With the infallible timing of a playful fairy-tale eager to update us with all-time savvy, the romantic family fantasy musical film Beauty & the Beast opens this March. Everybody recognizes this exciting title but with each revival the details of plot and setting change.
Audiences interpret the message in their own minds according to what they need to know to cope with universal truths under current circumstances. In 2011, novelist Alex Flinn’s Beastly gave the plot a new high school/narcissistic twist. In 1994 it was a Broadway musical based on the animated film released by Walt Disney studios in 1991. Earlier in the fifties and thirties Disney failed at two adaptations but Jean Cocteau succeeded with his 1946 film. Many people think the whole story is based on two 18th century French fairy tales, one by Villeneuve and one by Beaumont, but this is not true. It goes ‘way back to the Roman writer, Lucius Apuleius, who created it in the second century. It was a very long story called Cupid & Psyche inserted in the middle of his Metamorphoses (aka The Golden Ass.)
It is the third oldest fairy tale in the history of western literature and influenced many other stories, such as Cinderella and Gulliver’s Travels. Florida resident and researcher Mari Ness studied it and advises that it is much too complex and long to read. She decided that Apuleius’ theme, in the end, was about woman’s survival. Apuleius wrote at a time when the Roman empire was in upheaval due to the influx of Barbarians and the proliferation of new religions that appealed directly to the public.
The promo for the ’17 variety of Beauty & the Beast says, “It looks behind the Beast’s hideous exterior, allowing Beauty to recognize the kind heart and soul of the true prince that hides on the inside. A hunter named Gaston is on the loose to take Beauty for himself and hunt down the Beast at any cost.”
Let’s return to real life and this week’s presidential inauguration.
Donald Trump’s verbal monstrosities proliferate in a rabid echo chamber. But his authentic core explains the infallibility of the passionate voter guts that got him where he is. He blew in as the brash, gigantic, orange-haired son of an immigrant pattern-maker mom and her rich Manhattan husband. Mary had been raised in a God-fearing Calvinist village on a literate peat-bog isle in the Outer Hebrides. Donald spent his formative years identifying with his father’s survival instincts as a real estate owner who stood off to the side after knocking on a door to collect rent, in case a tenant shot first through the door. Donald boarded at New York Military Academy for his eighth grade and high school education because only they could discipline his out-size make-up. In the 1980’s, his older brother died from alcoholism, first making Donald promise never to touch a drop of drink.
He worked ’round the clock, vowed to abstain from alcohol, tobacco, drugs and coffee, made a fortune and drilled the same habits into his four children. He settled into a good, stress-free marriage (his third) in 2005 with the wise and beautiful Melania who bore him a third son. She put him through the scrutiny of her family and village in Slovenia before determining he was a gentleman and accepting his proposal. Now Donald’s self-declared challenge was to become as good a husband as he was a father.
At election-campaign time 2015 he declared himself the hero with the best vision for the future of country and expressed the confidence only he could make it great again. He said he had been greedy for himself all his life but now wanted to be greedy for America. He vowed to repeal Obamacare with the caveat, “We can’t let people die in the streets.” He tempered his Mexican immigrant remarks by saying many of them were good people. He told the Gold Star father he was sorry for the death of his son and was trying to make sure such a thing couldn’t happen again.
He accepted the surprise news he had won by saying he would “unite the country” and be the “president of all the people”. He said on 60 Minutes he would drop his business because it was not important, “only real estate”, and the people deserved a “full-time president”. Henry Kissinger briefed the president-elect and gave the verdict he was serious, wanted to be a good president and was the only man who had ever come into the office without any “baggage”. That is, he was the most free to act in the individual voters’ interests because of his financial independence. Kissinger warned the people not to hold Trump too strictly to things he had said in the campaign because, after learning more about the job, he should be given leeway to change his positions.
The part of America which sees nothing authentic in Trump and doesn’t comprehend how anyone else could is in shock, hysterics, recoiling and denying. They saw and heard the worst of him repeated and dissected too many times on TV and the internet. On the other side, it was impossible for the people who had gotten poorer and couldn’t find jobs to genuinely, passionately, spontaneously want to prolong the mandate of the party that had been at the helm for eight years. Especially not when they had such a charismatic alternative! Many felt they had seen this very same Clinton picture before. Wasn’t this the woman who had already lived in the White House for eight years in the nineties?
Gaston, the hunter who is determined to take Beauty back from Beast no matter what is the real threat. That would create a revolution and destroy all our liberties. Such a cloud of dim prospects is spoiling the inauguration this weekend.
It’s time we all went out for a good night of magic spells, mirrors, romance and comedy at the theater. As story-telling apes at heart, we don’t personally eat or love empire-building strategies. We thrive amid family, arts, culture, history and villages where everyone knows everybody else. In this helpful atmosphere, society comes to its senses. So let’s take a deep breath and try to get things back into balance. As the old 1940’s hit-parade song goes, “You gotta accentuate the positive. Eliminate the negative. Latch on to the affirmative. Don’t mess with Mr. In-between.”