Poverty and Humility Lead to Heaven: From Asking for Food to Asking for Money

While the rich are getting richer, the “poor” are getting richer too.

The Grimms included a story called “Poverty and Humility Lead to Heaven” in their collection of tales. In the story, a prince searches for a way to enter heaven. Upon the advice of a poor beggar, the prince puts on tattered dirty clothes and lives as the most poor and humble man on the streets for seven years. He does not ask for money, rather he only asks for morsels of food from kind people. Once seven years have passed, the prince, unrecognizable at this point, returns to his family. He requests that the servants tell his parents of his arrival, but they refuse. The prince tells the queen that he is poor and hungry, upon which she takes pity on him and allows him to stay in the castle. The prince is fed very little by the servant who believes a beggar does not deserve such fine food, choosing to keep it for himself or feed it to the dogs. Eventually, the prince dies from starvation.

Although one would think that the story would have ended with the cruel servant dying rather than the humble prince, most fairy tales in the Grimms’ collection have unfulfilling, dissatisfying endings. However, the point is that beggars back then truly asked for the bare minimum amount of food needed to survive. The idea of humility of the poor seems to elude today’s society, especially in New York.

Case-in-point, the panhandlers of New York City’s trains seem to be very capitalistic beggars. Rather than ask for food, most panhandlers today ask for money and only money. On rare occasions, a New Yorker will encounter that one panhandler that asks for food in addition to money. The sincerity of their request for the consumable rather than the monetary, however, is questionable.

One day, while riding the L train, I was approached by one elderly panhandler. The man looked sincerely hungry and desperate. He had given the usual panhandler’s speech to the train car, except he insisted that even the smallest amount, or even a donation of food, could make a difference in his day. I had no cash on me on that particular day, but I did have a few granola bars in my bag. I decided to give the panhandler one of the bars when he headed in my direction, to which he gave me the greatest look of disappointment and shook his head, choosing to toss the granola carelessly into his pocket and move on to thank those handing him money. I was angered yet amused by the transgression. It made me realize that even in the most dire of situations, within the U.S., namely New York, money reigns over all, even the vital necessities for life like food.  Humility like that of the prince in the tale does not exist among most panhandlers in New York.

Although many may think that my experience with that particular panhandler was unique, I have seen similar situations unfold before me numerous times both in the subway and on the streets. One particular man stood on the stairs leading to the Hunter College campus daily asking for money. One day, he pulled out a Blackberry from his pocket, leaving me completely astonished to see that the supposed beggar who claimed he had no money and needed monetary help had a better phone than I did.

Although this viewpoint may seem cynical, it is worthy to note that in an increasingly superficial world, looks can be very deceiving.

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The Prince Who Feared Nothing: From Tale of Gainful Fearlessness to Film of…Gainful Fearlessness

There is nothing to fear but fear itself.

Somehow, that wise phrase seemed to evade the minds of the tall-tale tellers during the lifetime of the Brothers Grimm. In their recounting of the tale “The Prince Who Feared Nothing”, fearlessness doesn’t come from simply overcoming the feeling of fear itself, rather it is innate. The Disney film Girl vs. Monster (2013) employs such an idea, recognizing that fear is a natural human characteristic and facing your fears is what truly engenders fearlessness. Both mediums, however, recognize the triumph and gains of being fearless over cowardice.

The Grimms’ tale follows the trek of one fearless prince. Born fearless, the prince chooses to leave his parents’ home and travel the outside world in order to find some form of excitement. He soon falls upon a game of ninepins that belonged to a giant (likewise, the pins were giant-sized), and decides to play with the objects (respect for private property went out the window). The giant, surprised to see how a mere human could play with such big and heavy objects, challenges him to retrieve an apple from the Tree of Life. The giant knew that the prince would have to get past many obstacles, including wild animals guarding the tree in order to reach the tree. If he managed to do that, he would have to get his hand through a ring, which would attach itself to his arm, in order to get the apple.

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The prince, being the fearless and strong man he was (and quite cocky), accepted the challenge. He managed to get past the wild animals who were all sleeping and reach the tree from which he proceeded to stick his hand through the ring and grab the apple. A lion catches the prince in the act and chooses him as his master.

