By: Andrew W.
As queer body, I’ve found the story of Cinderella to be unaccusable to non-heterosexual individuals. However, after our first class meeting, I’ve learned the importance of revisiting texts. The rediscovering of media and narratives has made reflect on the notion of time: does it pass or does it stack? In other words, we transgress of meanings in text or do they accumulate?
As discussed in class, the lens we use shapes the meaning we meaning find. In the case of Cinderella, I vividly remember previous classes, where I and my fellow classmates, interrogated the patriarchal undertones of the story. However, there remains subtle meaning within Cinderella that can be unpacked through other none-feminist theoretical lens.
Recently, I have been infatuated with affect theory, which began initially within the field of cultural studies and feminist theories. More specifically, in realms of the work of Lauren Berlant and Sarah Ahmed. For those who may not know, the transition to affect was a response to the Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalytic approaches to the subject, which focused mainly on the subject’s unconscious and desires. The notion of affect has even a longer history dating back to Spinoza. Lauren Berlant reminds us to be skeptical of pure psychoanalytic critiques. To put someone on the couch, for example, the child who identifies as Cinderella, does allow us the opportunity to understand why subjects have particular unconscious desires. However, it misses a critical area of focus: the reasons why the subject maintains those inconsistent and impossible fantasies. For example, in Burno Bettelheim’s article, he proposes that children, namely kids who are in the midst of sibling rivalry, identify with Cinderella and her structural position as the servant of the household. Obviously, children grow older and eventually leave the oedipal phase, and finally learn the world does not revolve around them. The question becomes then, why does the narrative of Cinderella transcend the child?
For example, in the film A Cinderella Story, starring Hilary Duff, the fantasy of Cinderella flourishes into the teenage girl (tween) cultural market. The main character Samantha, Sam for short, portrays the modern Cinderella. As a child, Sam’s mother passed away, and her father immediately remarries. Soon after, Sam’s father passes away after an Earth Quake, and she is left in the care of her evil stepmother and two evil step sisters. The film seeks to be a modern adaption of the Cinderella story into a common narrative. In some ways, A Cinderella Story mirrors the original story, but the nuances of the story demonstrate the ways in which the fantasies of Cinderella become more complex. Cinderella is still the step-daughter with an evil step-mother, but this time around she is forced to work in the family dinner every day while her step-sisters are allowed to live normal lives. The ball now becomes the Halloween dance, which shows how the tropes of the Cinderella fairytale transcend specific times and geographies. Her fairy godmother becomes the manager of the family restaurant.
Most notably during the movie, Sam wishes to go to the costume ball, although Sam’s stepmother forbids her from attending the ball for two reasons: She needed Sam to stay behind and work at the family dinner, as well as her argues that Sam does not have a costume to wear. After feeling disappointed in not being allowed to attend, Sam’s fairy god mother emerges. Unlike the normal story, Sam’s fairy god mother does not have magic, but rather she is just ordinary person. Sam’s fairy god mother, Rhonda who’s just a manager at the family diner, offered to cover Sam’s shift as well as give her a costume.
Personally, I found Rhonda’s act of giving Sam a costume functioning within the realm of affect. Rhonda offered Sam her wedding dress from her last (failed) marriage. As stated earlier, Cinderella shows the ways in which fantasies proliferate throughout our spheres. Rhonda’s act demonstrated the ways in which our fantasies become intertwined. Rhonda act of sharing her wedding dress demonstrated how the idea of a happy ending is universal. Rather than focusing on the individual, such as in the case of Bettelheim, it is important to understand how stories like Cinderella shape different contingent futures and fantasies of the individual, and the hopes of one individual become intertwined with others.