European Fairy Tales versus American Fairy Tales — and how they affect the American psyche and the school yard bully

I love fairy tales.  I’ve always loved fairy tales.  Growing up, I devoured fairy tale books, with special emphasis on the Disney movies, with their beautiful princesses.  My personal favorite was Disney’s Cinderella.  I saw it once when I was a child and then, in a pre-video era, all I could do was replay endlessly in my memory the wonderful scene when Cinderella’s rags are transformed into a princess’s ball gown.  When I saw the movie again as an adult, I was worried that it wouldn’t live up to my expectations, but I needn’t have feared.  The movie was as charming as I’d remembered, and the transformation scene was a perfect piece of animation (and, rumor has it, Walt Disney’s own favorite animation moment):

The message in Cinderella couldn’t be more clear.  First, be beautiful.  But if you can’t achieve beauty, at least be a patient Griselda, one who tirelessly toils for cruel tyrants, with the promise of future reward.

That’s the theme in the majority of fairy tales that originated in the old world:  be good, be passive, and some deus ex machina figure, usually magical, will come and rescue you.  Passivity is the name of the game.  In one fairy tale after another, the lead character, usually the youngest child of at least three siblings, prevails by virtue of being nice.

The other way to prevail in fairy tales that started life in the old world was to use guile.  My favorite in this genre is The Valiant Little Tailor:

A tailor is preparing to eat some jam, but when flies settle on it, he kills seven of them with one blow. He makes a belt describing the deed, “Seven at one blow”. Inspired, he sets out into the world to seek his fortune. The tailor meets a giant, who assumes that “Seven at one blow” refers to seven men. The giant challenges the tailor. When the giant squeezes water from a boulder, the tailor squeezes water (or whey) from cheese. The giant throws a rock far into the air, and it eventually lands. The tailor counters the feat by releasing a bird that flies away; the giant believes the small bird is a “rock” which is thrown so far that it never lands. The giant asks the tailor to help carry a tree. The tailor directs the giant to carry the trunk, while the tailor will carry the branches. Instead, the tailor climbs on, so the giant carries him as well.

The giant brings the tailor to the giant’s home, where other giants live as well. During the night, the giant attempts to kill the man. However, the tailor, having found the bed too large, sleeps in the corner. On seeing him still alive, the other giants flee, never to be seen again.

The tailor enters the royal service, but the other soldiers are afraid that he will lose his temper someday, and then seven of them might die with every blow. They tell the king that either the tailor leaves military service, or they will. Afraid of being killed for sending him away, the king instead sends the tailor to defeat two giants, offering him half his kingdom and his daughter’s hand in marriage. By throwing rocks at the two giants while they sleep, the tailor provokes the pair into fighting each other. The king then sends him after a unicorn, but the tailor traps it by standing before a tree, so that when the unicorn charges, he steps aside and it drives its horn into the trunk. The king subsequently sends him after a wild boar, but the tailor traps it in a chapel.

With that, the king marries him to his daughter. His wife hears him talking in his sleep and realizes that he is merely a tailor. Her father the king promises to have him carried off. A squire warns the tailor, who pretends to be asleep and calls out that he has done all these deeds and is not afraid of the men behind the door. Terrified, they leave, and the king does not try again.

Old world fairy tales do not feature epic battles of good against evil, or even minor battles of good against evil.  They abandon the heroic tradition of Greek dramas or even the mighty warriors of the Bible.  Instead, they present a world of little people who prevail because of good deeds or guile.

Different scholars have theorized that fairy tales originated to keep children in line (hence the emphasis on passivity and good house-cleaning skills as the way to achieve worldly success) or as fireside stories, often quite ribald, that peasants told each other during long, dark nights (explaining the tales that featured otherwise insignificant people prevailing through stealth and guile).  Regardless of origin, the net result is a genre that instructs children that assertiveness and self-reliance are much less important than submitting to tyranny with good grace and being sneaky when possible.