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The giant, impressed by the prince, takes the apple from him and presents it to his bride. Unfortunately for him, his bride knew he had not taken the apple because he did not have the ring from the Tree of Life. The giant then tries to unsuccessfully trick the prince by getting him to take the ring off. He then blinds the prince and later gets killed by the prince’s faithful lion. The prince gets his sight back by the magic water from a nearby brook (these tales are so abundant with logic).

The prince continued on his way through the world and falls upon a castle with a beautiful maiden who is trapped under a spell. In order to free her, he must spend three nights in the castle and survive the haunts and tortures of demons that inhabited it. The prince successfully does so, never showing a single ounce of fear, and frees the princess.

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The theme of the story: if you fear nothing, you get a princess (everyone else is screwed).

In Girl vs. Monster, Skylar is a fearless girl who gets the guy in the end as well, however, her approach to fearlessness takes a turn for the realistic (well, as realistic as it gets when there are monsters involved). Skylar is known by her friends as literally having no fear. As unnatural as it seems, it is discovered that it really is unnatural. Skylar’s parents, who are monster hunters, trapped a monster that fed off her fear when she was an infant, trapping away all of her fears as well. However, on Halloween, all of the monsters become unleashed, releasing 15 years of fear into Skylar. Overwhelmed by the fright of having discovered a new and seemingly unrealistic side to her parents and the surrounding thousands of monsters trying to take the souls of all the fearful humans, Skylar realizes that fear is a human feeling. With the help of her friends, however, she soon learns that the key to becoming fearless and getting rid of the monsters that feed on fear is to stand up to your own fears. Essentially, the way to get rid of fear is to stop being afraid of being afraid (it’s not as confusing as it seems at first). Of course, after saving the lives of her parents and all her friends from the treacherous monsters, she gets the guy of her dreams who (playing along very well with the theme of the film), works up the courage to finally ask her out.

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Although there were fantastical elements to both the tale and the film, Girl vs. Monster seems to offer children a much more realistic and useful lesson. Acknowledging the existence of fear is probably a safer route to go for children who don’t understand why they are scared of the Boogey man hiding in their closet and want to find out how to get rid of him. Although (and not surprisingly) the film included a string of musical numbers sung by the protagonist Olivia Holt, most likely as another marketing ploy, it gave viewers something much more useful and valuable than the tale recounted by the Grimms did. The tale simply told kids that if you’re not fearless, you get nothing and are ultimately a zero; if you’re fearless you get everything and you’re the hero.

The most important factor in these two: fearlessness always gets you the guy/girl of your dreams in the end.

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Freddy and Katy: From Wives That Are Dumb Yet Obedient To Wives That Are Intelligent Yet Unfaithful

The brothers Grimm sure knew how to shine a light on marriage. In one of their recorded tales “Freddy and Katy”, they recount the story of a simpleton wife who is too gullible and too obedient to her husband and receives punishment after punishment, ending up as a homeless victim of rape. The concept of women receiving the short end of the stick is still one highly renowned in today’s society, despite the movement to empower females. In the recent film, Temptation (2013), directed by Tyler Perry, a strong, intelligent, and fairly independent woman becomes unfaithful to her inattentive husband, resulting in her assault and eventual downfall with AIDS.

In “Freddy and Katy”, Katy is the most humble and innocent wife a man could ever ask for. Being the idyllic attentive and caring wife that society then (even now, unfortunately) encouraged in a marriage, she catered to her husband’s every whim and need. However, Katy was very dimwitted and gave away her husband’s “yellow chips” (which were actually pieces of gold), which she was not allowed to touch, to a sly group of scoundrels looking to barter items. Once Freddy discovers the tragic exchange, he scolds Katy, who suggests they go after the bandits and retrieve their gold.

