One of my favorite kids, not blood related, is my landlady’s daughter and I like to say that my favoritism is based on my sense of loyalty. As most people transferred their affection upon arrival of her younger brother, I like to believe my affections did not sway and I stood loyal to the firstborn. Even with some of her peculiarities, I stood my ground thus corroborating my loyalty. Among these peculiarities, one that stands out is her proclivity for princess dresses and icons. I used to think of it as a very narcissistic phenomenon, especially because it reminded me of the Korean phenomenon of the ‘princess syndrome’ (공주병), and hoped that she would mature out of the condition. But upon coming across this article by Mike Cosper titled “Are Fairy Tales Finished?“, my thoughts have evolved to think that maybe such a syndrome isn’t so bad after all, maybe the princess syndrome is merely a narcissistic manifestation of a foundational, deep yearning in our hearts.
Commenting on Disney’s announcement to end the princess franchise after the movie ‘Tangled,’ Cosper mentions how girls in our modern culture stop aspiring to be princesses by the age of 5 or 6 and shift to idolizing what he calls a ‘tween’, epitomized by Miley Cyrus and Miranda Cosgrove. The obvious parental concern is the shift from the dream of a little girl from being found precious for purity, innocence, and character to the dream of being desired on the basis of ‘hotness’ and ‘coolness.’ Maybe Disney is right, on the marketability front, to end the princess fairy tales. Our society does not seem to want to hear those stories anymore, as Cosper comments:
Maybe the idea of long-suffering doesn’t connect to an instant-gratification culture. Maybe the idea of being part of a larger story (like the redeemed kingdom of Sleeping Beauty) doesn’t connect to a world of narcissism, where the story is all about us (like Hannah Montana). Maybe too, we hate the idea of being rescued. We’d rather believe that we could save ourselves.
But there is certainly a distinction between ‘what we want’ and ‘what we need.’ Whether we need rescuing is not contingent upon our ephemeral emotions or our vacillating desires, it is contingent upon the state of reality in which we find ourselves. I, for one, love fantasy narratives. The world of the spectacular, the world of magic, the world of battle, and the world of rescue. Cosper is right to say that the fairy tale will not die off, there is too big of a longing in our deep, deep desires for a fantastical world, an epic battle, an climactic rescue, and especially ‘a happily ever after.’ Even in narratives that are filled with conflict and suffering (like The Lord of the Rings), we long for that happy ending.
Next time I see my landlady’s daughter play dress up in princess costumes, though the narcissism will still be evident, I think I will be able to appreciate more of the underlying desire of her play, the yearning to be a part of a bigger story.