Intersections

Exploring the crossroads of religion, culture, and science through a Pagan lens


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Reflections on Beauty and the Beast

I don’t remember a Disney movie launching with as much controversy as this year’s live action adaptation of Beauty and the Beast.  First it was Emma Watson, a well known advocate for women’s causes, taking fire for playing the role of Belle, one of a long line of Disney Princesses who fall for the charms of a man (the term “man” used loosely in this case).  Then there were Christian groups advocating boycott of the film because of a brief moment hinting that the character of Lefou (Josh Gadd) was gay.

Source: comingsoon.net

In the midst of the blowback resulting from that “gay moment” (which, for the record, was quick and innocent), social media blew up with a meme shaming the film’s detractors with a message to the effect of “Keep your gay characters out of my movie about bestiality and Stockholm Syndrome.”  A first, I thought the meme was funny, but then I finally saw the film.  The truth is, this Beauty and the Beast is about much more than the 1991 animated film leads us to believe.  This version is bigger, smarter, more emotional, and- dare I say it- more human.

 

Much like mythology, Pagans often look to fairy tales for lore and wisdom.  Like the ancient myths, fairy tales are often thought to express deeper truths that shine through the fantasy for those with eyes to see.  Larger in scope than the original Disney movie, this Beauty takes more time to explore a number of these deeper truths.

 

  1. True Beauty is on the Inside. This is the obvious theme from Beauty and the Beast.  The film stresses this not only through the medium of the plot, but also in its casting and costuming.  Characters who are terrible people, like the Prince before he is transformed and our villain, Gaston, are good looking.  The Prince, in particular, dolls himself up with excessive makeup, almost as if he is intentionally overcompensating for his inner ugliness, much in the same way Gaston does with his constant bragging.

 

  1. Feminism and anti-rape culture. Gaston’s efforts to gain Belle’s affection are steeped in misogyny and male privilege.  “The only kids you should worry about are your own,” has mansplains to Belle after climbing onto her porch against her will, crowding her space, and making a baby bump gesture over his own belly.  It even seems like Gaston’s entire character arc is essentially a large date rape scheme as he singlemindedly attempts to “work a yes out” and assumes his good looks entitle him to the woman of his choosing.  Instead, Belle falls in love with the Beast, who eventually reveals himself to be intelligent and sensitive, exactly the type of man she was looking for. True, he kept her prisoner, but he does eventually free her and she voluntarily returns to save his life.

Source: zimus.deviantart.com

  1. A Call to be Authentic. Beyond the obvious “Beauty is only skin deep” theme, there is Pagan-friendly call to know thyself in all your parts.  Prior to his transformation, the Prince heavily made up and lathered in wealth and privilege, an outward showing meant to cover his inner insecurity.  We later get glimpse into a childhood in which his beloved mother died young and his father twisted him into a monster – a monster he eventually became.  Belle, on the other hand, knows who she is and what she wants, and she pursues it.  We learn that there is more to each of the Beast’s servants than the objects they turn into, but their human lives were clearly overshadowed by their employer.  After all, “Life is so unnerving for a servant who’s not serving.” Sometimes seeing yourself for all that you are and integrating your various parts is the key living a fully human life.

 

  1. The Rose in the Wasteland.  This may be a bit of a stretch, but bare with me.  In Arthurian legend, the King’s wounded relationship with Guinevere is often seen as a wounded relationship between the King and the Land.  This wounded relationship transforms the lush kingdom into a barren wasteland, which only the Grail can heal.  In Beauty and the Beast, the Prince is similarly out of relationship with his people and in love with his wealth and power.  The curse of the enchantress, which comes as a consequence of mistreating a woman, creates a similar wasteland.  The castle descends into darkness and disuse as its inhabitants slowly lose their humanity while the nearby village forgets their lives and their sovereign.  Yet hope, in the form of a rose, exists and reuniting with a representative of the sacred feminine restores order to the land.

 

They say you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.  The live version questions what would happen if what was “gone” was humanity itself, and it explores that question more effectively, in my opinion, than the original animated movie. Through that loss, the cursed in the castle learn a new respect and love for their very existence. What they become literally, perhaps we could all become metaphorically – in the words of a song from the Broadway musical that was cut from thus film – human again.


