When I Google ‘benefits of fairy tales,’ the first page of results have titles like ‘Why fairy tales are good for kids’ or 'Why fairy tales are important to childhood.'  Note the repeated reference to kids—despite my attempt to find reasons for anyone to read fairy tales.  In C.S. Lewis’ dedication to his goddaughter for The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, he tells her: ‘You are already too old for fairy tales… But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.’

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Shoot.  I am twenty-one years old and a senior in college.  Should I not be listening to Disney music on Spotify right now?  Should I not have over a dozen fantasy novels on my bookshelf?  Should I not have taken a whole course on fairy tales my first year?  Maybe I missed the meeting in middle school where everyone decided that magic and knights and talking animals were stupid, but I doubt C.S. Lewis meant no one can appreciate fairy tales post-childhood until they’re old.  The problem is that few people do.  As a result, the in-between period of adulthood after childhood and before old age might actually be the most immature point of our lives.  That’s the nugget of truth that Lewis exposes: in adulthood you feel that you’re too old, yet also not old enough, to read fairy tales.

As you grow up, you don’t depend as much on your parents and you can think more for yourself.  Therefore, you can look more carefully at ideas you had once taken for granted.  That’s an important part of maturing, but not when your thinking becomes so critical that you act superior to anything too fantastical or ‘childish.’  If we eventually become old enough to read fairy tales again, what do we miss in the interim?

In Prince Caspian, Lewis offers insight to his fairy tale paradox.  Lucy is the first in her family to see the magical and mysterious Lion known as Aslan, whom they had all met in the previous Narnia book.  The scene goes as follows:

       ‘The Lion,’ said Lucy.  ‘Aslan himself.  Didn’t you see?’ Her face had changed completely and her eyes shone.

       ‘Do you really mean—?’ began Peter.

       ‘Where do you think you saw him?’ asked Susan.

       ‘Don’t talk like a grown-up,’ said Lucy, stamping her foot.  ‘I didn’t think I saw him.  I saw him.’

Lucy, the youngest of the group, dismisses Susan’s skepticism as ‘grown-up talk.’  Their interaction associates ‘growing up’ with doubtfulness and disbelief.  Of course, this isn’t new information.  We often associate children with believing the impossible—such as Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy—while parents are too rational to hold such ridiculous beliefs.  I don’t advocate that we all start regarding fairy tales as scientific fact, but I don’t encourage treating them as something primarily for kids either.

Ironically, a lot of the original fairy tales—before Disney got to them—had more sexual, violent and/or gruesome characteristics.  They were not so much for kids then, but even their modern versions have a playfulness, creativity and relatability that everyone can acknowledge.  Understandably, Disney has to remove some of the original traits to make the stories kid-friendly, but Disney’s most widely acclaimed fairy tale films still appeal to people of all ages.  Fairy tales are full of imagination, a trait that’s always useful for new inventions or ideas.  The stories won’t necessarily make you the next Thomas Edison, but they will encourage you to think beyond what you can see in your day-to-day ‘real’ life.

Looking at fantastical stories, you can see all sorts of sensational creatures, lands and situations that can inspire the imagination and intellectual exploration.  In Lewis’ The Magician’s Nephew, the protagonists Polly and Digory end up in a wood that allows them to enter whichever world they wish.  They argue over whether or not to take advantage of this opportunity.  Polly ‘was not so interested in finding out things nobody had ever heard of before,’ while ‘Digory was the sort of person who wants to know everything, and when he grew up he became the famous Professor Kirk who comes into the other books.’  Digory provides an example of the natural curiosity and intellectual development that are sparked by the wild adventures he takes in the first chronological book of C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia.  Young and old readers can follow Digory’s lead to ask questions and picture a realm of possibilities for their lives.

