Tuesday, September 03, 2019

On The Other Side Of Our Tears

The Walt Disney Company built its empire upon folk tales, legends, and myths, stories that had been passed down through generations as cautionary tales, often with stern moral lessons. Many of them, like Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, and Snow White were based upon Grimm's Fairy Tales, a collection of traditional stories taken from the German oral tradition and published during the 19th century. These stories are much older than the print versions, having endured through generations, made anew with each telling. They were intended to entertain, of course, but also to educate and enlighten. The Brothers Grimm entitled their classic collection Children's and Household Tales, but these stories were not originally intended for children, or at least not exclusively. Few of them had what we could call "happy endings." That would be the invention of Disney.

After hundreds of years of being passed down from generation to generation, Disney's ubiquitous happy ending brought an abrupt end to the oral tradition. Oh sure, we and our children know the sanitized and standardized Disney versions, but it's not the same. The stories no longer lend themselves to the quirks, embellishments, and immediacy of oral storytelling, but even more telling is that their newly created happy endings have stripped these stories of their ability to address many of the great, often dark, truths about human nature that they once embodied.

The stories we tell are important. In many ways they form the moral, ethical, and ideological foundation of human society. Disney is not solely to blame, but this Disneyfication of the stories we tell (either orally or otherwise), this insistence upon happy endings, is telling a lie about the nature of human existence.

There are real happy endings in the world, of course, but being of the real world, they will never live up to the happily-ever-after promise of the modern storybook. Indeed, our real happy endings do not come in a flash of flowers, stars and song, but rather, more typically, after a good cry. A real happy ending comes once our bones have finally mended; after we've moved beyond our heartbreak; we find them on the other side of disappointment, loss, and grief. "Boy, did I cry my head off," says young Tom in Ray Bradbury's beautiful novel of reminiscence Dandelion Wine, "I don't even know why. I wouldn't change a bit of it. If you changed it, what would you have to talk about? Nothing! And besides, I like to cry. After I cry hard, it's like it's morning again and I'm starting the day over . . . You just won't admit you like to cry, too. You cry just so long and everything's fine. And there's your happy ending. And you're ready to go back out and walk around with folks again."

I wonder if our cult of happy endings hasn't damaged us all, leading us to unrealistic expectations, blinding us to the very real, very attainable happiness that is available to us every day. How many people do you know who go around seeming to never be satisfied? I know plenty. The pursuit of the Disney movie happy ending is a kind of perfectionism that hides the simple, human happy endings that are all around us, hiding there in plain sight, invisible until we've cleared our eyes with a good cry.

Bradbury's Tom says, "A good night's sleep, or a ten minute bawl, or a pint of chocolate ice cream, or all three together, is good medicine." Our story book happy endings lie to us. They tell us that happiness is "ever after," a promise that will never be fulfilled. The truth about happy endings is that they may be fleeting, but they are real. And they are ours to experience, right now, if we will only learn to see them, right over there, on the other side of our tears.

I've published a book! If you are interested in ordering Teacher Tom's First Book, click here. Thank you! 

I put a lot of time and effort into this blog. If you'd like to support me please consider a small contribution to the cause. Thank you!
Bookmark and Share

No comments: