Society Influences the Grimm Fairy Tales
The Grimm brothers are well-known story-tellers. Most of those who have seen the classic Disney movies like Cinderella and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs have experienced an innocent version of the gruesome and dark tales that are the Grimm fairy-tales. In the beginning of their journey, the brothers had no intention of becoming story-tellers. The article “Grimms' Fairy Tales” states that the brothers found that the best way to allow someone to share the sounds of their dialect was to share the stories that had been passed down to them; the brothers kept a record of the stories they heard and had a book published in 1812 called Kinder und Hausmarchen, which translates to “Tales of Children and the Home”. Fairy tales during the brothers' time didn't have the same purpose as the ones today do. Bayer explains that during the Grimms' time, fairy tales were told to teach lessons and to pass on cultural values and wisdom to younger generations, not to entertain them. Because the purpose of these tales wasn't to entertain, the story-tellers weren't concerned about frightening their younger audiences (“Grimms' Fairy Tales”). Norton states that the tales were told around the fire to children and adults alike. Norton also tells us that, because these stories were dark and provocative, society decided that the nature of the tales had to change. Society had to protect their children from the gruesome nature of the Grimm fairy tales.
Society may take the bulk of the blame for the changing tales, but, in the beginning, it was the brothers who began that change. The brothers, before publishing their first collection, censored the gruesome stories to better accommodate the beliefs of their time (“Grimms' Fairy Tales”). Norton says that society began to pay closer attention to the graphic tales when they had moved from the fire-side and into the nurseries. These tales were dark and contained a lot of violence, sexual undertones, and deception, according to “Grimms' Fairy Tales”. Mothers didn't want their children, especially the younger ones, exposed to stories that inspired violence. Abler explains that as society revised the tales time and time again, the sexual undertones and violence against the innocent left, while the violence against wrongdoers stayed and lessons of Christian morality were put into place. According to “Grimms' Fairy Tales,” English adaptations of the tales tried to make them innocent entertainment for children. Norton explains that these changing tales are forms of education, social regulation, and even mirrors of society. As these stories evolve, they are telling us about ourselves and our changing society. Abler explains that today's fairy tales suggest that the biblical values of Western society have been replaced by concepts of independence and morality. In this shift of morality, the deeper meanings and lessons of some of the earlier versions of the stories are quite often forgotten (Abler). One of the most popular names for children's movies remains a prime example of society's influence on the Grimms' tales.
Walt Disney, a name known to many, has created several films loved by most who watch them. Disney knew his audience when he considered revising the dark nature of the Grimm tales; the people of America had not only been through a world war, but had also suffered from an economic depression – all in one generation. Abler tells us that Disney knew to soften the social and political messages these stories contained; he also know to tweak the stories to enhance their entertainment value. In trying to heighten America's spirits, Abler explains that Disney created Snow White and the Seven Drawfs, spending almost 1.5 million dollars. Being in the midst of the Great Depression, this was an immense amount of money. Fortunately, Disney's economic risk turned out to be a huge success; people went without necessities to buy eighty-three minutes of escape (Abler). Disney simplified the Grimm tale by changing the dynamics of a mother-daughter rivalry to a much simpler moral lesson against vanity, according to Abler. In his revisions of these stories, Disney changed the norm for fairy tales; the hero or heroine received a happy ending, while the villain was disposed of by consequence of their own actions to preserve the innocence of the main character (Abler). Disney's revisions avoid the unpleasant realities that other tales hadn't bothered to avoid; the paying public, however, was quite content with the sunny revisions that Disney offered (Abler). As the world began to evolve into a more independent place, so did the fairy tales. Abler says that the tales began to show trends of people not looking to higher authority for guidance, but trying to find answers within themselves. Though we can try to blame Disney for how fairy tales are known today, we can't. Disney only responded to the people. Society asked for a change and that's exactly what they received.
Change, though sometimes unnecessary, was what was asked for by society. The original tales gathered by the Grimm brothers proved to be too dark and depressing for children. Though the audience was supposed to be varied, society regulated the tales by softening the morals and removing the violence. The regulation went even further with the innocent, modern Disney versions of some of the tales. Change is inevitable, and fairy tales are no exception. They will change as society changes. Society will just have to wait and see what the future holds in the way of fairy tales.
- "Norton Publishes Classic Fairy Tales, Unsanitized; a Willa Cather Draft Reveals a Meta-Novel." The Chronicle of Higher Education 49.06 (2002). Gale Biography In Context. Web. 14 Dec. 2011.
If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”
– Albert Einstein
One of the timeless questions of the human condition is how to achieve happiness. All manner of religions, philosophies, and lifestyles have offered their own recipe for psychological well-being, but recent years have seen the development of an academic cottage industry in “happiness studies.”
Two recent studies have been published on this topic. The first, “Subjective Well-Being and Income: Is There Any Evidence of Satiation?” by Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers presents evidence that there is no limit to the connection between gaining money and increasing happiness. The second, conducted by Carsten Grimm of the University of Canterbury, presents the unsurprising finding that sex and drinking/partying are among the most enjoyable activities in life — even more so than raising children.
The first study is especially important because it rejects the existing wisdom that, generally speaking, increases in wealth accompany or even (partly) cause increases in happiness, but only to a point. Stevenson and Wolfers compared happiness levels between rich and poor countries and between rich and poor people within countries, and found that the relationship between increases in money and happiness is linear and does not appear to diminish.
Wolfers suggested that it isn’t the money itself that brings happiness, but rather the opportunities and choices more money allows.
The second study found that sex and alcohol make people happier than raising children. Using text-message conversations as their data set, researchers analyzed various activities through three aspects commonly thought to comprise happiness: pleasure, meaning, and engagement. The two highest-ranking activities in terms of pleasure were sex and drinking alcohol/partying; sex ranked first in all three categories. Following partying on the pleasure scale are volunteering, meditating/religion, and in fifth place, caring for children. Top-ranked negative activities include recovering from illness, and, ironically, texting.
Grimm sums up the general findings as follows: “Those who tend to be high on all three orientations to happiness not only score high on life satisfaction, they also tend to have higher experiences of pleasure, meaning, engagement and happiness in their daily lives. This means that being able to seek happiness in different ways may enrich your everyday experience and increase your overall well-being.”
Both studies should be taken with a grain of salt. One area of caution with the “Money-Happiness” study is the way the researchers measured happiness. They used information from the Gallup World Survey which asks people to rate their happiness in terms of “life satisfaction” on a ten-rung “ladder” scale and in a ten-point scale, one focusing on a general lifetime perception and the other on a more immediate sense of happiness. While this may be a convenient measure, there is the risk of cultural differences complicating the results.
As for the “sex and alcohol study,” the main problem is that the sample is likely biased toward representing the attitudes of young people. Younger people are more likely to text than older people, and insofar as differently aged people have differing priorities and values, this could skew the results. The study does do right by breaking down happiness into three distinct aspects, though it isn’t clear exactly how Grimm interpreted the messages’ contents.
Finally, we should be cautious when approaching all happiness research, for the simple fact that humans are incredibly complex creatures, and as such we should expect the key to happiness to be complex. Indeed, there is no better happiness researcher than each one of us, for we have the means to know what will make us happy better than anyone.