Saturday, September 12, 2009

About Fallen Princesses

We don't know who the models in this photo are and this is not a celebrity couple, yet we still know what is going on.

Fairy tales are delightful, ideal stories that almost all children grow up hearing and seeing. As children mature into young adults, fairy tales become a completely fictional, happy life story they realize will never happen but hope would (and some are lucky to find that Happily Ever After). Disney has popularized the tales, creating a collection of iconic Disney Princesses. In fact, I'm pretty sure most people think of the Disney illustrations when they hear the name Cinderella or Snow White.

But looking at the photograph, we see Snow White in her classic dress, holding 2 children while ignoring one at her foot and one across the room, while her Prince Charming watches TV in an upright chair, shoe-less feet on a makeshift ottoman, and beer can in hand. This is definitely not the archetypal Snow White we all had in mind. However, this image makes sense to us because of the social context that we are all familiar with fairy tales. And while this is not depicting the "happily ever after" we've heard countless times, we know that this is showing the "ever after" as a ironic scene. The production of the sign is based on the signifer (the image of Snow White) and the signified (the background knowledge of the fairy tale).

Dina Goldstein takes the image of the perfect princess and turns the story 180 degrees. This photo, our culture, shows us that having children is a burden and a relationship-killer; this is the epitome of an unhappy ending only because Snow White was supposed to be in a happy ending. She is clearly unsatisfied. Once she escaped her world of singing animals and white horses, Snow White enters the domestic world of being a mother and wife. Though children aren't always the reasons why relationships end, it is a fact that relationships do end or go through rough patches. What is the reality of love stories? Why are divorce rates so high? What happened to Jon and Kate Plus Eight?

Goldstein took more photos for her collection of "Fallen Princesses" and all the images are pretty shocking and funny. You'll recognize the story, because even if they are true tragedies that happen to everyday people, they mean more to us because we know the characters and the fact they "lived happily ever after."

Here are thumbnails, but you should definitely check out the site for more photos:

Tell me what you think of this and the others!

(On slightly related note, this site is pretty amusing: http://whythef***


  1. I love all of those photos. It brings us back to reality from the fairy tale world a lot of us grew up in, so it's easy to relate to. I don't know if you've already seen these pictures, but Annie Leibovitz took a bunch of similar Disney-themed pictures with some well-known models and celebrities (and because Disney and our celebrity-obsession is so integrated into society, it's easy to recognize them even without names or titles, like yours) and they came out pretty awesome:

  2. Yes, thanks, and Annie Leibovitz's photos are actual advertisements for Disney's theme parks (and I love them!). I agree, that even if they aren't the cartoons or labeled on top, the costumes and settings of the photographs already tell us who the character is. Similarly, there have been hundreds of Alice-in-Wonderland-themed photo editorial shoots (like that one you linked to) that we all recognize immediately.

  3. OH I absolutely loved this. Thanks!
    it actually makes me think not only of how these Disney movies mess with the minds of young children, promising them perfect futures and happy endings. At the end of the day, life is just life, and kids get disappointed.
    But it also made me think (and I've talked about this in High School), how some of these stories are adaptations of some classical stories that adults read. For example, Lion King. As a child, i loved the tale, and of course I cried when Simba's father got killed. But I never realized that the story of Lion King is actually a children's adaptation of Shakespeare's Hamlet.

  4. I absolutely adore updated versions/re-tellings of fairy tales, but I found these to be kind of unimaginative and heavy-handed.

    The Rapunzel picture, while haunting at first, really annoys me. I don’t understand why having cancer would put her in a “fallen” state. I understand that the photographer was trying to contrast the idea of Rapunzel’s super long hair with the complete loss of it, but I feel like she is just reinforcing the attitude of blaming people for their illnesses with this one. Same goes with the Little Red Riding hood picture, it reinforces the stereotype that fat people just eat junk food and are unattractive. It’s like she’s trying to challenge stereotypes by playing into other ones.

    I also really hate the Belle one, as she was one of the more well-rounded Disney characters. She was all about reading and shunning those who only looked at her for her beauty, so why would she all plastic surgery crazy.

    I get that she’s trying to bring these Disney versions of fairy tales that everyone is so accustomed to back to their original, disturbing form (Brothers Grimm, Anderson), but the way she went about it simply doesn’t make sense.