Fall SAVY 2014, Week 5 – The Truth in the Tale
What and who is “family”? This was our guiding question for Saturday, and we all had something to contribute to show that family can include–and exclude–a lot of different people, ideas, and emotions. We started out free writing in our notebooks about what family is to each of us, and moved on to brainstorming general ideas about family as a class. As we threw out different ideas, many of us realized that it was actually quite difficult to draw clear boundaries around what constitutes family. Many students mentioned love and caring for someone, while others described that even just having the same blood (genetic makeup) constitutes family. One student even mentioned the ambiguous relationship between a plantation owner and a slave, when some form of love can develop within even coercive relationships! We tentatively decided that family has some element of love and care, or at least the expectation of that.
Where do we get our ideas about families? This, our second question, shed light on our question above because we found that while we see families in supermarkets and restaurants in real life, we also see different versions of families on in advertisements and TV shows. One student pointed out that TV families are often presented as “happy” while she knew that real families often argue. We watched 3 Disney commercials, and discussed how families were represented, asking who was and how were typically shown as being a family? Disney, we concluded, often shows “traditional”/ideal families that have two parents who appear to be married and have 2 or 3 children. One student quickly pointed out that the family members in these ads look very much alike, but her mom was Caucasian and her dad was African-American. Another student then offered that her mom was adopted, and so she doesn’t know her mom’s biological parents. We all quickly realized that families in ads and television are often very different–and far more “perfect” looking– than our own families. Students found this appropriately troubling since they could internalize these messages that families are “supposed” to be happy and look similar to tell us that our families aren’t good enough.
We next moved on to analyzing Disney animated movies, like Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, and Snow White. We asked about what kinds of mothers and fathers main characters have, or don’t have, which is important to emphasize, we found out, because many of the mothers die or are captured in these films. One student even asked, too, “Why are there so many stepmothers? And why are they always mean?” This discussion was one of our most interesting ones since we followed the plot of many of the stories, discovering a pattern in which the mother is often absent or dies at the beginning of the tale, and thus sets the tragedy felt by the main character. Then, we saw that this tragedy pushed the main character to find happiness elsewhere, and this often took the shape of searching for the perfect husband. Interestingly, a student pointed out that the very recent Frozen animation and Maleficent film actually offered us a very different version of this plot line: the main character, a female, actually finds true love in other kinds of family, like sisters or daughter-like figures. This allowed us to see that patterns can change because of our modern times demand that movies better reflect our reality, and so we are holding out hope for more ethnic and racial diversity and alternative families (community or adopted families) to be represented in films.