Deconstructing Fairy Tale Enigmas and Conundrums

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Once upon a time there was a town that had a rat problem.  It decided to hire a Pied Piper who could lure the rats away from town with his magic flute.  Okay, you probably know the rest of the story.  He got rid of the rats, but the town managers refused to pay him.  So the Piper got out his magic flute and lured all the young children away.  They were never seen again.  Incredibly sad.  But is it plausible?  Let’s examine a few questions here:

  1. What kind of a flute could lure both rats and children? Wouldn’t the frequencies Rattenfaenger_Herrfurth_Pied-Piperrequired be different?  Could children hear the same frequencies as rats?
  2. Where did he take all the rats? What would stop them from coming back again?
  3. Why did he steal the kids? Why not lure the town managers away?  Wouldn’t it be nice if we could get rid of our politicians that easily?
  4. Most importantly, what happened to the kids? If they survived, how would the Piper feed hundreds of kids?  If they did not survive, how did he kill them?  Would the Piper really have been nasty enough to murder hundreds of little children?  And if he did, who would ever hire him again?

Lots of questions but we simply accept the story as it is told.  And that my friends is the problem.  We go through life simply accepting fairy tales without ever questioning them.  For instance, the Trickle-Down Fairy Tale.  This tale says that if we give lots of money to the rich, the money will somehow work its way down to the poor.  Most poor people I know believe this fairy tale.  Most poor people are still waiting for it to happen.

Deconstruction is defined as “A method of critical analysis of philosophical and literary language which emphasizes the internal workings of language and conceptual systems, the relational quality of meaning, and the assumptions implicit in forms of expression.”  I am going to use this concept loosely to look at several old and new fairy tales.  We will look to see if we can find the obvious truths that we take for granted.  Searching for the truth often requires us to cast common myths and assumptions aside and pursue the dangerous and mysterious.  I am going to apply deconstruction to the enigmas (“A person or thing that is mysterious, puzzling, or difficult to understand.”) and conundrums (“A confusing and difficult problem or question.”) that are inherent in most fairy tales.

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Cinderella:

Once upon a time there was a lonely and mistreated girl named Cinderella.  Cinderella is a popular fairy tale with its stereotypical evil step-mother and beautiful but hapless heroine.  Cinderella lived with her two stepsisters and her evil stepmother who made her life hell.  But along came a fairy Godmother who turned things around for Cindy.  Throw in a handsome prince, money and a giant castle and you have the stuff of a fairy tale that still thrills young girls and would be princes.  But I have a few questions:

  1. Ok, I will give you the fairy Godmother with superpowers to transmute organic material into other organic material (mice to horses) as well as pumpkins into a carriage. But if she has such powers why can’t they work past 12 Midnight?
  2. What was Cinderella’s plan after the prince fell madly in love with her? Was she going to get anything else from her stepmother to help with next steps?  It does not 618bdeaaba384270870seem like there was any long-term strategic plan here.
  3. Do you really think that the King would let his heir apparent marry a commoner, no matter how beautiful she was?  If that was the case, why couldn’t the fairy Godmother give Cinderella a million bucks or at least make her a princess?
  4. Where would Cinderella learn palace etiquette? Would she be accepted in court with the manners of a scullery woman?  I doubt it.  I think divorce would have been pretty quick.
  5. What about the poor stepsisters?  So they were ugly.  Doesn’t this story smack of discrimination on the basis of looks and beauty?  Where was the Godmother for the two ugly stepsisters?  Seems to me that they were the ones who needed the most help.  All Cindy needed was a makeover and a gown, but the two sisters needed extensive plastic surgery.

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Anybody Can Be President in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave:

This is a wonderful fairy tale.  It is one that we all grow up hearing and ultimately believing.  “In the USA, anyone with drive, passion and a vision can be President of the USA.”  But let’s be realistic.  Looking at the statistics, we see that:

  • 44 out of 45 Presidents have been white
  • 45 out of 45 Presidents have been male
  • 36 out of 45 Presidents had a net worth in today’s dollars of >$1,000.000
  • 0 out of 45 Presidents have been Latino
  • 0 out of 45 Presidents have been Asian
  • 0 out of 45 Presidents have been female
  • 0 out of 45 Presidents have been Native American

Not since Harry Truman (1953) have we had a president worth less than one million dollars net worth.  Now if there are 328,000,000 people in the USA and we subtract from the total amount of people living in the USA those with little chance of becoming President, (I list each of the above characteristics that do not seem to play well with one’s odds of becoming President) we can see how many people really do have a chance of becoming fulfilling this fairy tale.

328.2 million people in the USA (2019)

-76.29 million Black and White men under the age of 35.  (Must be at least 35 to be President.)