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Virtues of the Goddess: Honor

Virtues of the Goddess is a series on the eight virtues mentioned in the Charge of the Goddess and their relationship to the sabbats of the Wheel of the Year.  This is Part 3: Honor.

Last Sunday, I was treated to a special screening of the classic Mel Brooks satirical comedy Blazing Saddles.  The screening, which included a discussion with Brooks himself afterward, packed our gigantic Segerstrom Center with rabid fans of the comic genius writer-director-actor-singer-composer-producer.  The crowd spanned across all ages.  My dad, in his 70s, sat next to me.  The lady next to him looked to be not quite of drinking age, and she enthusiastically sang along the opening theme song as she zealously cracked her imaginary whip at all the right moments of the introductory number.

 

(Fun Fact that I learned at the screening: The singer of the theme song, Frankie Laine, had no idea the movie was a comedy, so the heartfelt passion in his voice is genuine)

I was worried about how this showing would turn out.  My father is an avid Mel Brooks fan, so I grew up watching this movie and knew almost every line, but I hadn’t seen it in probably 20 years.  Released in 1974, Blazing Saddles is a Western spoof that intentionally and constantly pushes racial conflict directly into your face.  The N word is tossed around as casually as a softball on a lazy spring day.  It’s not pretty.

Other racist epithets abound.  The language is often shocking to today’s ear, but it was partly written by the legendary Richard Pryor.  There is no limit on who gets insulted, but the central story is of Bart, played by the classically trained actor Cleavon Little.  Bart is a black railroad worker who gets appointed by corrupt white politicians to the post of Sheriff of Rock Ridge, a town that sits on prized railroad land.  Knowing that the racist locals will tear the lawman apart, they joyously sacrifice him to the white masses hoping to induce chaos and steal the land.

Little

Cleavon Little as Sheriff Bart

Could this play in our current political atmosphere?  It wasn’t very long before I realized that yes, it could.  The satire is plain – those who throw around epithets are portrayed as ignorant savages.  The racists are the bad guys.  They all are dishonorable. Gene Wilder’s Waco Kid character calmly explain exactly what they are: “morons.”  

Gene Wilder Blazing Saddles

Gene Wilder as The Waco Kid

 

This is not one of the Blacksploitation movies that were popular in the 1970s.  Bart is a fully fleshed out character, the least caricatured role in the film.  Bart is always portrayed as honorable.  He and the Waco Kid slowly plant the seeds of honor in the town of Rock Ridge, and those seeds bloom as Sheriff Bart begins to live up to the words film’s theme song:

“He conquered fear and he conquered hate,

He turned dark night into day!”

What makes Bart honorable?  He does what is right.  He lives up to his duty.  It’s not popular, and he risks his own life to do it, but he seeks the right course of action despite odds that are overwhelmingly against him.  He does the right thing, even for people who despise him.  Little by little, he wins the town over by planting seeds of honor.  Those seeds take root, and the citizens of Rock Ridge grow into their own form of honor.  They grow to love Bart.  They learn to honor Bart as a man who does his duty.  They eventually trust him with the ultimate fight against the bad guys, and he inspires them to stand up and defend their homes with honor.

Here at the Spring Equinox, we often contemplate the seeds we are planting.  What are we doing now that will blossom into a fruitful harvest in our lives come fall?  This year is especially important.  With seeds of anger and dishonor being cast far and wide across America, how are we contributing to a more just and honorable country?  t’s a time of contrasts.  We celebrate the returning of the light, yet we remember that we learn about ourselves in the darkness.  

Blazing Saddles is a film that unabashedly points out the dark parts of America’s soul, helping us learn about ourselves (even if it does include a scene celebrating the art of flatulence).  The movie takes racism head on and reduces it to absurdity.  It presents a vision where acting with honor, despite the dangers to yourself, can germinate real change.

I only wish we had learned that lesson back in 1974.  Still, as we rise out of the dark time, yet see so much darkness in the landscape ahead of us, may we plant our seeds of honor and do our part to “turn dark night into day.”