Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Is the Wolf the Bad Guy?

This morning I did a quick double-take when I saw the Guardian's commercial for 'open journalism.' It's based around a fairy tale.

From the Guardian:

"This advert for the Guardian's open journalism, screened for the first time on 29 February 2012, imagines how we might cover the story of the Three Little Pigs in print and online. Follow the story from the paper's front page headline, through a social media discussion and finally to an unexpected conclusion."

It's a dramatic commercial with fantastic visuals. I won't comment on the concept of 'open journalism.' What intrigued me, of course, was the use of this particular tale.

The tale of the three little pigs has always straddled fable, fairy and nursery tale. It's a rather peculiar tale from that perspective. I like the Joseph Jacobs version (1890) with the rhyme:

Once upon a time when pigs spoke rhyme
And monkeys chewed tobacco
And hens took snuff to make them tough
And ducks went quack, quack, quack, o!

In Jacobs version, only the last pig survives, having successfully dispatched the wolf and eaten him for supper. The big bad wolf, of course, is a stereotypical villain. Tales of werewolves and Little Red Riding Hood did the wolf no favours in our earlier history. However, in recent years, the wolf has been increasingly vindicated and suspicion thrown on the pigs, as in The True Story of the Three Little Pigs or The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig, or on the girl, as in Honestly, Red Riding Hood Was Rotten. And remember Enchanted, where Giselle is tucking Morgan in?

Giselle: I remember this one time, when the poor wolf was being chased by Little Red Riding Hood around his grandmother's house, and she had an axe... oh, and if Pip hadn't been walking by to help I don't know what would've happened!
Morgan: I don't really remember that version.
Giselle: Well, that's because Red tells it a little differently.

Indeed, even Oz and Team Jacob have redeemed the wolf. (And I keep hearing about a pilates wolf in Grimm.)

The Guardian's 'open journalism' likewise suggests the wolf's innocence, first through video of the wolf with an inhaler (being asthmatic, how could he blow down the houses?), second through showing that the pigs were covering up their own crime, being in financial difficulty due to high mortgage payments.

The redemption of the wolf is almost so familiar now that the surprise would be to discover an actual bad wolf (well, outside of Doctor Who).

Nonetheless, fairy tales have long been used to speak of politics and social problems. Some have suggested that by using a fairy tale, the Guardian's commercial appears 'silly' and at times the men-in-pig-suits do jar with the hype and promise of 'open journalism.' Yet, the fairy tale take on housing difficulties and crime is not so ridiculous. Tales like The Three Bears, Jack and the Beanstalk, Puss in Boots and Hansel and Gretel have long responded to problems of poverty and homelessness and their links to crime.

Speaking of fairy tales, I discovered today that the 'Fairy Tales Re-Imagined' panels are up as podcasts and can be located here.

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