Just because kids grow up hearing fairy tales it doesn’t mean they’re getting the right messages.
Yesterday, I was reading this article about the sanitizing of fairy tales in modern retellings. (Don’t bother reading it, it’s mostly just aimlessly rambling and some weak arguments.)
But it got me thinking about fairy tales — and how jacked up most of them really are.
Here are 11 awful, just awful lessons that fairy tales are, intentionally or unintentionally, teaching kids.
1 | It’s OK to steal, as long as it’s from a person who looks different than you do
In Jack and the Beanstalk, Jack repeatedly steals stuff from the giant. In some versions of the fairy tale, there’s an effort to justify the theft — the giant’s terrorizing the village, he killed Jack’s father, etc.
But, originally, the fairy tale contained no such justification. Jack was simply stealing from the giant because Jack was a person, the giant was a deformed, ugly person, and that gave Jack carte blanche to have at the giant’s stuff.
Stealing is wrong, of course, unless it’s stealing from an ugly person. Oh, and if said ugly person should catch you stealing and, in the process of getting away, you have to kill them… I guess the world just got a little more beautiful!
2 | You should fall in love with an ugly person, because there’s an off chance they’ll turn attractive
I love this insidious message from Beauty and the Beast. In an ending that feels more tacked on than the several thousand years in the future robot boy-mother reconnection ending of A.I., when Belle cries over the Beast, it turns him into a handsome prince. The reason: Some witch or something made him hideous and he couldn’t transform back to un-hideous until he found true love.
So what’s the lesson here? Date that sweet, smart… but acne-ravaged, obese, and ugly… guy who sheepishly asked you out, under the hope that your love will help him discover Accutane, the miracle cleanse and a magical bone restructuring potion?
That’s not just false hope, it’s offensive false hope. If you’re going to show enough strength of character to date someone because of what’s on the inside, don’t dilute it by secretly hoping you can turn them into something physically they’re not.
3 | Good musicians are serial child abductors
If there’s one thing that kids can take away from The Pied Piper, it’s this: Any guy playing music is probably trying to get your attention… and kidnap you.
When the Pied Piper’s music lured all the rats, that should’ve been a sign that he was laying down some sick tracks. So it could only be assumed that kids were into it too. The kids today, what with their love of the fife, were perfect targets.
So when a kid hears The Pied Piper, he realizes: Don’t follow the sound of music. As tempting as it is. Because it’s probably being played by a serial kidnapper, trying to lure in several hundred kids as easily as possible.
Not only is that a shitty lesson, it’s not even accurate: If I wanted to lure kids, I’d just give away free t-shirts. If live sporting events have taught me one thing, it’s that people (but especially kids) go ape nuts crazy for free t-shirts.
4 | Your stepmother hates you because you’re so attractive
Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella all make one thing clear: You’re pretty, your stepmother’s not, and she’s PISSED.
Not only do these fairy tales instantly set up a contentious relationship between a girl and her dad’s new wife… they ALSO pump her full of (generally unwarranted) overconfidence about her attractiveness.
5 | You can literally get killed for stealing someone’s food
This is the moral of Goldilocks — don’t get all up in someone else’s porridge, or they will maim and kill you.
This lesson is shitty — I’m not a fan of making kids think that minor transgressions can lead to capital punishment, nor a fan of finding yet another way to give most kids food issues — but it’s also decently valid, I guess.
I’m an only child, and, as an adult, I can see the number of siblings one had can manifest itself in strange ways. For instance, I’m quite happy being independent, mortified of confrontation, obsessed with attention and only so-so at sharing.
Well, something I see from my friends who grew up with greater than or equal to one brother: They guard their food like they’re members of that food’s secret service detail.
This definitely and unquestionably comes from an entire childhood of battling with their brother or brothers for every possible scrap of food.
And while stealing their food might not result in murder, I could definitely see myself getting punched or smacked for snagging a few French fries when a head is turned. So… um… thanks, Goldilocks.
