by FJ Rocca 9/20/15
I have an aversion to the remanufacture of classics. This includes television shows such as Sleepy Hollow, Grimm, Once Upon a Time and Gotham. I was brought up in the era during which Washington Irving’s dual classics were taught in Jr. High School and were revered as American originals full of wit and wisdom, not to mention entertainment. Around Halloween, we all read and reread The Legend of Sleepy Hollow as a scary mystery story, as my 9th Grade English Teacher described it. Among boys of my generation, those pop icons that appeared in the Dell and Marvel Comics series were an integral part of the foundation of authentic American Kid Culture. They were role models. However unreal they may have been as people, they were nonetheless very real as illustrations of the finest basic human values and the stories in which they were embedded were morality tales of good vs. evil, clear and unadulterated, something children could understand and standards they should admire, cultivate and try to emulate. Grimm’s Fairy Tales were intended for the same purpose. They attacked the venal and celebrated the fine. The seven deadly sins were castigated; the virtues triumphed.
But a terrible thing has happened to those precious, crafted life lessons carried so cleanly and artfully by the fairy tales and comic book icons. They have been reduced to the current pop culture which embodies the Politically Correct precept of “non-judgmentalism.” But how can a person be moral and ethical if he is not allowed to discriminate between good and evil? The culture now is swept up in the tidal wave of commercially viable detritus of popular ratings television programming.
I usually reject modernizations of the iconic tales for the esthetic damage done in their low-brow recreation by people whose story telling talents are non-existent and who flourish in the atmosphere of creation by committee. The camel, you may remember, is a horse designed by committee. But when those stories also defame and degrade the mystique of good v. bad and destroy the clear difference between them, the genuine old fashioned entertainment they once embodied becomes today’s cynical mockery of good guys as “uncool” or not “hip”.
There is a destructive element to them, as well. When my children watch Sleepy Hollow, Once Upon a Time or see Disney’s deconstructed and diluted morality tales, such as the ridiculously infantile version of Hunchback of Notre Dame, they not only miss the intent of the originals, but get a replacement of the wonderful with the cynical and even depraved. When I tried to explain to my younger daughter who Ichabod Crane, Katrina van Tassel and the headless horsemen actually were, she refused to listen. Who wants to know that the head dashed to the ground by that specter was actually a jack-o-lantern or that Ichabod was not really a heroic, soldierly fighter of ghosts?
And when I look at the horrid distortion of Peter Pan or Snow White in that fetid, frenzied mix-up of all those other stories that come together in a vapid, bad-taste mess, I find that I have to go into the other room lest I suffer a stroke from anger. I think that if anyone has to make up a horror tale or even a new fantasy, they ought to make it up and not rewrite something that is fine, if not perfect, as it has been. This is not creativity, but a demonstration of its lack. ALL those wonderful tales have meaning when told separately, but, as a sticky mixture have nothing. They are like Dr. Frankenstein’s monster without half the charm!
If the so-called authors of such shows had any talent, they would create new horror or fantasy stories, the authentic way, as others like Lewis Carroll or J.R.R. Tolkien and others did. They’d invent something. Is the pathetic truth that they simply lack originality? If so, there must be a thousand others who could do the job for them. Or perhaps the culture has been so ruined that they are pleased not with J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, who represents eternal youth, and can tolerate only a version of him turned into an evil character who lusts for power. In this terrible show, even the innocently beautiful Snow White is deconstructed into a troubled schizoid mover between worlds. For my taste, this is a sin against nature. And to corrupt Ichabod Crane into some reincarnated ghoul fighter is obscene.
To illustrate the destructiveness of this kind of thing, my young daughter actually read the English 19th Century translations of many of the tales by the Brothers Grimm and enjoyed them immensely as bed-time stories. But she was ten then. Now, at 16, she confuses those wonderful old morality tales with that show called Grimm, in which the bad characters are actually evil animals. It amounts to confounding Aesop with the Texas Chainsaw Massacre!
When I complain about this to friends, I’m repeatedly told that I have no sense of fun. “It’s just silly entertainment” they say, “and anyway what’s wrong with a little fun?” Nothing, of course, but there is a message in it that they have not yet realized. My wife grew furious when someone remade the Grinch’s evil greed into a character trait brought about by poor childhood upbringing. It lost the entire point of the Grinch stealing Christmas!
My wife has a point. For me, the tales told by Washington Irving, the brothers Grimm, and the characters they created should be inviolable, lest they be so corrupted that the lessons they originally taught are buried in the lust for so-called entertainment without a message. The message, after all, is too heavy a burden for the modern mind. I feel the same way about those icons from the Dell and Marvel comics, Heroes who saved the day from evil-doers. It’s not as corny as they think for good to triumph over evil. If it no longer happened, the world would be a very bad in which place to live.
FJ Rocca was born the day after Pearl Harbor in the same hometown as Johnny Appleseed. He is a trained classical musician, a published illustrator and a prolific writer of fiction and non-fiction. His website is candiddiscourse.com. • (719 views)