick. A trick based on a lie. A trick based on a lie with the intent to mock the audience's pain.

I disagree.

Both stories delivered on the promise they made at the beginning.

(Spoilers abound. Not little ones. Big ones. Turn back now. I'm not kidding. I'm going to ruin both of these things for you after the jump.)

HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER promised us that Ted would get a happy ending. They gave us a happy ending. Twice. Ted got everything he wanted out of life, more than most people get. Yes, there was sadness mixed in (some even say it was a tragedy), but the actual ending was happy. A happy ending, following a big personal tragedy? That's definitely more than most people get.

DIVERGENT promised us that being a divergent was really, really dangerous. They gave us danger. So much danger that the divergent girl dies.

These may not have been the promises you wanted them to fulfill, and they may not have been the ones you had envisioned for yourself after waiting years for them to come to fruition, but they are the promises made by the storytellers themselves. These writers wrote the stories they envisioned, in the way they envisioned them.

And I'm going to tie this all back to Harry Potter.

Back in February, Rowling made some comments to the effect that she would change the ending of Harry Potter if she had the chance. Again with the wailing and gnashing of teeth. Everyone just about lost their damn minds because she was trying to change the story that was already out there. Rowling was trying to mess with what she had already put to paper, what she had already signed off on and said "DONE" to.

It's not dissimilar to what George Lucas is hated for.
Lucas created STAR WARS, put it out into the world and then came back twenty years later and changed what he'd put into the world. He tried to alter what was already in existence, tried to take back what he'd given us.

But it was too late. STAR WARS and HARRY POTTER already belonged to the public by the time their creators tried to amend the stories, angering their fans.

But HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER and DIVERGENT were still in the hands of their creators. Until that book is published, until the tv show airs, until the movie premiers, that story belongs to the creator. Period.

You can hate it.

But it's not wrong. It can't be. It's what the creator envisioned for it. Ted's story ended exactly as it should have, as did Tris's. If the creators of these stories come back in five or ten or thirty years and say "I should have done it differently," THAT is when I am going to get mad. Because now the story belongs to us. It's out of their hands, and it belongs to the public.

And for the record - I really like how both ended. They were - excuse me, they are - the right endings for those stories.