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On their journey, Katy slowly loses her husband’s food, but manages to outwit the bandits with her dimwittedness. The couple retrieves their gold and head back home. Freddy, being quite upset by the entire incident, tells Katy she must work harder in the fields. Katy does as her husband says. In the spirit of censorship, the Grimms disguise a rape scene as a simple daydream where Katy “accidentally” cuts her clothing off while “daydreaming” and does not recognize herself once she snaps out of it (from a psychological standpoint, “daydreaming” and lack of recognition are ways rape victims would disconnect themselves from the criminal actions being performed on them). Katy then runs to her house and asks her husband if she is indoors, to which a supposedly sleepy Freddy confirms  (so, basically, she gets rejected by her husband after being raped). Katy leaves and joins a pack of thieves, scares two old men away from a turnip patch, and the story ends. The wife is left as dimwitted as before, but now she is a victim of rape, a thief, and homeless.

In Tyler Perry’s film, Temptation, Judith is a smart and independent woman who marries her first and only love, Brice. She moves to D.C. and lives happily with her husband. She cooks for him, cleans their home, and performs any sexual acts he desires (the perfect wife). However, upon coming to work one day, she receives a new client, handsome and wealthy Harley, who is immediately drawn to her. As Brice becomes less and less attentive to his wife, even forgetting her birthday for a second year in a row, Judith finds herself growing more and more attracted to Harley, who constantly drowns her in compliments and romantic gestures. Eventually, Judith becomes sexually and romantically involved with Harley, leading her to a life of drugs, alcohol, and hard partying. Harley eventually becomes physically aggressive with Judith, beating her to a pulp one night. Brice comes to the rescue, however, he no longer wants his wife back. At the end of the film, Judith is a marriage counselor living by herself and with AIDS.

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Somehow, in both the tale and the current film, the concept of women taking the fall for every man’s shortcomings and receiving the short end of the stick is a theme that resonates loudly. Freddy wasn’t the perfect husband. He constantly reprimanded his wife for simply trying her best to do all that he asked and caring about him. He sends her off in a time of need when she has been a victim of sexual assault rather than help her. Likewise, Brice becomes completely inattentive, taking all that Judith does for him for granted. Once she is down in the dumps, he rescues from the scene, but altogether abandons her afterwards. Somehow, the male’s blame in the situations are completely overlooked, so that responsibility for all that goes wrong falls solely on the female.

It is a scary thing to see that despite the supposed progress that females have made in gaining equality in today’s society, they are still second rate citizens to men. Such a concept has transcended centuries and is unfortunately common in many cultures across the globe. Although no marriage is ever ideal, the Grimms and Tyler Perry’s film play with the idea that the perfect wife takes care of her husband no matter what character flaws he may have, and must remain completely faithful to him, taking full responsibility for her actions even if they were not premeditated or consensual (like rape).

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Now who wants to get married?

The Fisherman and His Wife: From a Tale About Humility to A Culture of Unquenched Greed

“He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have.” -Socrates

Socrates’ quote embodies what the Grimms’ tale, “The Fisherman and His Wife” seeks to teach. The tale tells a story of how one woman’s unbridled greed leads to dissatisfaction and, eventually nothing, a warning tale that doesn’t register with today’s American culture of consumerism.

In this tale, a poor fisherman and his wife live in a hovel by the sea. One day, the fisherman is performing his usual job, when he suddenly realizes he’s caught a flounder on his line. This isn’t any ordinary flounder (what fairy tale would be complete without some unusual creature); it is a talking flounder. The flounder reveals to the fisherman that he is actually an enchanted prince and convinces the fisherman he wouldn’t taste very good ergo he should be released. The fisherman does so, being the kind-hearted pushover (as is discovered as the tale progresses) he is.

Once he returns to his hovel, the fisherman eagerly tells his wife of his encounter with the enchanted prince/fish. The wife demands for her husband to return to the sea and ask the fish for a cottage (obviously if the fish talks, he must be magical and grant wishes). The husband does as his wife commands, and calls the fish. He makes his demand, and the fish replies that he should return home for his wife already has the cottage she desires.

Once he returns, the fisherman finds his wife inside a quaint cottage happily. The fisherman states, “Now we can live quite happily.”, to which his greedy wife replies, “That’s something we’ve got to think about.”

