Childish entertainments

That perfect child is gone…

I have been reading The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. It is a serious novel, which happens to have a child as the main character. It has mystery and threat, the sound of someone crying which can never be admitted, a child crushed and broken by Lovelessness and taken to a place of darkness and reclusive suffering, where good people show her care and attention and her own innate resilience and humanity, warmed into love and creativity, produce something beautiful.

From 1911, I note the way they talk of “blacks”. There is the rich person’s way- they were obsequious and servile…they made salaams and called their masters protectors of the poor and names of that sort- then there is the maid’s way- when you read about them in tracts they are always very religious. You always read as a black’s a man and a brother. It is humane.

In the Guardian, I read Why is Frozen so popular? I have just watched it off BBC1, and am a new fan. Lucinda Everett, a fan who loves it for herself not just her children, mentions hearty praise from critics, academics, parents, and equal rights campaigners but the heart is this: The complex, damaged older sister with icy powers that her abusive parents forced her to conceal, was originally the villain of the piece – blue of skin and spiky of hair. But when married songwriting duo Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez composed Let it Go as an empowering ode to self-acceptance, the film was rewritten and Elsa-mania was born. The sister who turns Anna’s heart to ice is a good person! The attempts to control and hide her gifts and true nature-Be the good girl you always have to be; Conceal, don’t feel– only poison them, hurting her and everyone else; and the way to happiness is accepting and freeing them.

I love it. And there are mean spirited comments. Jeez, the film came out three years ago just Let It Go already. And, The old never bothered me anyway. Those had at least an attempt at wit, a play on words, but then I read, Because some parents are happy to feed their children shit. That is merely vile. Frozen is a complex and subtle work of art. It has humour, it is life-affirming with people coming together, and the opening, the fear-filled attempt to render Elsa safe and under control made me weep at the horror of it. It is funny. The ending is beautiful. Calling it “shit” is the sin against the Holy Spirit.

That mean spirit is everywhere in Guardian comments. The Guardian also spoke up for being Liberal: If liberal means holding true to the values of the Enlightenment, including a belief in facts and evidence and reason, then call me a liberal. And if liberal means cherishing the norms and institutions that protect and sustain democracy, from a free press to an independent judiciary, then call me a liberal. Then the second comment calls for cutting foreign aid, much – or most – of which does not reach or benefit those most in need. I think I hate “EliminatetheNegative” more for pretending to care about effectiveness.

Call me a liberal, too. Love and freedom is in those children’s entertainments, and the meanness of “Suck it up, you lost!” will not overwhelm it. Nigel Farage hates his own voters and party members, mocking them as “low grade people”. (I tried to check the original Telegraph interview for context, but it is behind a pay-wall.) There is something truthful and adult- for all people, for all time- in these children’s entertainments. I will become like a child to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

Let it go, let it go
And I’ll rise like the break of dawn
Let it go, let it go
That perfect girl is gone
Here I stand
In the light of day
Let the storm rage on
The cold never bothered me anyway!


Pink gendering

I am growing: I write about this differently from how I would have two days ago.

I was with parents of small children discussing potty-training, general stuff. A mother notices how rigidly gendered toys are: an art easel is either pink or blue, for goodness’ sake. Why can’t it be wooden, and wood-coloured? Fortunately, — is quite happy playing with “boy’s” or “girl’s” toys. At school, another child mocked his pink shirt, and he said, “Don’t you know, real men wear pink?” Wonderful, repartee in a six year old.

On the Tube, a woman gets on with a man and a girl. The woman clutches a cuddly toy penguin, a cuddly toy Santa, and a three foot high helium balloon with a picture of Disney’s Snow White on it.  She loses grip of Snow White, and the balloon hits the ceiling. I catch her eye and grin. “Nightmare,” she says. She pulls it down and it sticks out across the aisle to her daughter, who is sitting forward in the seat despite being told to sit back: as I watch, she caresses the plasticky surface of her balloon.

The thing I would not have written, would not have admitted, is that I was staring at that balloon with great interest and a mix of emotions. I notice the full petticoats and the shape of the pose. It is a symbol for the child, but also for me.

I absolutely agree that there is more than one way to be a girl, and that heavily stereotyped and limiting roles for girls are a bad thing: but not that Pink Stinks. By all means produce wooden easels, and encourage girls to play with chemistry sets and join the school debating team; but leave Disney Princesses alone, for me and those like me.

On the train, crowded with people standing, a man explained that there was one fewer carriage than there should be. Just to make conversation, what are you doing for Christmas? His sons are joining him. He does not know what men in their thirties have in common with him: they have all these electronic devices, and he does not understand them at all. He got off, and three women got on. I stared admiringly at one, in a long-haired fake fur pelt and a narrow headband with a row of fake pearls (large and quite spherical) surrounded by glittery stuff. The woman beside me wore a Christmas red jumper with a cartoon reindeer face on it. I commented that not everyone could carry a headband like that off, but she does, beautifully. The woman in the jumper agreed. They are off on a works night out, to see the musical Matilda and have dinner. She forgot the champagne- it was in her fridge chilling and everything. I condole. What work do you do? They work in a bank- she hopes that does not bore me, she apologises. No, not at all.

I have been in jeans too long. Sod comfort and fashion, I am wearing skirts more.