American-born fairy tales are vastly different.  Of course, I use the phrase “American-born” advisedly.  Because America is a nation of immigrants, we imported our fairy tales too, which explains why every American child is conversant with Cinderella, Snow White, and Aladdin.  Nevertheless, Americans did create their own canon.

To begin with, American children dined on political hagiographies of our first leaders, with Parson Weems’ delightful, and untrue, stories about Washington leading the pack.  These tales focused on distinctly American virtues:  being honest, straightforward, and physically brave, virtues that are the antithesis of the trickery or downtrodden apathy in European tales.

American tales also dreamed big.  We had the imaginary Paul Bunyan, John Henry, and Pecos Bill, whose size or energy literally changed the landscape in which they lived.  Real figures, such as Johnny Appleseed or Davy Crockett had their actual exploits mixed with a large dollop of artistic license, and these tales opened up the West for Americans.  Popular literature imagined dynamic, self-confident young people who made their own way in the world.  They had help, but it wasn’t magical.  Instead, it came from people who were attracted to the hero or heroines can-do spirit and gave them a helping hand.  (Louisa May Alcott and Horatio Alger were masters of this genre.)

That notion of the pushing, striving, dynamic American hero got a spectacular boost when Hollywood came into being.  Old Hollywood quickly discovered that American audiences craved big stories, with big heroes.  Western movies impressed upon Americans that America’s fictional heroes didn’t succeed because they sat around waiting for magic to appear; they succeeded because they blazed trails, fought battles, civilized the wilderness, and generally took control of their own destinies.

World War II movies also emphasized Americans’ fighting spirit.  We didn’t have endless movies about our victimization at Pearl Harbor.  Instead, movie after movie celebrated America’s fighting spirit, both at home and on the battlefield.  We had an enemy, said Hollywood, and we valiantly met in on the field of battle.

In the 1970s, Hollywood started feeling terribly guilty about the cultural imperialism in these tales and came up with the anti-hero.  That played well to a guilty middle class, but was never a dramatic trope that had legs.  The anti-hero works only if he acts . . . heroically.  Americans want the little guy to win because he’s got guts.  The artsy crowd may enjoy a Dog Day Afternoon, but ordinary Americans want to see little ole Luke Skywalker take on the empire, intrepid Indiana Jones fight bad guys the world over, or (with a big thank you to the British woman who dreamed him up) Harry Potter and Co. face off squarely against evil, and win through a combination of virtue and martial skills (all nicely packaged in some sparkly magic gimmicks).

The recent staggering success of The Avengers is just one more indication that Americans want their fairy tales to be proactive.  The characters in The Avengers are pretty (it is Hollywood after all), but their attractiveness — an attractiveness that has generated a staggering $1 billion in ticket sales — comes about because they are strong and aggressive.  They defeat the evil alien force by rock ‘em, sock ‘em, beat ‘em up action.  There is no room for negotiation, house cleaning, or even guile here.  The only “goodness” that counts is one that is folded tightly into loyalty, patriotism, and physical bravery.

The Left is busily trying to chip away at these classic American virtues.  Leftist movies have failed at the box office, but the Leftist challenge to the American virtues of physical bravery can be seen in the Left’s wholeheartedly embrace of the anti-bullying campaign.  Many have asked why bullying has seemed to be on the rise in recent years.  I think I figured out the answer when, in a casual conversation with my kids, I mentioned “school-yard fights.”

I got a surprising response to that throw-away line:  “What’s a school-yard fight, Mom?”

“In the old days,” I said (just like a fairy tale), “when kids, especially boys, would get into fights, they started hitting each other.”

“Did they get suspended?”

“Maybe.  But what usually happened was that they’d start swinging at each other.  Everyone in the school yard would instantly circle them and start hollering ‘Fight!  Fight!’  Then, a teacher would wade through the crowd, saying ‘Come on, everyone, break it up.  Break it up now.’  The teacher would then wade into the fight, separate the two kids, shake ‘em out and, more often than not, tell them to stop fighting.  And that would be the end of it.”

“That would never happen today.”