6 | If your dad takes you on a camping trip, it’s probably to abandon you
Every time kids get taken into the woods… whether it’s in Snow White or Hansel and Gretel… it’s because they’re getting abandoned.
How could any kid possibly trust his dad on a camping trip after that? Seriously, the second he walked away to “gather fire wood” or “use the bathroom” I’d be attaching a GPS transmitter to his station wagon.
7 | Your hubris is OK, assuming someone else’s hubris is even worse
This is my takeaway from Rumpelstiltskin: It’s fine to brag, lie and generally be a cocky dickhead, just so long as you can find an even cockier dickhead… who will inadvertently bail you out.
In the fairy tale, a guy starts bragging that his daughter can weave gold out of thread… even though it’s not true. So the king takes her, locks her up and says he’s going to kill her unless she does.
A dwarf named Rumpelstiltskin bails her out by offering to do that weaving, but only in exchange for her first-born child. She agrees, then reneges. He says OK, you can keep your child if you can guess my name. She can’t… until her father overhears Rumpelstiltskin singing a song where he name-checks himself.
(Kind of like Jay-Z. I wonder if Rumpelstiltskin also gave himself a nickname that rhymes with the n-word just so he could name-check himself even more.)
All that (except the weird Jay-Z tangent) leads to my point here: The dad showed massive hubris by bragging, his daughter was a dick for getting Rumpelstiltskin to bail her out then welching on their deal… but Rumpelstiltskin was the biggest hubris-filled dick of all for making a bet about someone guessing his name, then loudly singing a song about how cool his name it. In the process, he absolved everyone else’s hubris and dickishness.
8 | It’s cool to sell your siblings out… let them come up with their own way to get out of trouble
In Three Billy Goats Gruff, here’s what happens.
The youngest goat says, “Don’t eat me, eat my older brothers, they’re bigger”… and gets away. The middle goat says, “Don’t eat me, eat my older brother, he’s bigger”… and gets away. Finally, the oldest goat gets there, completely sold down the river… but when the troll comes out to eat him, he actually is big enough to gore the troll and kill him.
This is a really salty message to me: It says to kids that it’s fine to sell out ANYONE — even family — because they’ll find their own way to clean up the mess. Ain’t your problem.
Sure, go lose $25,000 to a bookie. Your brother can lend you the money! If you don’t pay it back, he can just take out another mortgage. (Those aren’t too hard to get these days, right?)
9 | Don’t worry if you’re unattractive now, when you grow up you’ll be beautiful
I gleaned this from The Ugly Duckling… ugly baby duck, becomes an outcast, grows up to be the best-looking duck in the world, gets superficial redemption.
I hate to be a buzzkill here… but it’s simply not accurate. Sure, every once in a while, an ugly kid pulls a shocker and becomes Jerry O’Connell as an adult… but 99 times out of 100, a not-so-attractive kid becomes a not-so-attractive adult.
Let’s not lie about it. Let’s help those kids focus on developing other, more important facets of their lives so they can be happy as adults.
10 | Follow the road more traveled — whether literal or metaphorical — or you’ll probably be abducted
I feel like Little Red Riding Hood sends a very subtle lesson about conformity, specifically to societal norms. Follow the right path (the path your parents’ pick, the path you’re supposed to follow, both literally and figuratively)… or something really bad is going to happen to you.
If I can break from the list for a second, when I was looking up “Little Red Riding Hood”, I found all this info about how the story was originally written. Ready for this weirdness?
 The wolf cooks Red’s grandmother and serves it to her, to make her into a cannibal, for no reason other than to be an asshole.  The wolf, disguised as grandma, tells Red to get naked.  Red sees it’s a wolf in disguise, and gets away by saying she needs to move her bowels and doesn’t want to do that in bed.  She doesn’t have a hood or any red on at all.
Completely irrelevant to the point of this list, I just wanted to share all that because I found it all so strange.
11 | The ONLY way to handle someone trying to get into your house is to murder them, as quickly as possible
That’s right: The state of Florida completely bases its shoot first home protection laws on the misguided dogma of The Three Little Pigs.