As her reply suggests, the wife is not satisfied by the simple cottage. She continues to ask her husband to go back to the fish and demand for bigger, grander things. Meanwhile, the fisherman continues warning his wife, suggesting that they should be content with what they have and not demand for more. His wife makes one final request toward the end of the story that completely backfires on her. While sitting on her throne as pope, she demands her husband to tell the flounder she wants to be like God. The husband does as he is told, and the fish responds, “Go back home. She’s sitting in your hovel again.” Thus, the wife is left with nothing once again.

The moral of the tale indicates that greediness and the thirst for more can never be quenched and will ultimately lead to nothing.

While this is a worthy lesson to be learned, today’s consumeristic culture drowns out any thoughts of humility in people its the bombardment of commercials and advertisements found in nearly every space. Children are no longer taught to be happy with what they have and appreciate the smaller things in life; rather they are taught to give in to that growing greed that the fisherman’s wife felt.

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Electronic gadgets are constantly being upgraded. The iPhone 5 will become old news in a couple of months when the iPhone 6 is created. The consumerist culture has people believe that they will never be satisfied until they have the latest technology, the latest fashions, etc. Humility goes out the door if you don’t own the thinnest laptop.

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The infectious greed (which should be called the “fisherman’s wife syndrome”) that has contaminated a considerable portion of the American portion translates to nearly every aspect of the culture. Aside from consumable goods, the greed to have more and be the best is very much present, for example, in academia. Students are taught since primary school to get the highest grades and have the best transcript, to apply to Ivy League colleges in order to be the top of the top, the creme de la creme. Somehow the thirst for learning and obtaining knowledge isn’t good enough; the greed to have the highest grades in your class are far more important.

Although humility is seen as an idealistic quality, it isn’t practical in the real world. Greed is ultimately a high-stakes race in this culture; if you don’t keep up, you’ll end up in the lower class and in a large amount of debt.

To whom much is given, much is desired.

Snow White: From Sexist Tale to Feminist Film

Gender roles are constantly being changed and reassigned with each passing decade. What men and women were expected to do ten years ago is starkly different to the roles expected today. Back in the day, women were to be homemakers while men were the breadwinners. Nowadays, although women are empowered and have access to the same opportunities as men, there is still a disparage in gender roles, where females are expected to upkeep their looks and essentially satisfy the male gaze. This is especially evident in modern day cinema.

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There are, however, those few film exceptions that choose to keep their female protagonists fully clothed and powerful. One such film is Rupert Sander’s Snow White and the Huntsman (2012). Ironically enough, the film is based on the tale originally recorded by the Brothers Grimm. Their version of the tale adheres to a more “traditional” (or, bluntly put, sexist) female gender role when it comes to Snow White.

Snow White is, as is typical in most tales collected Brothers Grimm, a beautiful young girl who has a jealous stepmother. After asking her magical mirror who the fairest one of the land was one unfortunate day, it replies “You, my queen, may have a beauty quite rare, but Snow White is a thousand times more fair.” Had the mirror lied, and continued to satisfy the queen’s vanity by responding with the usual “You, my queen, are the fairest of all.”, poor Snow White would have been spared the cruel treatment that ensued. Shortly after receiving this utmost terrible news, Snow White’s stepmother hires a huntsman to take the young girl to the forest and kill her. If killing a child because of a mirror’s opinion isn’t outrageous enough, the stepmother also wants her lungs and liver to be delivered to her as proof of her murder.

Luckily, the huntsman had something close to a conscience and decided to let Snow White get lost in the forest and killed by some wild animal rather than killing her by his own hand. As for fulfilling the stepmother’s organ requests, he kills a wild boar and takes its lungs and liver to her (because a boar’s organs look identical to human’s). Meanwhile, Snow White falls upon the seven Dwarf’s cabin, forgets all common courtesy and eats their food, then proceeds to sleep in their beds. The dwarfs find Snow White and choose to let her stay in exchange for maid work. Snow White is to cook, clean, and sew and knit for the dwarfs in exchange for their hospitality.

