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Saturday, 31 January 2015

GUEST POST: Into the Woods

This morning I received an (unsolicited) guest post from one of the students on my new final-year course Blindness and Vision in French Culture. I am delighted to publish it below.


(this photo shows Christine Baranski as Cinderella's stepmother and Tammy Blanchard and Lucy Punch as her two blind sisters, complete with white canes and dark glasses, on set during filming of Cinderella's wedding at Dover Castle)

Into the Woods: A Review
A Guest Post by read_and_dream

While I loved Into the Woods on a superficial level for its fun songs, clever interweaving of various fairy tales, and its gentle mockery of Hollywood stereotypes; I found the sexual undertones of it interesting as well, and the implications of what “into the woods” actually meant. However, there was one thing that I found problematic, something that wouldn’t have bothered me before I started the course Blindness and Vision in French Culture: this was how blindness was presented. I was expecting the prince from Rapunzel to be blinded, as I already knew the original story, but I was not familiar with the Aschenputtel version of Cinderella, in which the two evil sisters are blinded by the birds that Cinderella has at her command. It is not so much that I have a problem with this (although considering blindness as a punishment is problematic), but it is the way in which the sisters are presented after they lose their sight. Their blindness is presented as comic, as they blunder around. Had they suddenly become deaf, or wheelchair using, we would not have felt permitted to laugh, so why laugh at blindness? I think it may lie in the theory that we laugh at things that make us anxious; in this highly ocularcentric world, most of us, deep-down, have a fear of losing our sight, as we perceive it to be our most important sense. Or it could be classed as dark laughter; laughter that comes from a sense of superiority over others who are suffering. Why do you think so many people watch Big Brother?  It is not because it is good television. Going back to the film, I definitely felt uncomfortable at the fact that people were laughing at the sisters. I also felt  uncomfortable at the tragic presentation of the prince’s blindness; yes, it is horrible to fall on thorns and have your sight removed in that way, but he still manages to find Rapunzel using his hearing, and yet we are hardly given time to appreciate this before she has healed him with her tears. He is not given the choice over whether or not he wants his sight back; just like Gertude in La Symphonie Pastorale, it is taken as a given.  For once I would like to see a film where someone is given the chance to regain their sight, but refuses. I think that this would challenge people’s perceptions about the tragedy of blindness and let them see that it is just another way of being. A way of being without seeing.


8 comments:

  1. A very interesting post. I did not find the comedy of the sisters' blindness problematic in its context: was not the amputation of their toes and heels also played for laughs? However, I did share your unease at the healing of Rapunzel's Prince Charming blindness. This served to emphasize the status of blindness as a pathos-inducing 'disability'.

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    1. If, in the final analysis, Cinderella 'quite likes cleaning', could not Rapunzel's Prince have likewise subverted stereotypes regarding the 'happy ending'?

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    2. Thanks for your comments, Pollie. I agree that the director missed a great chance to subvert stereotypes with the Prince's blindness. Interestingly, the audio description track which accompanies the film makes no mention of the sisters' post-blindness behaviour at all but it does describe the Prince's eyes as 'sightless' before Rapunzel cures him. I always wonder how the audio describer feels about narrating blindness to her intended blind audience.....

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    3. Pollie, it's true that the amputation was also played for laughs (I would say that it was shocked laughter from a lot of people; they seemed not to know the Grimm version of the story) but that was something that they were agreeing to (albeit reluctantly), whereas blindness was thrust upon them as a violent punishment by Cinderella's birds, who most of the time she seemed to control, thus perhaps implying that it was her subconscious wish to punish them with blindness after they have spent so long criticising her appearance.
      I agree that the Prince could have chosen to remain blind; it would have sent a strong positive message about living with disabilities, but unfortunately society's fear of blindness is too entrenched for this to happen. I have been considering for a while writing an alternative book of fairy tales in which the main characters defy preconceptions: they would be gay, heterosexual and bisexual; black, white, and Asian; wheelchair using, blind, amputees, and deaf. I would not make a big thing of this, showing it merely in the illustrations, and only mentioning it in the story when relevant, in order to show that it is normal to be different.

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  2. How interesting about the audio description: adds a whole new dimension to the reception of the work.

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  3. Agree with the idea that the stereotype could be subverted in the Prince's case. It bothers me that sexual stereotype were explored, albeit subtly, but that disability stereotype are so strongly assumed to be true, ie blindness is horror, tragedy or punishment. That idea being so pervasive in our culture bothers me because it feels like no amont of education will change it. If a blind person achieves something, he or she is amazing and fearless. If he or she prefers blindness, it becomes a judgment of craziness. The media strongly perpetuates this idea, but it never fails to irritate me.

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    1. Erin I agree with you, and that's one of the reasons why I really like the book "Des Aveugles" by Hervé Guibert, as it does not romanticise blindness, nor make it into the tragedy; all the characters are blind, so we feel free to move beyond that and to analyse their personalities. I've written a blog post on it here if you're interested: http://50booksinayearchallenge.blogspot.co.uk/2015/01/41-prime-of-miss-jean-brodie-42-des.html

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