Despite their magical elements, fairy tales have a very human element to them.  The hero/heroine faces the witch or monster or beast in near hopeless odds, and you root for them because you see yourself in them.  You see the classic moral struggle against evil.  You see the hope that motivates you to persevere.  The college course that I took applied a psychological lens to fairy tales that revealed many societal mentalities that still have a hold on us today—such as the silencing of women (Little Mermaid) or the one-day-my-prince-will-come mantra (every princess story ever).  If you ignore the tales for their magical elements or because you think they have nothing to offer you as a grown-up, you miss the ways that fairy tales reinforce gender roles, explore the human psyche, and portray the maturation process.  These topics make great fodder for intellectual discussion and analysis.

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We can then combine our self-awareness and life experience with ‘childlike’ imagination to read fairy tales with an open mind.

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We could dismiss fairy tales for being too idealistic (what with their happily-ever-after theme), but that’s where an appropriate amount of critical thinking comes in.  Are we going to reject something outright just because it’s guilty of being ‘too happy?'  If fairy tales have transcended time and culture (Cinderella, for instance, has thousands of variants across the world), they must possess something meaningful or appealing enough for humanity to tell them over and over again.

As we get even older, we realize that just because we know more, doesn’t mean we necessarily know everything.  Aging has a way of reminding us we’re not invincible or immortal.  As our mortality wears down our physical capability, we can recognize that our mental capability may not be so perfect either.  Once we shed the self-importance from becoming adults, we have the maturity to embrace fairy tales again.  We can then combine our self-awareness and life experience with ‘childlike’ imagination to read fairy tales with an open mind.

 

Bridgette is a hardcore nerd who hopes to find a wardrobe to Narnia, tap into the Force, and join the Avengers, but since she hasn’t yet, she writes to compensate. Originally from West Covina, California, she is a Creative Writing student at Scripps College.  She reviews books and movies on her blog here!

 

1) Romeo & Juliet Alternate Ending (Aliens, rebels, and more!) by Conman98
When the classic tale of love and loss is about to close, the star crossed lovers find themselves abducted by aliens…

2) Better Be Slytherin! by jharad17
As a first year, Harry is sorted into Slytherin instead of Gryffindor…

3) The Rainbow Games by amberheart19
Hunger games with my little ponies…

Fanfiction gets a bad rap, but I’m always intrigued with the unique places that fanfiction writers will go on their optimistic quest to contribute to the world.  The above stories are real fanfictions that fans have posted, with varying degrees of successful spelling, on a site called FanFiction.net.  I don’t know why that last person thought it was a good idea to have little ponies fight to the death in a post-apocalyptic society, but there you have it.

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Modern fanfiction began with Star Trek fanzines in the 1960s and exploded when the Internet made publishing fast and easy.  Fanfiction.net describes itself as the ‘world’s largest fanfiction archive and forum where fanfic writers and readers around the globe gather to share their passion.’  This passion no longer involves just Star Trek.  FanFiction categories include books, anime/manga, cartoons, comics, games, movies, plays/musicals, and television shows.  New subcategories continually pop up within the larger categories to feed the fans’ hunger to re-experience their favorite stories.

Some denounce fanfiction as mere plagiarism.  I believe it falls under fair use, although discussing all the legal nuances would require a whole other post.  Beyond that, however, fanfiction usually serves more as a tribute that popularizes the work rather than as theft.  If I thought a book sucked, I wouldn’t waste time writing fanfiction about it.  If I enjoyed a book, I would spend hours reading, writing, and reviewing fanfictions that continue the characters’ exploits.  I would make my experience with the book last far beyond its last chapter.  After all, who likes when a good thing ends?

Generally, fanfiction follows the events of the ‘canon,’ the official universe that the original creator has established.  Some fanfiction writers, however, like to add their own elements.

Slash fics change a platonic same-sex relationship into a romantic one.  Don’t think Spock and Captain Kirk are secretly in love?  I’d like to see you argue with the slash fic writers.  They bring out romance wherever they please, as many fanfiction writers do when they write opposite-sex friendships as blossoming romances.