-73.29 million Black and White women under the age of 35

-85.1 million Black and White women over the age of 35 (Not good odds since none have made it yet)

-27 million Latino women

-15.4 million Latino men under the age of 35 (Not excluding Latino men over 35)

-9.7 million Asian American women

-4.66 million Asian American men under the age of 35 (Not excluding Asian American men over 35)

-3.2 million Native American women

-1.77 million Native American men under the age of 35 (Not excluding Native American Men over 35)

I have not forgotten LGBTQ people, but I have not found a way to eliminate them by ethnicity or gender from the general census data.  I did not subtract Asian American, Latino or Native American men over the age of 35 who I think may still have a better chance of being president than a woman.  African American men over the age of 35 are also included since their probabilities are now somewhat higher since President Obama’s election. 

Subtracting the groups that are not likely to see a presidency in the near future we are left with:  31.79 million men over the age of 35 who have a chance of being president.

We will assume that you will likely need to be a millionaire to be elected President.  5.8 percent of the US population are millionaires.  Let’s estimate that between 3 to 4 percent of all millionaires are either males over the age of 35.  The rest of the millionaires being either female or males under the age of 35.  Then we multiply 31.79 million x 5.8 % to find the Final Total number of people in the USA who may rightfully feel that they have a chance to be president.  Trumpets please.  The final number is:

1.113 million

Thus, if you are born in the USA, and you are a male over 35 who is rich your chances of becoming President are about 1 in a million.  White males will no doubt continue to hold an advantage for the foreseeable future.  Well, at least that is better odds than winning the lottery.  However, the lottery pays a lot more.

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Goldilocks and the Three Bears:

Once upon a time there was a mischievous and naughty little girl named Goldilocks.  Goldilocks was spoiled rotten by her parents who gave her everything she wanted.  They named her Goldilocks because of her bright yellow hair.  One day Goldilocks decided to go out for a walk in the woods.  She soon came upon a small cottage and decided to peek in the windows.  She was a very nosy child.  Upon looking through the window, she spied a table with three bowls of hot porridge just sitting there.  She did not see anyone inside and decided that she was hungry and that she was entitled to a bowl of cereal.  She held the belief that everything belonged to her and that included the porridge.  She tried the door and upon finding it open, she entered the home.

Have you noticed that Cowboy Stories, Comedy Romances and Fairy Tales all have happy endings?  For the rest of us, it’s death and taxes.

At this point, I am sure that you remember the rest of the story.  She eats three bowls of porridge.  Do you think she was maybe obese to begin with?  She breaks the little bear’s chair when she tries to sit on it.  Proof that she was too fat!  And then messes up all the bear beds and finally gets caught by the bears when they come home.  At this point, Mama bear would probably have messed up the kids face for messing with her nice clean beds.  But as far as I know, Goldilocks gets out alive and runs home where her parents continue to spoil her rotten.  So a few questions to deconstruct things if you will indulge me.  I will give you the anthropomorphic bears as a gift even before we begin.

  1. How did a fat kid get so far into the woods that she found a bear den or cottage?
  2. Where did the bears purchase their furniture and porridge? Do fairy tale bears shop at the same stores as humans?
  3. Bears can run at speeds upwards of 30 mph, how come they could not catch Goldilocks?
  4. Why were the bears eating porridge? Is that a traditional bear food?
  5. If the bears lived that close to other human dwellings (Assuming a fat kid could not walk too far) how come no one warned Goldilocks about the bears?
  6. What is the moral of this story anyway? Spoiled kids should not mess with bears or eat porridge that does not belong to them?

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The United States of America is the Greatest Democracy on Earth:

This is one of my favorite fairy tales.  According to this story, there was this exceptional group of people who banded together to form a more (and almost) perfect nation where democracy ruled.  It would be a government of the people, by the people and for the people.  According to the Fairy Godfather, who was named Thomas Jefferson, everyone in this country would be free except: Black People, Indian People, LGBTQ People and Women.

This country would be based on a democratic form of government where each person had one vote (Except Black People, Indian People and Women).  Representatives would be fairly elected and would make great and wonderful decisions for the people based on their superior knowledge and intellect.  Democracy would be a rule of the majority with CONCERN for the minority.  Thus Black people could continue to be happy down on the old plantations, women could continue to stay barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen and Indians could happily walk many miles to their new homes on the reservations.  What a great place America would be.

