kaigou: this is the captain. we may experience turbulence and then explode. (3 experience turbulence)
[personal profile] kaigou
In the past year, I've watched a lot less anime and a lot more live action. Except not English-speaking: Korea, Japan, China, Taiwan, Malaysia, India, Mongolia, and a few shows from the Middle East, where there's subtitles. Not saying I watched the movies/tv all the way through, just that I've at least done my best to give everything a half-hour before moving on.

Then I got netflix. After I'd watched the few big-name movies I'd been curious about, I went through a slew of documentaries and was mostly unimpressed at the level of non-information. I mean, when National Geographic is giving Wikipedia a run for the money on lack o' detail and glossing, that's pretty sad. I was even less impressed with netflix's inability to warn me when a movie was dubbed or subtitled; there are only three or four Asian movies on netflix that I don't have or haven't already seen. But a few I hadn't saved, wouldn't mind rewatching, but the unhappy discovery that netflix has the dubbed version, oh, that's like nails on a blackboard. At least warn me, people.

Finally a few weekends ago, out of sheer boredom and having exhausted most everything else of any interest at the site, I dug into television shows. Some of my dwircle has talked about Once Upon a Time, and barring re-watching Xena, I figured, what the hell.

My god, that show is so white.

Normally it'd hit a lot of my buttons, since I love re-told tales, especially ones that take a well-known myth and turn it around or give it more depth. And if the reaction to Idris Elba as Heimdal was any indication, there probably would've been a total hissy fit from people brainwashed into thinking Disney is the only and ultimate version of classics like Snow White, Cinderella, and so on. So of course the characters must all be white, because they are in Disney, even if some of those stories come from other places. Where, y'know, people are yellow, or brown, or even black. Lots of colors! White is just one color, and it's not the only one.

(Ignoring the fact that omg, the show is just so freaking heteronormative, like woah, which made me realize: so are fairy tales. Despite the label.)

I'm thinking it's because I've been watching mostly shows for the past year (or more) where you only ever see maybe one, sometimes (very rarely) two white faces in the course of a series. Most often the white faces are visiting dignitaries, businessmen/women, or maybe priests or soldiers if the show's historical. (There's a whole post to be made about the way white/western people are portrayed in non-Western media, especially women.)

Regardless, I guess I've grown accustomed to shows where there's a wide range of chromatic going on, if nothing else in terms of actual skin tone, even if the majority of the cast is monoculture. (And again, another whole post in terms of the messages/baggage in the portrayal of skin tones.)

Still: OUaT is, wow. Awfully white, across the board. Sure, Maine isn't exactly the land of sunny New Mexico, but still, you'd think there'd at least be a few people with tans. But there's not even that much variation. I started losing track of the foreground story, because I was too busy trying to find faces in the background -- someone, anyone -- who wasn't that same Teutonic, pale, white. There are a few, but other than the djinni, none with names or speaking parts.

I think I'd gotten within a few episodes shy of the first season ending, when I saw someone in my dwircle talking about Mulan. Uh, wait, whut. Mulan? This is a joke, right?

I quit the show at that point, because I love Mulan, but I have major problems with Mulan being cast as a fairy tale. As a myth, yes. As a fairy tale, no.

It ended up as another over-dinner conversation with CP, and we didn't really resolve it, just kind of came to a few things we agreed delineated the differences.

One, fairy tales happen in a distant, never-quite-specified time and/or place. Somewhere in the vague past, in some distant kingdom. Myths often/usually have a specific historical context: King Arthur hung out in Britain and Wales around the time of Rome's fall. Mulan's context is the Northern Wei dynasty, fighting the various wannabe-kingdom-neighbors. Johnny Appleseed and Betsy Ross are myths of the earliest American settlers and the American Revolution, respectively.

Two, some myths, like King Arthur or Joan d'Arc, have fantastical elements, but it seems like this isn't a requirement. That is, you can have it (Gilgamesh) or not (Yang Clan). Fairy tales are fantastical by definition: otherwise, what's the point of the fairy part of things?

Three, there is something so offensive about taking some other culture's myth and making it into a never-never story that I can't even. I mean, think of taking, say, Betsy Ross, and putting her among fairy-tale characters. I don't care that Disney made a movie about a character and shoehorned fantastical elements into it, Disney is not the arbiter of these things, and it's just so many kinds of wrong to take a myth and make it a bedtime fairy tale that I can't even. Seriously, so totally out of evens.

The point where I couldn't even can anymore was finding out that Mulan's in a love triangle with Sleeping Beauty. Mulan doesn't even get her own love interest? She was a decorated general with ten years' battlefield experience. Sleeping Beauty? Her claim to fame is SLEEPING. I just can't.

The disgusting part is that plenty of other cultures have fairy tales, with never-never locations and times, in so-called distant kingdoms or lands. Plenty of them have similar themes to European fairy tales, too, like Erkenek (a Turkish distant kin to Tom Thumb) or Yamato-takeru (a possible relative, story-wise, to King Arthur). Or Ivan Tsarevich, a Russian third/youngest son. Or Udea, a north African girl whose adventures can be found again in Sleeping Beauty and the Goose Girl. Or Vasilisa the Beautiful, who echoes Cinderella, and comes with her own wicked step-family.

I mean, the world is full of fairy tales, from just about everywhere. Why take someone's myth and turn it into a never-never fantastical? Unless, of course, the message here is that anyone else's history is just that: fantastical, pure fiction. Do only our own myths get the decency of being treated like orally-historical, lost-in-history, respected tales?

Related: I stumbled over a post about how Why Sleepy Hollow is both the Silliest and Most Important Show on TV Right Now. Maybe it's time to see if that's on netflix, instead, because I sure as hell can't stomach any more of OUaT, as much as I like the original premise.

That said, I definitely recommend the linked article, especially when it gets into the moralistic representations of PoC onscreen. (I think there could be an argument for the same in fiction.) But worth additional contemplation, now that I have more time on my hands, having tossed to the side yet another promising but ultimately one-note, one-color story.
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kaigou: this is what I do, darling (Default)
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"When you make the finding yourself— even if you're the last person on Earth to see the light— you'll never forget it." —Carl Sagan

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