AU (alternate universe) fics transplant characters from their original universe to a new one.  A fan can place Marvel superheroes in a high school and take away their powers while maintaining their personalities.  Crossover fics make another book, movie, comic, or show the alternate universe.  The Avengers meet Harry Potter.  The Little Mermaid meets Doctor Who.  Twilight meets… oh for the love of good writing, let’s not do anything else related to Twilight.

Slash, AU, and crossover fics may modify the canon more than some people are comfortable with, but all fanfiction does the same thing; fanfiction comes from a desire for something more—sometimes because the canon is lacking in the fans’ eyes, but more often because they find the canon so wonderful that they don’t want it to stop with the words ‘The End.’  They want to explore the what-ifs, renew the characters, prolong the adventures, and more.  More, more, more.

Harry Potter has around 758K stories on FanFiction.net.  Naruto has around 410K.  Twilight *shudders* has around 219K.  (1) The numbers grow daily thanks to rising demand for fanfiction, which writers happily supply in every fandom.  Again: more, more, more.

A healthy greed fuels all fanfiction.  This greed refuses to give in to the original story’s insistence that nothing exists outside its pages or runtime.  Most of us have wondered what came after the final chapter, or what happened between scenes, or what backstory motivated a character.  Fanfiction writers push the canon to its greatest limits with their stories.  They may be less refined than literary scholars, but they still engage in dialogue with the original story—albeit in a more informal context.

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Fanfiction sticks it to the Man—the ‘Man’referring to literature, pop culture, endings, and even death.

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Fanfiction extends, subverts, and revises the stories’ canon according to the fanfiction writers’ values.  Optimism influences all these writers—even the ones who write depressing, angsty, or even parodic fics.  They have confidence that they have something else valuable to say about the characters, and I consider that optimism at its finest.

Fanfiction transcends the end.  It resurrects Romeo and Juliet.  It stops the zombie apocalypse.  It kills Edward Cullen with a giant wooden stake (sorry Bella). (2) Even when fanfiction fully accepts the canon, its very existence proves that for the writer, their favorite book/show/movie continues.  Fanfiction promotes the same hopefulness that allows many of us to believe we live on after our deaths, just as the characters live on after their story ‘concludes.’  Maybe I have an extreme opinion, but I think that in a lot of ways, fanfiction sticks it to the Man—the ‘Man’ referring to literature, pop culture, endings, and even death.  Sometimes we as humans just want to laugh at what the canon—and life— tell us and continue writing our own story.  Fanfiction helps us do just that.

Yet perhaps fanfiction can only offer so much to us.  After all, stories don’t go on forever—even the fan-written ones eventually come to a stop.  All fanfiction writers must wake up to that pinch of reality.  As much as they deny the end, they must acknowledge the futility of doing so or else risk slipping into delusion.  They have expanded the canon’s universe, but, as with every human effort, their work has finitude.  These writers’ persistence despite such brutal reality may make them seem foolish, but don’t we all keep trying in life despite our limitations?

(1) In case I haven’t already made it clear, I hate Twilight.

(2) Really hate it.

 

Bridgette is a hardcore nerd who hopes to find a wardrobe to Narnia, tap into the Force, and join the Avengers, but since she hasn’t yet, she writes to compensate.  Originally from West Covina, California, she is a creative writing student at Scripps College.   She reviews books and movies on her blog at goldengatebridgette.blogspot.com.

 

Thanks to HBO's new hit show Westworld and Lady Gaga's latest album Joanne, we'll all be sporting cowboy boots and fringe in no time.  I consider myself a casual Lady Gaga fan; I typically enjoy what she puts out there, but I don't go out of my way to hear it again.  However, Joanne has been out for about a month now, and it's an album I keep coming back to.

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Purchase 'Joanne' by Lady Gaga here.

