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Literature | The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

3 Sep

A few weeks ago, I was having an existential crisis.

“I’m having an existential crisis,” I told a friend. “I feel like I’m stuck in a Woody Allen film on repeat, being played by Woody Allen. I think it’s because of facebook.”

“Your existential crisis is because of facebook?” my friend humored me.

Maybe. Think about it. Constant externalization of self instead of internalization of reality; existence pending upon recognition by others through wall posts; one’s actions reduced to meaninglessness by clicking “clear” on status updates. It just all yields this unbearable lightness of being. So, yes–facebook.”

At which point my friend suggested I set aside my glass of Pinot. A few days later, my well-meaning friend produced a dog-eared copy of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

My first response was a sneer as I was thrown back through the recesses of time and memory to my freshman year in college. At one particular party, a young man with wild eyes raved about The Hitchhiker’s Guide before a paranoid look crossed his face as he nervously proclaimed that my pizza resembled a dead goat. I wasn’t eating pizza, and have, since then, written off The Guide as the psychedelic-addict’s book of choice.

And perhaps it is.

My friend, however, insisted that The Guide is not only brilliant but brilliantly funny, and I reluctantly acquiesced. It’s either this, I thought, or keep waiting for Godot.

I don’t mind being wrong if it’s in my favor, and deliciously wrong I was. I’ve devoured the five volumes like a black hole devouring time and space. Indeed, it is brilliant. And oh-so-funny.

As we travel with the hero, Arthur Dent, through the infinite crooks-and-crannies of the universe, we realize that perhaps we can’t escape our human condition or the question of the meaning of life. Gift or curse as it may be, it’s a sign of intelligent life.

Another sign, however, is a sense of humor. Examining the weight of existence through comedy, then, is often the panacea to counteract the heavy volumes lining one’s bookshelves. And what else but brilliance could be expected from an author hailing from the country that gave us Monty Python, the original Office, and other comedic examinations of our human condition?

Why it took me so long to stumble upon The Hitchhiker’s Guide, I know not, but I don’t want to ponder the timing of circumstance. For now, I’ll just thank the author and my friend for the gentle reminder that sometimes it’s necessary to lay aside the tomes of philosophy, look the Absurdity of Existence in the face, and laugh.

Perhaps all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds, and really, there’s no need to panic.

Opinion | In Defense of the Princess

16 Jul

Today I saw the preview for Disney’s new animation The Princess and the Frog, a movie that is already all the buzz in cyberspace. Some writers and bloggers are discussing Disney’s first black Princess, either applauding a new role-model or critiquing Disney’s representation of race, ethnicity, and culture–not at all a new criticism of Disney films.

Others, however, are complaining about Princesses in general, arguing that Princesses, particularly Disney’s, promote a negative stereotype for young girls to look up to. It is this view of Princesses that I aim to address. While I understand such views, I feel the writers are overlooking something of utmost importance–Disney films are based on fairy-tales, a most ancient form of story-telling, and one which embodies universal archetypes and symbols.

The point of a fairy-tale is to provide a narrative by which to understand the world and what it means to be human. These narratives resonate with innate themes–the quest, transformation, conflict–and the characters serve as symbols of values held in high esteem–honor, justice, virtue. Passed down through generations, our fairy-tales share commonalities across cultures, languages, and time. Disney, then, has only adapted universal stories, themes, and archetypes.

A few of the articles I’ve read argue that Princesses within Disney movies promote negative qualities such as reliance upon a prince. True, in some films, particularly earlier ones, the Princess does await her Prince, but this is a classical script to illustrate a theme, such as the quest. All of the characters, not only the women, are flat and undeveloped because they are archetypes and symbols. In later films–Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Little Mermaid–characters, both male and female, are more developed, undergo transformations, and represent desirable or undesirable traits and values.

Regarding desirable values, Disney’s Princesses are not lacking. Jasmine is strong-willed, wanting only sincerity and humility over money and grandeur; Ariel is independent, taking control of what she wants; Belle is a kind, caring, and empathetic bookworm, not afraid of standing out from the crowd.

To suggest that Princesses are negative representations of women is to overlook these positive values. One writer worried because her young daughter wants to be a Princess when she grows up as opposed to a doctor or president. Another contemplated removing Disney films from his home to ensure his daughter grows up independent and successful. True, the characters within fairy-tales are not career women, but children have little concept of “careers” and to make a character a doctor or president would be to strip the fairy-tale of the imaginative qualities through which a young child can make sense of the world around her.

I do not have children nor do I know many. But I do know women who used to be children, all of whom watched Disney movies and read fairy-tales as young girls. These women did not grow up yearning for men to save them but rather became successful and independent lawyers, journalists, vice-presidents, teachers, and mothers with strong values and virtue. And their success continues regardless if they have found their “prince” or are still looking.

Rather than worry about a young girl wanting to be a Princess waiting for her prince, one might fare better aiming to raise a confident, balanced, and intelligent girl who can distinguish, for herself, the difference between myth and reality. In the meantime, leave the Princesses and fairy-tales alone and a child to her childhood.

Meme

5 Feb

Flannery has tagged me for a book meme:

1) Take the nearest book of more than 123 pages.
2) Find page 123.
3) Find the fifth sentence.
4) Post the next three sentences.
5) Tag some folks.

Therefore, I present to you a lovely excerpt from Love in the Time of Cholera:

“In the store that sold imported foods she lifted the lid of a barrel of pickled herring that reminded her of nights in the northeast when she was a very little girl in San Jaun de la Cienaga. She sampled an Alicante sausage that tasted of licorice, and she bought two for Saturday’s breakfast, as well as some slices of cod and a jar of red currants in aguardiente. In the spice shop she crushed leaves of sage and oregano in the palms of her hands for the pure pleasure of smelling them, and bought a handful of cloves, another of star anise, and one each of ginger root and juniper, and she walked away with tears of laughter in her eyes because the smell of the cayenne pepper made her sneeze so much.”

In the same tradition, the smell of pepper always brings tears of laughter to my eyes as well . . . when I was in the fourth grade dining at a local family restaurant, I crushed pepper in my hand and told Megaan,
“Close your eyes and SNIFF really, really hard!”
She did . . . though laugh she did not.
As tears of anger streamed from her eyes, they also streamed from mine, as my parents, not amused, ostracized me to a table next to theirs and made me dine alone for my ill planned prank.
Nevertheless, I still find this funny, and with the passing of time, Megaan finally does too.