(Incidentally, I am not talking about gang fights, which are a form of urban warfare.  I’m talking about the old-fashioned elementary school playground battle, where two little kids settled the matter with some kicks and punches.)

No, it certainly wouldn’t.  The focus today is on the bully.  The bully gets suspended and the bully gets counseling.  Kids are told that, if they get bullied, they should immediately get teachers involved.  Good kids know that any type of self-defense is dangerous, as it could lead to suspension.

I hate bullying.  I was bullied when I was a child and, I’m sad to say, when I had the opportunity, I immediately turned around and bullied others (verbally).  I had a sharp tongue and wasn’t afraid to use it.  But that sharp tongue was my self-defense.  A well-timed insult, especially one that raised a laugh from the audience, deflected the bully and kept me safe.  I never ran to the teacher.  I got a reputation for being somewhat mean (which was partially deserved), but people left me alone.  Had I been a boy, I might have punched someone and been left alone.

My point is that the best way to deal with bullying is two-pronged:  First, create an environment in which bullying is frowned upon and mutual respect is the order of the day.  This starts at the top, with teachers and administrators.  In too many schools, however, teachers and administrations treat students with condescension, disdain, arrogance, or fear.  Second, teach the victims how not to be victims.  If you take away the targets, you take away a lot of the bullying.  If students see themselves as warriors, not victims, bullying will become a much less enticing activity for those who are naturally inclined to dominate cruelly those around them.

I can already hear people saying that, if you emphasize the warrior spirit, our schools will start looking like a gladiator camp.  Au contraire.  If you emphasize brutality, that’s true.  But if you emphasize the honorable side of the warrior, one that sees him respecting widows and orphans (so to speak), our schools will actually be much more civil than they are now.  I’ve never known nicer kids than those who are martial arts black belts.  They have a quiet self-confidence about them, that makes it unnecessary for them to lash out.  Moreover, their peers respect them, and feel no need to test them.

It times to take the European Leftism out of our fairy tales, and reinstate an American ideal that involves honor, strength, and the willingness to fight for what’s right.

Life does NOT imitate the Simpsons when it comes to handling bullies

From Season 1 of The Simpsons (waaaay back in 1990), comes “Bart the General“:

After defending Lisa from school bully Nelson Muntz, Bart becomes Nelson’s latest target. Sick of the harassment and torment, Bart, Grampa Simpson, and Herman (a slightly deranged military antique store dealer with a missing arm) rally the town’s children into fighting back against Nelson and his cronies.

In real life, ten-year-old boys who try to defend themselves bullies (and, admittedly, this ten-year-old made a less than mature tactical decision), face quite a different situation– not from the bullies but from the administration:

Police say they have charged a 10-year-old Ohio boy after he told them he brought a BB gun to school to intimidate students who bullied him because he wears ankle braces and is small for his age.

Elmwood Place police Sgt. Kevin Vanover said Wednesday that the boy was charged with inducing panic after he took the BB gun to his elementary school in the suburban Cincinnati village on Monday. He remains in his mother’s custody awaiting a juvenile court hearing. No hearing date is set.

Vanover says the principal reported that some children said they saw the boy with the gun and thought it was a firearm. Police say the gun’s orange plastic tip was missing.

Did you catch that the school charged a frail, bullied 10-year-old with “inducing panic”?  Even in Marin County they’re not that crazy.  The other day, when some teenage boys were playing in the hillside wearing camo clothes and using air rifles without orange plastic tips, residents reasonably believed that there were snipers in the hills.  After a police manhunt, the boys were let off with a warning:

Twin Cities police, with help from Mill Valley police, Marin sheriff’s deputies and the California Highway Patrol, blocked traffic on Casa Buena and Meadowsweet drives as they searched for the suspect. After about 30 minutes, police contacted two 14-year-old boys with Airsoft rifles, Gorwood said.

“They were not properly marked with the orange tips,” she said. “They were playing on the hillside, shooting at each other.”

Police seized the guns and released the boys to their parents. There were no plans to seek criminal charges, Gorwood said.