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This is the point where the tale takes a hard left toward sexism and gender roles. Snow White is apparently so dim that the stepmother manages to dress up as two different personalities and trick her into her own death. The tale makes it clear that the female brain cannot process anything more complex than cleaning and knitting. The male hero sweeps in and saves the day by accidentally dislodging a piece of poisoned apple from Snow White’s throat and bringing her back to life (somehow, in fairy tale logic, being asphyxiated by a piece of fruit stuck in your wind pipe doesn’t permanently kill you).

Rupert Sander’s film changes Snow White to a modern day, intelligent and strong character which defies cinema norm even in today’s standards. In the film Snow White and the Huntsman, Snow White’s stepmother, Ravenna, pursues Snow White to drain the youth from her and maintain her beauty. She hires a huntsman to track her down in exchange for the resurrection of his dead wife. However, upon learning that she did not have the power to bring his wife back, the huntsman helps Snow White to escape. After a series of close calls with Ravenna, Snow White eventually eats a poisoned and falls into a deep sleep, from which a kiss from the huntsman awakens her. Having nearly died, Snow White kicks into her empowered female role and makes it her goal to exact revenge on Ravenna. She trains in combat and takes command of the Duke’s army. Snow White leads them to battle with her evil stepmother, and, using one of the moves she learned from the huntsman, kills her.

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What makes this version of the tale satisfying is the new look being given to the female character. She is no longer completely dependent upon the male character to help her out of her predicaments, rather, she takes it upon herself to learn the skills others have to offer and help herself. In other words, Snow White can fight her own battles. The film, however, offers a fair balance between complete independence and co-dependency. While Snow White was the one to kill the enemy and save the land in the end, she still worked with her male counterparts and male and female battled alongside one another.

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Sander’s take on the tale is a welcomed change from the Grimms’ tale. Little girls and boys won’t be given the message that females are pretty but incompetent and males are the brains and power of any operation; rather, they will be told that males and females are equals that can empower one another by working together.

Hansel and Gretel: From Witty Children to Witch Slayers

The tale of Hansel and Gretel is one that many can tie back to their childhoods. The Grimms recorded version of the tale is ultimately one of the more popular accounts of the grim story. Two children were driven out of their homes by their father (coerced to do so by the children’s stepmother) due to the family’s poverty and lack of food. When led into the forest the first time around, clever Hans leaves a trail of pebbles which the children follow back home. The second time around, Hans had no resources to leave a proper trail for him and Gretel to follow back home except for the loaf of bread given to them by their parents. He leaves a trail of bread crumbs, but alas, his trail gets eaten by the birds in the forest (shocker!). The children walk aimlessly and get lost in the forest. On the third day, they fall upon a small edible house. Putting any morals they previously had about destroying someone’s property aside, the starving children proceed to eat parts of the home.

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Now, here is where the story begins to get interesting. The Grimm brothers’ account of the tale claims that the old woman who owned the house pretended to be friendly with the children but was really an wicked witch that lured children to her home with her edible home. Clearly, logic went out the window with this tale (how can the children’s breadcrumbs get eaten by animals but the witch’s entire home is left intact?). The witch proceeds to lock Hansel into a caged pen and fatten him up and subjects Gretel to “tough” housework (she cooked the food Hansel was fed and fetched water; it was all merely a slap on the wrist considering she was eating the witch’s home). When the time came to eat the children, the witch told Gretel to climb into the oven. Witty little Gretel tells the witch she doesn’t know how, so the witch shows her how (what can you expect from someone who makes an edible home?) and the young girl locks her in. With the help of a kind little duck, the children return to their father with stolen riches from the witch’s home and live happily ever after sans their stepmother, who died.

The morals of this tale is either unclear or completely irrational. If you’re starving, abandoning your children in a forest won’t work because they will continue finding their way back. If you’re lost in a forest and find an edible home, by all means, eat away at it, kill the owner, and steal her things; it will only bring you happiness and unbridled wealth. Be kind to little ducks because they can help you cross a river with your stolen riches someday.