The story behind this album is powerful.  Gaga attributes her recovery from substance addiction to Joanne, her late aunt, for whom the album is dedicated to and named for.  She feels more present in this album.  It's less about what crazy thing she'll do next and more about her voice and feelings.  This is her healing album where she forgives herself and others.  Gaga told Rolling Stone that the album is ‘stories about my family, my sister, my father and his sister.  My mom's family.  My relationships with men, my failures,’  and this rawness is what first drew me to Joanne.  The lyrics are very personal, which makes the album as a whole relatable.  This is something that had always been a problem for me regarding Gaga's music; I like music that I can connect to and I like feeling a bond with the artist.  The singer's more pop pieces, especially in her earlier work, don't give me that same human experience.

‘Perfect Illusion’ was our first taste of Joanne.  Within my own community, post undergrad millennials, the first single had mixed reviews.  Many thought it was too repetitive and not her best work.  It reminds me, personally, of pop-centric Gaga, and I understand why it was released first.  It's the song more likely to appeal to the masses with its disco-pop groove.  My first thought was that it was about her ex-fiance, Taylor Kinney, but she denied that claim in a radio interview with US Weekly.  It's a song most people can relate to and I think it's more for anyone who's ever been in that dream-heavy head trip of a relationship that, looking back, wasn't as great as you thought.

Joanne’s common themes include self-identity, reflection, and heartbreak, but also unity, self-love, and empowerment.  Joanne is the new Lady Gaga 'era' but no one could have expected something closer to a country album than dance tracks.

They’re beautiful ballads about issues in America such as police brutality and sexual assault.

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The songs that make me come back, make me come back for the whole album.  The first track ‘Diamond Heart’ has a certain self pride in the most Americana way possible, and ‘John Wayne’ is so dirty and wrong that it’s right.  Like any album, it's likely you won't like every track.  This is no exception.  There are  a couple of songs that feel more like fillers, such as ‘Come to Mama’ and ‘Grigio Girls,’ but like I said, they don't ruin the integrity of the album.  Especially with ‘Angel Down’, the song for Trayvon Martin that gives me the same chills as "Till it Happens to You," the song written for the The Hunting Ground (2015), a documentary about rape on college campuses.  They’re both such deep and beautiful ballads about real issues in America, and I’m glad Gaga is using her stardom to talk about police brutality and sexual assault.

It's these songs from Joanne that made me remember things that I’ve put behind me.  Deep things I tucked away about myself and the people in my life, past and present, that lead to my own reflections.  I love how music, or any other good piece of art, can do that.  And each time I listen to Joanne, Gaga’s lyrics certainly do that for me.

 

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Women-to-watch Allie Wilkinson and Jessica Martinaitis are using art for positive social change with exhibitions and conversations designed to educate, empower, and call to action.

On a slushy Saturday afternoon, tucked inside an intimate exhibition space in Chelsea’s Gallery District known as the Rush Arts Gallery, a group of art lovers joined in a circle and took a deep, collective breath before delving—with renewed presence and awareness—into the designated discussion, a panel titled ‘Gentrificonversation: Acknowledging Artwashing.’  On the walls were works by 12 New York-based contemporary artists, commissioned to reflect on their experience with the negative impacts of gentrification in New York City and Brooklyn.

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Collage artwork by Fort Greene-based artist Nae Howard

The panel was hosted by IThou Art—an arts organization that supports social movement and progress through art, co-founded by Allie Wilkinson and Jessica Martinaitis, along with artist Liam Alexander—and was part of their Exchange event series, a collaborative communication platform that aims to bring together diverse community members in various neighborhoods to discuss negative social issues in a positive, solutions-oriented environment.

Allie and Jessica, the inspiring women behind the scene, took time before the group discussion to tell bSmart more about their mission, and the positive work of Exchange and IThouArt.

‘‘IThou’ comes from the philosopher Martin Buber,’ explained Jessica. ‘When you get rid of the idea of the other you create a space of us, of I & Thou, and that’s where you can grow and move forward, it’s kind of like this magical space of…’—

they both accidentally chimed in unison—‘relatedness.’

