Saturday, June 5, 2010

Princess In The City

This post is the culmination of two essays that I suddenly realized were really one.


Sometime last week, I watched the Sex and the City Movie. The first one.

I couldn't read and wanted to watch something mindless and it was on, and well, I watched it. Twice actually since the first time through I couldn't believe I was watching it and flipped the channel many, many times.

And just as I was beginning to understand the level of boredom and lack of focus that might lead individuals to think getting drunk is an amazing idea - It occurred to me, that Sex and the City is a 21st century fairytale.

To be specific, a 21st Century Fairy Tale for white, cis, het, currently able bodied western, North American, Christian leaning/familiar women.

A Fairy Tale where there are women, with Princes and challenges to get their Prince or prove their worth to their Prince (shades of Psyche's redemption journey) and get their Happily Ever After. Except for Samantha, who's apparently a really, really, really bad combination of misguided ideas of what a sexually independent older woman must be - which is apparently a female body guided by 'male morals, ethics and emotional responses' - in a way that isn't presented as trans and unfortunately conforms to a lot of male stereotypes; like boredom with monogamy and why men get beer bellies when they're married.

BUT, as I was saying, it's a Fairy Tale. With Fairy Tale meetings, Fairy Tale sex, Fairy Tale trials and obstacles, Fairy Tale miscommunication or lack of communication, Fairy Tale weddings and Fairy Tale endings.

Now please let us put a temporary hold on the type of protagonist in this Fairy Tale and all her particular needs, wants, desires, instincts and self-sabotages.

I feel I must have mentioned before my laywoman's perspective on the Gothic Romance roots of Paranormal Romance and Paranormal Romance (with gore and suspense, possibly mystery) aka-ed as Urban Fantasy. And I think this origin explains why it's so difficult for me to read those kinds of stories these days, despite how much I love the concept of modern life, particularly modern city life, with fantastic beings and abilities and powers.

Because there's a woman no one understands, somewhat isolated from her peers and society, with a certain hurt and a certain loneliness and out there, circumstance will bring her to a 'good catch', who is also somewhat isolated and hurt in his own way, with troubles on his brow and grave responsibilities.

The Dark Prince.

The Dark Prince for the Dark Princess; the one without the cadre of three or so close personal friends to stroke her ego, support her decisions and delight with her in the sunshine, rainbows and wishes of the brighter fairy tales.

And L.A. Banks' characters aside, and the odd WoC 'Chick-Lit', the bulk and majority of these women, these Princesses, are white. And in the case of the Dark Princess, her pale, skinny, flat belly showing on the cover beauty, doesn't seem to understand that physically fighting and battling her monsters and darker shadows involves getting dirty and needing to protect vital organs.

No matter what, a Princess never gets physical scars - only emotional ones that can be healed by the right man, with the right touch and the right Fairy Tale circumstances.

So let's bring the protagonist of SitC (and her ilk) back (unstick the pin, unpause the hold).

It's always FAIRY TALE circumstances, a blatant 'unattainable' for anyone else - and not because it's 'fantasy'. The (SitC) Bright Princess, like an anime magical girl has all good things come to those with the power of heart and determination.

The Bright Princess - The Insider,
aka a Suzy Homemaker; whether it be with cookies or designer house couture.

'The Dark Princess' appeals though a framework that mentions empowerment and sets the reader up to see through the eyes of a character brought, dragged, fallen into, or trying to survive in this world within a world where the rules are all different than what the majority faces and there's a need to be taken seriously and make a place.

The Dark Princess - The Outsider.
aka a Jesse Jetset-Jobhaver ; the hyphenated working woman, facing battles no one can appreciate in a world that can't or won't understand her and her mission.

My whole life is about worlds within worlds. Everyday I live in multiple worlds, trying to balance and keep my head and not lose myself. But I can't see myself or anyone I know in these characters and scenarios. They might talk about home and sanctuary and family but they don't reflect my needs or experiences.

They might talk about prejudice and oppression, but again, they don't reflect my reality. It's all buzz words and the half naked, bestial devoted soul-mate/partner has a white man deep inside - and his great sin is not trusting in the self determination/independence of his white woman. Or occasionally, I've seen one or two books out there , deep inside the bestial blood lusting soul-mate is a devoted white woman for the odd lesbian pairing.