Regardless of the questionable lessons the tale provides, the Grimm’s version of Hansel and Gretel still serves as a fairly useful warning for children to beware of strangers and food from strange places. However, remaining true to the violent and graphic nature of today’s cinema, a recently released film adaptation of the tale seems to toss any morals whatsoever out the window and plays with the idea that revenge is the sweetest medicine for any wound. Director Tommy Wirkola turns the clever children from the Grimm’s tale and transforms them into talented fighters in his film Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters. Wirkola’s version of the tale has the children successfully murder the witch, after which they deem themselves witch-killing professionals and go from town to town killing witches and saving the townspeople’s children. A grown-up Hansel and Gretel eventually discover that their mother, who was a white witch, sent them away in the woods to protect them from the black witch. Both parents were murdered by the witch-intolerant townspeople who discovered the children’s mother was a witch.

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The film has all the makings of a modern day blockbuster hit: action, bloodshed, gore, fighting scenes, a sexualized female, a troubled yet bravely heroic male, and guns. Somehow, the tale the Grimm’s recorded in their book is turned into a video game (which will probably be hitting the market soon) filled with the violence and horror that viewers enjoy today. What that says about modern day American culture is off-putting. With the advancement of technology, people’s attention spans have become seemingly shorter. What holds a person’s interest nowadays must, apparently, involve weapons and fighting. Perhaps it’s due to the new age of violence that has been created in the spirit of  “counter-terrorism”. What’s scary about movies like this is that tales that were once bedtime tales intended to scare children into obeying their parents and heed their warnings have been transformed into a message that violence solves everything. Children, start going to those shooting ranges and perfect your aim, you may need it one day to exact revenge on your enemies and their friends!

Rapunzel: Disney Makes It All About Looks and Merchandise Again

“Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair.”

It’s fair to say that the latter is the one line that sticks with people most when they read or hear the tale “Rapunzel”.  The Grimm brothers presented a tale of love, both maternal and romantic, in their book. Disney, however, sheds a different light on one of the key figures in the tale, Mother Gothel, in its film Tangled (2010).

In the Grimm’s version of the tale, Rapunzel is literally given to the sorceress by her parents in exchange for Rapunzel lettuce (parenting at its best!), hence the character’s name. The sorceress is presented as a lonely woman who genuinely cares for the child and wants to keep her for herself. When she discovers that Rapunzel has been sneaking the prince into her room (and most likely doing unspeakable things), she is upset. She cuts Rapunzel’s hair and banishes her. Although the sorceress’ actions were quite harsh, the poor woman only wanted to keep her daughter secure from the world and to herself, or so the Grimms made it out to seem in their account of the tale.

Now, Disney, in all of its fame and glory, took it upon themselves to take the tale and transform it into something marketable (so, the usual). In its film adaptation of the tale, Rapunzel’s long golden hair has magical healing abilities, which Mother Gothel wants to use to restore her youth and beauty. Gothel kidnaps the child and locks her away in a dungeon for her own selfish desires. Rapunzel escapes with Flynn (a substitute for the prince), is pursued by Mother Gothel, and eventually has her hair cut and loses all magical abilities.

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Suddenly, Disney turns Mother Gothel from a lonely woman seeking a selfish companionship from her daughter to a vane and evil woman. Looks becomes an overlying theme in the tale in the film adaptation of the tale, as Rapunzel’s blonde hair is considered magical. All of this, of course, is a clever ploy on the company’s behalf to create a marketable film. From this results the urge of little girls all around the country to dress up like the beautiful Rapunzel and buy the long golden wig so their hair can be magical as well (children’s imaginations have always been an easy target for capitalistic ventures). The tale the Grimms once told turns from a twisted yet heart-warming story to a superficial one whose moral is that young beauty is always the winner in the end.
Unfortunately, Disney’s monopoly is evident everywhere. Upon making a Google image search for Rapunzel, the first page of results is loaded with images of the film’s Rapunzel. Tangled merchandise, from backpacks to clothing, flood many of the stores frequented by younger children.

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The goal of tales today is no longer to entertain children or teach them any truly valuable lessons; it’s a capitalistic tool to transform even the youngest of children into consumers.

Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair…or the wig you purchased at your local Disney store.