Back to the original report, about the terrorized ten-year-old charged with terrorizing, bullying seems to be a lot worse today than it was when I was young.  Incidentally, I don’t have a blinkered, halcyon view of a childhood free of bullying.  As the smallest, geekiest in any school I ever attended, the kid who had thick glasses and always carried a book with her, I came in for my fair share of bullying.  And I’m very embarrassed to say this, but if a child ever appeared on the horizon who was even more of a target than I was, I gleefully sided with my former persecutors, delighted that their attention was on someone else for a change.  So yes, bullying existed back then.

But back then, it wasn’t in the papers, it wasn’t a cause celebre for every TV show or pop star and — and this is a critical difference I think — kids themselves were expected to deal with the bullies.  That’s what makes Bart the General so fascinating.  It’s the last gasp of an era that sees kids turning to grown-ups for advice, but handling the bullies themselves.  Nowadays, kids who try to deal with bullies, unless they’re lucky enough to have a YouTube video go viral, quickly find themselves in police custody, while the bully gets counseling.

I’m not advocating schools that look like Lord of the Flies, with invisible adults who make no effort to protect the children under their care.  I do believe, however, that children must be able to defend themselves.  They also have to be tough enough to take some bullying without crumbling under the pressure.

What we have here is a situation akin to those poor, disarmed Londoners.  In London, criminals know that, if they get caught, they’ll face some kind of punishment from the legal system, although it will be minimal.  They also know that their victims are completely defenseless.  For the bad guys, it’s party time, because there are no disincentives, either from the authorities or from the folks staring into the barrel of their guns.

Here in American schoolyards, the situation is the same.  Because American kids have been psychologically disarmed by Leftist school administrations, the bullies, the ones who have resisted this mental disarmament, know that there is no real downside to their behavior.  They’re like the delinquents in West Side Story who bait poor Office Krupke by telling him there’s nothing he can do to stop them, because they are society’s victims, and therefore deserving of pity, not punishment.  The American schoolyard bully knows that his victims have been trained to passivity, while the administration is trained in amateur, Leftist, 50s style psychology.  It’s a win-win for the mini bad guy.

Britain outlaws a homeowner’s self-defense against intruders

One of the most basic principles of Anglo-Saxon common law is a homeowner’s right to defend himself against intruders.  Oh, wait!  That’s not quite true anymore.  In England, which practically gave its name to the notion that “a man’s home is his castle,” homeowner self-defense is against the law (emphasis mine):

Myleene Klass, the broadcaster and model, brandished a knife at youths who broke into her garden – but has been warned by police that she may have acted illegally.

Miss Klass, a model for Marks & Spencer and a former singer with the pop group Hear’Say, was in her kitchen in the early hours of Friday when she saw two teenagers behaving suspiciously in her garden.

The youths approached the kitchen window, before attempting to break into her garden shed, prompting Miss Klass to wave a kitchen knife to scare them away.

Miss Klass, 31, who was alone in her house in Potters Bar, Herts, with her two-year-old daughter, Ava, called the police. When they arrived at her house they informed her that she should not have used a knife to scare off the youths because carrying an “offensive weapon” – even in her own home – was illegal.

Mind you, the above rule is separate from the fact that the UK’s strict anti-gun laws have cut off completely one way in which homeowners can defend themselves against intruders.  The inevitable, is that burglars feel free to break and enter occupied houses, since they needn’t worry about staring down the wrong end of a gun barrel.  (Crime, too, has sky-rocketed.)  What’s different about the rule announced in the above article, is that it isn’t just about removing the homeowner’s most effective instrument of defense; instead, it’s about destroying entirely even the thought of self-defense.

I think Miss Klass is to be highly commended for doing whatever she could to defend herself and her daughter against these intruders.  After all, if she ever cracks open a paper in England, or turns on the news, she knows that Yob violence is out of control.  Britain has successfully turned itself into Anthony Burgess’ Clockwork Orange-vision of a nation equally divided between compliant victims, on the one hand, and brutal psychopaths, on the other.