There was only one snag though.  Jefferson said that you could not really have a Democracy without two things:

  1. An educated citizenry who could make informed decisions.
  2. A free press which would keep people informed.

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Now, in the fairy tale, voters are all given equal opportunity to vote.  There is no voter suppression, Jim Crow laws or gerrymandering.  A vote is a vote is a vote.  Also in the fairy tale, the government is “for the people” not “for the Corporations.”  Representatives are looking out for the best interests of the people and not big business.  There are also no bad guys in the fairy tale.  These are the things that make the fairy tale so great and insure a happy ending.  In real life we have the greedy lobbyists, the corrupt politicians, the sycophantic followers and the corporations who buy votes.  Real life does not have happy endings.

But before we finish with deconstructing this fairy tale, we must say something about Jefferson’s two conditions for a democracy noted above.  In the fairy tale we have great public education systems where people are taught to think for themselves and to be able to tell lies from the truth.  In real life of course, schools do not teach critical thinking and students cannot distinguish lies from truth.  However, they are excellent at finding the right answers to exam questions.

Turning to the issue of a free press, in the fairy tale, we have courageous journalists who seek out the truth and who will print it regardless of the consequences.  In the fairy tale, journalists are motivated by a desire to inform the public and to ensure that information about critical issues is widely available.  In real life, most journalists are hacks whose major skills involve writing good clickbait lines to draw you into an extensive amount of advertising designed to make money for the corporations running their newspaper.  Profits and not information are the motivators in real life for newspapers and media.

So there you have it.  I have deconstructed some major fairy tales.  If you live in the USA, I am no doubt sure that you have read or heard of all of these.  Just to be clear, I love fairy tales and the fantasies that they give us.  Without fairy tales, we would have to live in the real world 24/7 and who could do that without going out of their minds?

“There must be possible a fiction which, leaving sociology and case histories to the scientists, can arrive at the truth about the human condition, here and now, with all the bright magic of the fairy tale.” — Ralph Ellison

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Autobiographies from the Dead – Jefferson the Founding Father

For the next several weeks, my blogs are going to consist of “autobiographies” written by some very special people.  They have one thing in common.  They are all dead.  Some have a burial place and some were simply discarded like pieces of trash.  Their stories will be told by the deceased themselves.  They cry out from the fields, rivers and graveyards to speak.  I have heard their cries.  They want me to tell their stories to you.  They want you to know what their living and dying was for.  This week, Jefferson will tell you the story of his life and death.

Jefferson the Founding Founder

Thomas_Jefferson_by_Rembrandt_Peale,_1800My name is Thomas Jefferson.  I am one of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America.  I almost single handedly wrote the Declaration of Independence.  I was the third President of the newly united colonies and one of the most influential and famous Americans who ever lived.  Many people equated my skills and abilities with those of Leonardo Da Vinci.  I was considered a Renaissance Man.  My quotes and writings are ubiquitous throughout the world.  My name is synonymous with the concepts of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.

Yet, here I am today looking down at my grave in sadness.  I would never have thought that the day would come when I would be scorned and spit on and called a hypocrite.  Of course, even in my lifetime, I had many critics and people who attacked my position.  But it is different today.  Now, they are not doing it for political gain or to thwart my plans for building a great nation.  Today, I am being criticized because they honestly believe that I was a hypocrite and that I deserve to be denounced for it.

The sad part is that they are right.  I was a hypocrite.  I was also a coward.

I want to explain why I did not free my slaves.  I suppose I could make a few good excuses that would have to do with the economic realities in which I was faced.  I can’t deny that I knew slavery was wrong.  I often talked about how evil the entire enterprise was.  Our “peculiar” thing was, as we called it down South, not simply peculiar, it was fundamentally cruel and malicious.  Nevertheless, I was never a very good business man and I teetered between bankruptcy and solvency on a daily basis.  There was no way I could have freed my slaves and still run an economically viable business.  I was caught between making a living and living my ethics.  I choose to eat and continue my privileged life style.  In the South, I was not condemned for this choice.  I received no accolades either.  This was the way we lived.  We owned slaves and slaves were inferior beings born and bred to work for the White man.   I lived in a strange world.  I could not accept these beliefs but neither could I break free of them.  I do not justify my acquiescence and I do not seek to be exculpated for my failures.   If I were in a dock today, I would plead guilty.  My soul could not rest without such an honest admission.

sally hemingsNow we come to Sally.  I loved her like I never loved any other woman in my life.  I started a clandestine affair with her when she was only 14.  Was I taking advantage of her?  Maybe so, I do not know.  I never forced her or threatened her or coerced her.  Perhaps it started out as an affair of passion when my wife was sick and I was not able to have sex with her.  Soon though, it grew into much more than that.  Sally was witty and smart and fun.   She had none of the pretenses of the typical Virginian lady.  In bed, there were no rules and anything went.  If I could have imagined heaven, it would have been being in bed with Sally.

