Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Rounding up this month:

Princess Fanning

I read only recently that Dakota Fanning adorned a feature of this month’s Vanity Fair (having also recently headed a Marc Jacobs’ line of ((adult)) clothing), and with the premier on MNET this Sunday of War of the Worlds, I was reminded of it again.

I’d seen some of the Marc Jabobs’ fashion shots of Dakota before and found them fairly uncomfortable, but the particular choice of 'Fairy Tale' theme of January’s Vanity Fair had chosen for their shots I thought were especially interesting.

Fairy tales and their significance, especially for contemporary usage, always get my attention anyway, and so I wondered why the theme was chosen for Dakota who has already been photographed in more apparently ‘adult’ scenarios for other fashion lines, such as Chanel and Gap.

Perhaps the immediate impression is that rather than present her as a mini-adult, these photos, especially the Cinderella and Red Riding Hood ones, rather than try to mask and distract from her childishness, are celebrating that, and using it to tell a story through the photos. But if this is the case, their efforts are not consistent, and even if they’re not betrayed by their own intent to show something much more ambiguous, they are betrayed by the fairy-tales themselves.

Fairy tales are far from innocent. When they were first told as stories among the oral traditions of Europe, they were meant for adult ears, and only became infantilised with such publications as the Grimm Brothers' and Charles Perrault's adaptations and interpretations of the stories. The ‘classic’ fairy tales, such as Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella – two of the stories portrayed in the Vanity Fair photo-shoot – are often criticised for their emphasis upon romantic-love as every girl’s raison d’etre and desired ‘career’ ambition, the severing this act affects upon the once-single girl’s independence, the portrayal of men as essential to rescue from death/mothers (same difference!), combined with the girl’s portrayed passivity (often depicted through 'sleep') and inability to save herself, and the narrative debt put upon the girl ‘rescued’ by the man: in other words, she now owes him her life, and has no narrative choice but to become his. Not to mention the overwhelming whiteness and heterosexuality of these pervasive and persistent tales in western culture.

So why this staging for Dakota Fanning? With the debatable exception of Little Red Riding Hood, the roles of Cinderella, Rapunzel, and Sleeping Beauty, however frequently these tales are told to very young children, are stories of womanhood, matrimonial endeavours and, according to some analysis and interpretations, possibly even stories of rape (Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty) and sexual self-exploration (Sleeping Beauty and Rapunzel). Even taking into account the younger age at which ‘women’ would have married at the time of the first tellings of these stories, 12-years-old (Dakota’s age) is still very young to be considering her eligibility for marriage.

So an initial interpretation of the fairy-tale staging as making an attempt at being ‘age-appropriate’ is (deliberately?) deceptive; perhaps as an intended implication of the oft-portrayed adult-in-a-child’s body that is a frequent allusion made to child actors and actresses, from Drew Barrymore to Haley Joel Osment. Indeed, it is usually contrived media that manufactures, or at least perpetuates and exploits, this romanticised aspect of ‘Hollywood’s Children’.

And there are other ways in which Dakota fits the criteria perfectly: apart from slipping easily into her role as the adult-in-the-child, she is porcelain white in complexion. She has white-blonde hair and is crystal-eyed: she is every bit the ethereal ‘faery-queen’!

That modern readings of ‘classic’ fairy tales reveal childhood under-threat, from an often ambiguous ‘predator’, Vanity Fair’s choice might also have been made in response to the film roles Dakota Fanning has played: the child kidnapped by the bad guys in Man on Fire, the child in grave danger from extraterrestrial forces in War of the Worlds, and now the actress of a controversial rape scene in the film Hound-dog due out later this year. I can’t speak for the latter (although the implication is certainly there), but certainly in the first two she is the female ‘child’ put into danger by male, or masculinised, forces, and in need of rescue from these men/males by other men.

Her contemporary film roles have frequently re-told the messages at the heart of the ‘classic’ fairy tales she enacts for Vanity Fair. Oh, and incidentally, if you watch the YouTube footage of the photo-shoot the camera guy doing the ‘shooting’, the director of each scene, and the person thrusting the wolf at her, are all male…


In Other News:

I finally finished He, She and It, by Marge Piercy. Apart from the repressive, at times appalling, atmosphere here on the project, that occupies far more of our emotional space than it should, I can only put the uncharacteristic length of time it took me to read this book down to the same reason it took me ages to read Woman on the Edge of Time. I absolutely love WotEoT – which I read around 5 years ago – and many of its ideas and images have been some of the most enduring out of any fiction I’ve read, but it did take me ages to read, and while encountering the same problem with He, She and It, I think I remembered why:

Piercy’s ideas, concepts, and the realisation of complex imaginary worlds are totally fantastic, but she relies quite a lot on dialogue – and I don’t personally think she’s very good at dialogue. It’s during conversations between characters that I lose my belief in them, remember that I’m reading a book, and not actually living alongside these characters, and subsequently lose my concentration and drift out of the book.

I loved the underlying debate concerned with the ethical consequences of manufacturing ‘tools’ with consciousness, especially as weapons, and the ultimate inability, so far, for ‘humans’ to relinquish their control upon their creations and allow them independence and autonomy. But I wasn’t so convinced – considering how far other boundaries of ‘being’ were pushed in the novel – by the constant allusions to essential sexual differences. Other than that, I loved it almost as much as Woman on the Edge of Time.

Some favourite passages:

“You’re as much a part of the earth as I am. We are all made of the same molecules, the same set of compounds, the same elements. You’re using for a time some of earth’s elements and substances cooked for them. I’m using others. The same copper and iron and cobalt and hydrogen go round and round and round through many bodies and many objects” (p185).

“I want there to be no more weapons like me. A weapon should not be conscious. A weapon should not have the capacity to suffer for what it does, to regret, to feel guilt… I don’t understand why anyone would want to be a soldier, a weapon, but at least people sometimes have a choice to obey or refuse. I had none” (p414).

…This passage didn’t make me think immediately of regular soldiers in armies, but of human bodies used even more unambiguously as weapons – of suicide bombers. He, She and It is about the manufacture of a cyborg to act as a weapon to protect the city of Tikva which comes under siege: a cyborg that is produced with human emotions. And he argues that a conscious body should never be combined with a weapon: which is exactly what a suicide bomber is – a conscious bodily weapon.

And finally:

Happiness is:

A gold star for my blog from BlogHop (small pleasures, and all that!)

…and an innovative recycled-plastic-bottle vase invention, complete with gorgeous heather, from Noa for my birthday, along with a fantabulously antiquey-looking ring, also from Noa!

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