Thank goodness that, at least in Oklahoma, people are still allowed to defend themselves against home intruders.  Otherwise, one very brave and frightened woman, instead of having successfully and with great physical and moral courage defended herself, could be as dead as the average British homeowner:

(You can hear the whole 33 minute long 911 call here.)

They do the math so you don’t have to

Many have commented on the fact that Barack Obama, both in his race speech and in interviews he gave after the speech, threw granny to the wolves, painting the woman who raised him, not only as a racist but, negatively, as a “typical white person.”  The way in which he did this was to say that it was irrational for her to express a fear of black men walking by her on the street.  The problem for Obama was that this “white think” concept was almost immediately destroyed when the Way-Back machine revealed that Jesse Jackson said precisely the same thing.

Now Randall Hoven has crunched the numbers to show that this is not the irrational fear of a racist “typical white person” (or of Jesse Jackson) but, sadly, the rational fear of people living in a society in which black men are disproportionately responsible for murders.  The only problem I can see with Hoven’s number crunching is that it doesn’t take into account the fact that the people who should be really afraid of black men on the street aren’t “typical white” people, but typical black people, who I believe account for the largest number of victims.

There is a serious problem here, but it isn’t Obama’s effort to stereotype whites.  The problem is that the last 40 years have seen a system in which black Americans, in disproportionately large numbers, turn to serious crime, crime that frightens whites and truly victimizes blacks. Obama’s prescription is what it always is coming from the Left:  throw more taxpayer money at the problem.  It doesn’t seem to occur to him that it might be time to try entirely different solutions, rather than endless efforts to refinance the old, failed solutions.

Racism or victimhood?

Yesterday, the print news, the blogosphere, and the radio world were filled with stories about the MSM’s sudden discovery that Obama’s spiritual mentor is a very angry man, who speaks hatefully of whites and of the United States of America. The common conclusion: Jeremiah Wright is a racist, and it doesn’t help Obama’s broader reach that he’s been partnered with this man for 20 years and that he refuses to disassociate himself from Wright (although it does reveal a loyalty I find surprising in an opportunist like Obama).

The Anchoress looked at Wright’s rhetoric and wondered if racism was too facile an analysis:

So, do I think Wright is being racist, here? To be honest, no I really don’t. I think he is highlighting some truly egregious truth in the United States while exploiting some legitimate grievances to encourage a victim’s mindset; he’s playing to the cheap seats with some of this, to be sure, but so did Gloria Steinem when she supported Hillary by writing that if Obama were a woman with his resume, he’d never be where he is.

What is going on here is a profound slight-of-hand, or an illusionist’s expert misdirection. You are being told to think you’re seeing one thing, when you’re actually seeing another. Except for the fact that whoever released these tapes has played it, this sermon would not be an example of a “race card” being thrown. It’s a victim card. This is about the Primacy of Victimhood over all else. And frankly, I think if white America falls for this and starts freaking out over Wright’s “racism” then they will be submitting to a HUGE and insidious manipulation by the Clinton team, who, as Instapundit suggests, may reasonably be assumed to have brought this forward.

Both Democrat candidates have been playing victim cards in their turn, for months. Yesterday Geraldine Ferraro upped the ante by playing the gender and reverse-racism victim card.

These are not “racist” or “sexist” gambits
being played by Wright or Steinem, but appeals to emotion, and appeals to emotion are too often used to gloss over a lack of substance, or so I have been told by my correspondents on the left, lo these many years, as they accuse the GOP of governing on “fear,” (because terrorism is not a real threat).

I think the Anchoress is on to something here, because this is all about victimhood, but I think she errs when she substitutes victimhood for racism. In the Wright universe (and, by extension, in the Obama universe), I suspect that the two concepts exist simultaneously and feed off of each other.