People started to suspect that something more than slave master and mistress was transpiring between us.  I could not afford to let anyone think it was anything more than that.  In 1790, in Virginia, it was permissible to sleep with a slave.  It was not permissible to love a slave.  My reputation, my entire life would have been destroyed if it had been shown that I was openly consorting with a Black woman.  I had six children with Sally.  Each of these children was kept secret from everyone around us.  I took the secret of these children to my grave.  One hundred and fifty years later, my family are still attempting to deny my lineage to these children.   I am sorry that I had to deny them.  I was worse than Peter with Jesus.  They were my children but they were raised in my house as domestic servants.

I freed Sally and her surviving children when I died.  I could not afford to free all my slaves as this would have left my heirs with a large debt.  My lands, house and slaves merely paid off the mountain of bills that my creditors were clamoring to be paid for.

Did Sally love me?  I don’t know.  I would like to think that it was more than simply serving her master.  But who can tell?  In the warped and perverted system that we called our “peculiar” thing, how could a Black woman have a normal relationship with a White man or vice versa?  Suspicion, fear, prejudice, uncertainty and opportunism were all pervasive in Black-White relationships.  Sally may have seen me simply as a way to have her children freed.  I might have indulged a younger beautiful woman simply to satisfy the narcissism of “old” age.  Who knows?  There is no sense wondering what I would do if I could do things over again.  I am sure I would do the same thing that I did before.  I would indulge in cowardice and hypocrisy because I could do no other.

I am looking at my grave stone now.  It reads:

HERE WAS BURIED
THOMAS JEFFERSON
AUTHOR OF THE DECLARATION OF AMERICAN INDEPENDENCE
OF THE STATUTE OF VIRGINIA FOR RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
AND FATHER OF THE UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA.

These were my most important accomplishments.  Please remember me for them.  Forgive me for my failings as a human being.  I never claimed to be a god or to be better than my fellow man.  I ask forgiveness from my children and my descendants.  I hope someday my ancestors will acknowledge the patrimony and lineage between the Hemings and the Jeffersons.  Ironic, that in some ways, this lineage is a more fitting tribute to the principle that “All men are created equal” than anything I have ever done with my life.

I never believed in a God of judgement or a God of human like characteristics.  My belief was in some kind of a higher power that created the galaxies but was not necessarily sentient.   I wander now through these galaxies looking for the god of Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Mohammed.   If I should find him, I will ask him why?  What was it all for?  What did I accomplish?  Would I have left a greater legacy if I had not been a hypocrite?  How could I have done this?   Would he forgive me for my hypocrisy and cowardice?  How do I get rid of the sadness and pain I feel?

Time for Questions:

Do you admire Thomas Jefferson?  What did you find most admirable about his life?  What would you have done if you were in Jefferson’s shoes?  Why?  What do you think he should have done with his slaves?  Why?  Do you think it was wrong for him to have a relationship with Sally Hemings?  Why?

Life is just beginning.

1789 “As far as I can judge from the experiments which have been made to give liberty to, or rather, to abandon persons whose habits have been formed in slavery is like abandoning children. Many quakers in Virginia seated their slaves on their lands as tenants. They were distant from me, and therefore I cannot be particular in the details, because I never had very particular information. I cannot say whether they were to pay a rent in money, or a share of the produce: but I remember that the landlord was obliged to plan their crops for them, to direct all their operations during every season & according to the weather. But what is more afflicting, he was obliged to watch them daily & almost constantly to make them work, & even to whip them. A man’s moral sense must be unusually strong, if slavery does not make him a thief. He who is permitted by law to have no property of his own, can with difficulty conceive that property is founded in anything but force. These slaves chose to steal from their neighbors rather than work; they became public nuisances and in most instances were reduced to slavery again. But I will beg of you to make no use of this imperfect information (unless in common conversation). I shall go to America in the Spring & return in the fall. During my stay in Virginia I shall be in the neighborhood where many of these trials were made. I will inform myself very particularly of them, & communicate the information to you. Besides these there is an instance since I came away of a young man (Mr. Mayo) who died and gave freedom to all his slaves, about 200. This is about 4 years ago. I shall know how they have turned out. Notwithstanding the discouraging result of these experiments, I am decided on my final return to America to try this one. I shall endeavor to import as many Germans as I have grown slaves. I will settle them and my slaves, on farms of 50 acres each, intermingled, and place all on the footing of the Metayers (Medietani) of Europe. Their children shall be brought up, as others are, in habits of property and foresight, & I have no doubt but that they will be good citizens. Some of their fathers will be so: others I suppose will need government.” – Letter to Dr. Edward Bancroft, Paris, January 26, 1789; “The Works of Thomas Jefferson,” Federal Edition, Editor: Paul Leicester Ford, (New York and London, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904-5) Volume 5

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