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Jessica, Allie, & co-founder Liam at The Exchange’s Opening, December 15th. Photo by Erin Sanger.

‘I love that,’ said Allie. ‘IThou breaks down the divide between people,’ she continued.  (IThou started when co-founder Liam showcased portraits of activist photographers, ‘the unsung heroes of activist photography,’ Jessica called them, which brought awareness to their various causes and how they used their art to make an impact and spark conversation.)  ‘The idea is to bring people together who wouldn’t normally all be in a room together; we’ve created this space for people to start talking to each other.’

They explained that gentrification was the first social movement they wanted to take on because it was an important topic in their own lives: as artists living in Brooklyn, they themselves had joined the waves of gentrification that are shifting cultural plates and (inadvertently) forcing long-time residents out of their homes.  Aware of this, they wanted to address their impact.

‘That became the basis for continuing the IThou principle,’ said Jessica, ‘and we were asked to help produce an exhibition and create this organization which endeavors to bring awareness and bring in new audiences that are seemingly unimpacted and really develop an awareness in new communities, and then enroll them into supporting the art, because art is a tool for communication.’

The ultimate goal, with the help of visual arts as a prompt, is to foster an exchange of ideas between artists and viewers, and transform the conversation around gentrification from one of negative tension and divide into one of community and inclusion.  

Some of Allie’s work was on display: a piece entitled ‘Fog (Meika)’, a graphite portrait of one of her neighbors in Crown Heights.  The portrait was covered with a sheet of vellum, so the viewer could only slightly see the drawn subject, but never totally clearly.  It was based on a conversation she’d had with Meika (her actual neighbor in her building), in which Meika had said:

“To be able to see somebody past their identity…you don’t get so angst about their behavior…because that’s not who they are, that’s just the level of consciousness that they’re at.  People are consistently demonstrating their fog; their fear…their guilt.  We were not created as that.  So to be able to see beyond the fog—That’s love.”

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Allie & her portrait subject and neighbor Meika. Photo by Duane Lyken.

It was a beautiful encapsulation of the mission of IThou Art and the Exchange series.

All of the artists—an equal ratio of women and men—in this current exhibition had participated in at least one prior Exchange conversation.  Much of their work stemmed from these discussions—a creative way of showcasing otherwise frustrated thoughts about the difficult topics at hand.

I also had the opportunity to speak with Harlem-based artist Duhirwe Rushemeza, whose work incorporated actual pieces of metal from the Dominican nail salon above her studio, which closed due to changing rent circumstances as a result of gentrification.  The rusty metal was mounted on concrete and overlaid with print motifs emblematic of various cultures she has encountered on her travels and studies of art.

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"Ancien Nouveau" by Duhirwe Rushemeza

The panel on Artwashing was hosted by Anthony Rosado, a Bushwick-based artist whose own works about gentrification were also showcased.  After having us breathe in and out in unison, he explained that the theme of the talk would be ‘Arts-Induced Mass Displacement’, a.k.a. the process by which artists seeking cheap rent are actually contributing to the problems that gentrification causes.  The group, a collective of individuals, friends, artists, writers, educators and researchers, both native and new to NYC and its varied neighborhood dynamics, began to discuss rising rents, the loss of central services, and the erasure of original culture as some of the negative byproducts of artists moving to Bushwick, Crown Heights, etc.

‘As artists we have a great responsibility to help the communities that we're in,’ exclaimed one of the panel's featured guests, an actress from Puerto Rico who had been invited to explain her relationship with her neighborhood.  One of the ways IThou Art does this, another guest noted, is by abolishing artists’ apathy, reminding them of the power of their work and choices.

