|Strangled by Dark Emotions|
Photo of honeysuckle vine along the Merrimack
CC Jean Stimmell: 4/16/16
Tuesday, April 19, 2016
A version of this photo-essay was published in the Concord Monitor
Defending Fairy Tales from the National Rifle Association
Finding ourselves shanghaied into an alien world dominated by infotainment TV and Donald Trump, I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised that the National Rifle Association(NRA) has decided to join the club by rewriting fairy tales to give them happy endings. These revisions promote the notion that if only victims, like Little Red Riding Hood, had been packing a gun, they would have triumphed over evil.
This marketing ploy by the NRA to rewrite Grimm’s’ Fairy Tales is wrong on so many different levels.
On the flesh-and-blood, human level, promoting the use of guns by children is reckless and morally reprehensible when, already in the United States, close to 50 children and teenagers are shot daily; and where suicide by gun is the leading cause of death in children over the age of 9. We can’t risk more such deaths.
At the cultural level, the NRA’s actions are unforgivable sacrilege. The NRA is defiling a classic work of literature, praised by the likes of W. H Auden as one of the founding works of Western culture. Ethically and spiritually, it feels to me like blasphemy to replace the timeless wisdom of fairy tales with the naked assertion that might-makes-right.
I will admit that, on the surface, fairy tales – like the NRA – do indeed simplify the world by separating it totally into black and white. They are populated with people who are one-dimensional: either completely good or bad. The NRA has created “happy endings” by taking this one-dimensional thinking to a whole new level: Just shoot the bad guy and the problem is solved.
However this upends the deeper meaning of fairy tales which, in the final analysis, bear witness to how rash action and violence don’t solve problems but create bigger ones. For example, remember what happened when President Bush quickly declared victory after his military invasion of Iraq, announcing to the world: “Mission Accomplished!”
Fairy Tales have a different mission. They externalize the bad guys, the evil ones, not to blow them away but to create a safe space for children and adults alike to ponder the true nature of our feelings. By having this safe place to process our dark, underlying emotions, we gain the wisdom to see that this cursed shadow we are wrestling with is often a projection of our own dark impulses – not an external enemy.
Like religion, fairy tales can awaken us to the truth that the evil we wish to banish, more often than not, resides not in the world outside but within the recesses of our own heart. They also teach us how to come to terms with the unpredictable nature of change in our lives.
Fairy tales teach children and adults alike about the uncertainty of life and dangers that are always lurking, poised to jump out and confront us at any moment. That is the nature of life: we can’t escape. Despite our multitude of material goodies and high tech gadgets, we all still grow old, get sick, and die. Shit continues to happen. Some would say now more than ever.
The role of a fairy tale is to give us hope and reassurance by reconnecting us to our childhood feelings of awe and respect for life as a miraculous process – not to be confronted with a snarling threat, as if in a Clint Eastwood movie: Go Ahead, Make my Day.
In essence, fairy tales are metaphorical and mythological: their function is to teach us that despite ever-present possibilities of impending danger and misfortune, we must keep on growing and moving forward to reap our reward. In Shakespeare’s memorable words, Out of this nettle, danger, we pluck this flower, safety.