“Inextricably intertwined” is a legal phrase that is, I think, pretty self-descriptive: it refers to situations in which two causative factors are so tied together that it is impossible for the court to tease out the separate strands. It occurs a lot in attorney’s fees battles, when one side claims huge attorneys fees, arguing that matters both compensable and non-compensable are so intertwined that they can’t be separated, so the attorney should be paid for them all.

I see that same concept operating here, when it comes to modern victim hood and its being yoked to old-fashioned racism. Since the 1960s, as real racism of the KKK variety vanished, a new racism arose. In the old days, blacks were victims of explicit acts of racism, such as “whites only” jobs, restaurants, bus seats, drinking fountains, pools, etc., not to mention the sheer venom rained upon them in ordinary conversation and interactions.  The racism was the dominant note, with the victimization being the result.

Nowadays, however, with a few anomalous exceptions, those overt acts are gone. All that is left for the American blacks is a pervasive sense that they’re not getting ahead. As compared to white and Asian Americans, they’re doing less well economically, more of their men are in jail, more of their girls have sexually transmitted diseases, few of them do as well in school, etc. How does one account for these myriad failings?

Because the black establishment is so deeply invested in the Democratic social welfare policies, blacks cannot even consider the possibility that their status results from the fact that liberal government policies, by infantilizing them, makes it virtually impossible for blacks to stand up and succeed. John Doggett, whom the liberals attempted to destroy back in 1998 when he stepped forward to defend Clarence Thomas, understood this:

When I started my career as a legal services attorney in 1972, I thought that liberals really cared about the poor, the oppressed and people of color. Twenty-six years later, I have learned that while some have good intentions, many liberals are closet racists. They claim to be “sensitive, progressive and concerned,” while in reality far too many of them truly do not believe that blacks or Latinos are as smart as they are. In fact, their liberal orthodoxy cannot exist in a world where blacks and Latinos no longer “need” their help.

You can get even lengthier analyses along these same lines from a few other African American writers who look at the soul-destroying culture of enablement emanating from the liberal white establishment: John McWhorter’s Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage in Black America and Winning the Race: Beyond the Crisis in Black America (although I was saddened to learn that, despite his great insights into the damaging effects of the tight relationship between blacks and the Democratic party, he supports Obama); Larry Elder’s Stupid Black Men: How to Play the Race Card–and Lose; and Keith Richburg’s Out of America: A Black Man Confronts Africa, which describes how blacks in turn use these same enabling concepts to damage Africans by supporting dictatorships.

If you’re African American and are denied a large batch of analytical tools necessary to examine your situation, how then do you explain the fact that blacks, on the whole, are not doing that well in America? If it’s not the fault of Democratic policies, and if you can’t (or won’t) blame yourself, you must be the victim of some nefarious scheme — and that scheme can be only one thing:  racism.

This modern victimhood/racism analysis, then, is the mirror image of the reality in the 1960s, when racism was the dominant note, with victimization as the inevitable result.  Here, the victimization becomes the dominant note, with the victims backing into racism as the only possible causative agent.  From there, it’s easier to keep taking that conclusion to further and further extremes:  Because blacks are deeply invested in the Democratic party, which therefore by definition cannot be a contributing factor to racism or victimization, that racism must come from some amorphous “government” — not the same one that demands affirmative action, quotas, welfare, etc., but some evil, secret government controlled by people who are not Democrats, and who therefore must be Republicans.

Mentally inhabiting a logical universe that prohibits investigating or recognizing certain facts, demands false syllogisms that force together two ideas that may have been a pair in the mid-20th century, but that no longer work in harness in the 21st century.  For Wright, things aren’t going well, therefore he’s a victim. And if he’s a victim, there must be racism. And if there’s racism, it must be because of evil white conservative men covening in the back rooms of government offices. QED.

(One more thing:  if you’ve noticed, as I have, that the entire angry African-American argument seems rooted in realities of the past, not the present, you’re noticing yet another example of the Left’s perpetually regressive take on the world, something I wrote about here, at the American Thinker.  The African-American community is, in many sectors, a suffering community.  Its problems should be identified and addressed, but that can never happen if “progressive” rhetoric remains stuck in 1963.)