Allie, Jessica, and IThou Art are fostering a cross-cultural, collaborative exchange of ideas, communication, and actions to help one another see through the fog and embrace a myriad of perspectives.  Of course, there is no better way to have these conversations than when surrounded by art, a medium which brings people together in visual curiosity to engage in discussion about its representation and meaning, and its differing connotations depending on its viewer.  Through art we both express ourselves and achieve a collaborative viewpoint in the act of absorbing the work of someone else's eyes and heart.

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"Un dia" by Anthony Rosado

Stay tuned for more Exchange events and positive social impact through art with IThou Art!

 

 

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There’s something special about the Olympic Games.  Every two years, for 16 days, the world’s best athletes come together and captivate the globe with their athletic abilities and performances.  They have the power to render you overjoyed or heartbroken.  They have the power to hold you speechless.  And they have the power to inspire.  

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Katie Ledecky image via

Whether it’s painstaking defeat, world-record achievements, or some other personal narrative of adversity, there is always a new story that emerges from each Olympic Games that manages to live on in our memories far past those of the games themselves.  The Rio de Janeiro 2016 Summer Olympics were no different — here are 5 of its top moments:

5) Refugee wins swimming heat

Rio 2016 was significant — a team of ten refugees were selected to compete at the Olympics, in the context of the ‘worldwide refugee crisis,’ of which the European migrant crisis is a prominent part.  The athletes competed under the Olympic flag and were known as the Refugee Olympic Team.

Yusra Mardini, a 17-year-old Syrian swimmer who pushed a dinghy of 18 migrants to safety for over three hours in the Aegean Sea, won a 100m butterfly heat, reaffirming the purpose of the refugee delegation that sporting excellence can be accomplished when given the opportunity.

4) Usain Bolt

Despite the preliminary rumors and jibes from competitors that he would not be prepared for the games, Usain Bolt once again proved why he has earned the title of ‘fastest man in the world’ — and in history for that matter.  Bolt became the first sprinter to win the 100m in three consecutive Olympics.

3) Ibtihaj Muhammad, U.S. Fencing

Sometimes there are moments from the Games far more important than the games themselves.  Ibtihaj Muhammad, an American saber fencer, became the first Muslim American woman to wear a hijab while competing for the United States in the Olympics.  Muhammad earned the bronze medal as part of Team USA.

2) Simone Biles and the Final Five

If there was ever any question over the last few years whether the United States had the best gymnastics team in the world, it was answered resoundingly in Rio.  In what will be the last 5-member Olympic competition and the coming retirement of national team coordinator Martha Karolyi, The Final Five delivered a team total of 84.897 points — 8.209 points ahead of Russia — which was the largest margin of victory since 1960 and the first back-to-back golds in U.S. women’s gymnastics history.  Meanwhile, 19 year-old Simone Biles became the first woman to win three consecutive world all-around titles, followed by an Olympic all-around, in addition to her team, vault and floor golds, and beam bronze.

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The refugee delegation proved that sporting excellence can be accomplished when given the opportunity.

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1) The Year of Swimming: Katie Ledecky and Michael Phelps

American swimming dominated — so much so, that I couldn’t just pick one competitor.  Stand-out female swimmer Katie Ledecky cemented herself as a household name by hauling in 4 golds and 1 silver medal, while also becoming the first swimmer since 1968 to win the 200, 400, and 800 meter freestyle at the same Olympics.  And the only thing that could demand attention equal to that feat is the greatest of all time himself: Michael Phelps.  In what was his last competition and Olympics of his swimming career, Phelps won 5 golds and 1 silver medal to rewrite the record books and break a 2,168-year-old ancient Olympic record  — the record for most Olympic individual titles of all time (now 13).  Phelps retires as the most decorated Olympian of all time with 28 medals.

Share your favorite moment from the Olympics in the comments below!

 

Krista is a senior at Yale University.  Just a small-town Canadian girl, her biggest passion is, of course hockey, and all sports.  Now, she is pursuing a future career in which she can incorporate her passion, as well as her love for people and the media, in to her everyday activity. Visit her blog at kristayipchuck.wordpress.com.

 

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