This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, December 11, 1991

December 11, 1991 - The physically challenged Barbie

A couple of weekends ago, my wife, 4 year old daughter, and I went to see Disney's latest animated film, Beauty and the Beast.

As usual, the Disney people mucked about quite a bit with the story line. We've read about every version there is to Maddy, and haven't run across a single mention of Gaston, the handsome but arrogant braggart that plays the heavy in the movie. In the books, Beauty's real name is Beauty. In the movie, her name is Belle. In the books, Beauty has sisters; in the movie, she's an only child.

But none of that stuff really matters, because the Disney version, much to my surprise, is BETTER -- packed with drama, wringing even more nuance out of the old archetype of the sweet young girl and the enraged and ensorcelled young man. And as my wife points out, in the movie version, not only does Belle learn to love the Beast slowly, over time, but the Beast himself goes through some changes. All of this is a lot more realistic -- and a lot more sensible -- than the usual fairy tale falling in love at first sight.

Besides, I particularly liked the fact that Belle was always walking around with her head in a book. I'm all in favor of cartoon characters who encourage kids to read more. In fact, I'm strongly in favor of fairy tales generally -- for many generations now, these old yarns and legends have insinuated themselves into children's imaginations, serving many important but generally disregarded purposes. The most important, to my mind, is the bond forged between the parent reading the story and the child thrilling to every word.

Some people, such as the late Bruno Bettelheim, believe that fairy tales have an even deeper meaning. In these ancient stories, children gain their first insights into life. They learn to identify the basic human problems. From Cinderella they learn to bear the death of a loving father and the cruelty of strangers. In the Frog Prince, they learn to seek beneath the surface for the abiding love of a husband.

All that may sound fanciful to you. But consider Santa Claus. He too is a sweet story, picturesque and compelling. And in Santa's season, it may be that people are a little nicer to one another. Do not underestimate the power of the fairy tale.

But I wanted to talk some more about this idea of "realistic" fairy tales. Several times over the past couple of weeks, I've heard women talking about their deep and abiding love-hate relationship with, I'm serious, Barbie dolls, who's something of a fairy tale herself.

There was a "Kathy" cartoon about it not long ago that seems to have really captured something. In turns out that many, many women are out-and-out angry about Barbie dolls. Why? Because those pixie-featured, leggy, platinum blonde, high-bosomed caricatures, so false to fact, so rare in nature, not only weasled their way into young girls' closets -- but into their self-images as well.

Like fairy tales, this simple doll lurks almost invisibly in the unconscious memories of many women -- until suddenly, usually when women are standing in front of full-length mirrors, out leaps .. Barbie!

To a certain extent, I understand all this. Don't get me wrong, I never had a Barbie doll (although I do have a vague memory of getting stuck with a character named Poindexter -- instead of Ken -- in a board game called Barbie). But I did, and do, read comic books.

When I was almost 13, I particularly favored a series called X-Men, about a group of young people who, at about the age of puberty, suddenly developed remarkable powers. They sprouted wings, turned invisible, emitted powerful rays from their fingertips, stuff like that.

Every morning, I fully expected to wake up with one of those abilities. I'm still waiting.

My wife may not look like Barbie, but then, I don't look much like Superman.

Nonetheless, I truly don't think our daughter will have much trouble with Barbie. Mainly that's because Maddy's first glimpse of Barbie was on top of a chocolate cake, where the cake was the skirt. This is a far more realistic picture, I believe, of what happens to people as they grow older.

After we nibbled awhile, we gave Barbie a tug and discovered that she was the special Baker's Barbie -- no legs. She was designed to be poked into cake tops. Well, the baker did provide a set of legs, but they were sort of substandard. More recently, they fell off again and got lost. One of her arms, too. In short, Maddy plays with a Physically Challenged Barbie, which might not be a bad thing either.

In the meantime, we'll keep reading Maddy the classics, I'll keep reading comic books, and ladies, for the record, I think the current toystore Barbie is no Beauty.

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