It's all so co-opting and oblivious, like a movie girl in glasses taking them off and suddenly discovering her inner cheerleader or a movie undesirable discovering she alone has the power to fight the darkness, where in both cases she just needed the right school and the right group of friends to notice her, and cultivate her.

It's exceptionalism, which perhaps is a seed within all Fairy Tales. Except these Fairy Tales have set the bar for what is acceptable to be exceptional. Only a certain type of girl (woman if she's had sex before) gets tapped to be cultivated.

There's a very nice essay here about The Audience; that is the people a writer is expecting to read and enjoy their story - who may not necessarily be anything like the actual people who end up with the book or novel in their hands.

And it helps me sum up my thoughts that The Bright Princess and The Dark Princess are for a particular audience; Sex in the City & Paranormal Romance/Urban Fantasy are for a particular set of readers. They tap a particular audience and say 'This is your wish-fullfillment of being chosen, of being swept away, of finding physical ways to represent your self determination'. Much, perhaps, in the same way superhero comic books, these days, tap middle aged white men and try to kiss and nuzzle them into the selfish, self-involved fantasies of their younger years - where girls have cooties or are unattainable prize beauties and everyone that matters is their best male friend.

[ASIDE:] I'm not sure I have the wherewithal right now to get into how Chicklit and Romance have been pushed as the kind of wish-fullfillment that girls and women should want; the types of fantasies and adventures they should want to have or dream about and how Paranormal Romance/ Paranormal Romance w/ Martial Arts or Guns (Urban Fantasy) comes across as a way to reach for more action, while still dealing with the trappings of Romance grooming and also include some sexual revolution with erotica and women claiming pleasure sexually vs claiming pleasure at being chosen to be loved. BUT I do want to put a side note for it, and also point how how it's only a certain kind of woman, a certain class, race, of a certain experience who got pushed into dreaming about handsome hunks, and weddings and exotic vacation romance - and thus who've ended up feeling a need to 'break out'.

It's like when people mention 'Women going out into the workforce and leaving the kitchens in the 60's/70's'; they don't mean all women. It's just that Black maids and Asian restaurateurs and Latina cantina/cafeteria workers* who'd all BEEN supporting their families, don't count.


*Or Greek seamstresses or Italian secretaries etc... [/ASIDE]

So coming back to the Fairy Tale and those who don't get the Fairy Tale; those who get a different story of escape. I've spoken before about what stories get told to me as being for me; Ghetto Lit. Where the Prince, Robin Hood, Hero Hood/Hood Hero foremost male protagonist is from a gang, or is some kind of thug with a history in prison. And the Princess main female protagonist is a girl who knows how to work it, who wants the bling, who's been degraded at some point in her life and treated as less than and she will climb beyond that - and not Cinderella style degraded by the way; I don't recall gang initiation rapes, or forced prostitution even in the old, bloody, toe loosing, birds pecking out eyes versions.

Whether it's Ghetto Lit for teens or Ghetto Lit for adults, whether it's a barrio or the hood, the beasts don't have magical powers, or shapeshifting abilities, they have guns and knives and attitude - and they're "products of their environment" with every negative stereotype that phrase implies.

While some individuals, one cultivated audience, gets told to dream of kicking ass, taking names, and having it all (reasonably middle class and above), including sexual satisfaction - another gets told that their escape, their dreams are (or should be) about getting one over on the cops, staying out of prison and getting their baby's father to admit to blood kinship.

Sometimes, in the telling of the Bright & Dark (for white) Fairy Tales, someone gets to be a lady-in-waiting, an attendant, like Jessica Hudson's character Louise; a magical negress, who's properly trying to attain the Bright Fairy Tale (right down to renting parts of it when necessary). And in return for good service, gets given a totem of respect from the 'Princess' as she goes off towards her now stamped and approved lesser noble marriage - far from court of course.

These are the stories we, as a society, are telling ourselves. Wait no. These are the stories, the expectations, the fundamentals of dreams and fantasy, the Fairy Tales being set forth, sent forward and ingrained by those at the top; with the power. Be this kind of Princess and get this kind of reward. Be this kind of Princess and get this feeling of accomplishment.

What? You don't fit our definition of Princess (From Disney poofy skirt to Chick Lit perfect slippers to UF gritty leather pants) ? Too bad.

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