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Professor explores fairy tales and their contemporary retakes

Fairy tales poster.
February 11, 2014

From Disney’s animated twist on “Sleeping Beauty” to the “Silence of the Lambs” roots in “Little Red Riding Hood,” fairy tales are interwoven in the tapestry of world culture – a fact professor Mohamed Esa will explore in his multi-media talk, “Masters Reloaded: The Brothers Grimm and Rammstein,” at 7-8:30 p.m. Feb. 17 in the Wahrhaftig Room of Hoover Library.

Esa will discuss how Rammstein, the most famous and most successful German heavy metal band, has a music clip that provides us with a modern interpretation of “Sneewittchen” (Snow White), one of the most beloved fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm. He will focus on the anthropological and psychoanalytical meanings of various objects and symbols in the fairy tale and the reloaded version by Rammstein.

“Fairy tales have a universal message for humanity,” says Esa, who teaches German as well as courses centered on such topics as fairy tales and dystopian cultures as represented by “The Hunger Games.” “There’s a beauty about fairy tales in that there’s not a single message – but there’s something for everyone to find in every fairy tale.”

Esa will use one music video by Rammstein as a springboard into the discussion of how the masters – the brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson – have been reloaded into music, theatre, literature and art.

Fairy tales themselves are remakes of folk tales handed down through generations to teach children life lessons, to help them cope with the difficulties they will face in becoming an adult, leaving their families and going away. The images evoked by original fairy tales are often violent, gruesome and downright scary – relevant to the times in which they were told or written.

But even in Disney’s brightly animated, toned-down versions of fairy tales, there is no question about who is good and who is bad.

“We destroy the lesson if we analyze fairy tales for kids,” Esa says. “They have to be enchanted – it has to be easy to decide who is a villian and who is a hero. That way they can identify their greedy side or their jealous side and learn how to ‘defeat’ that evil side in themselves.”

Disney first entered the realm of fairy tales in 1937 with its first full-length animated feature, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.”

“It was the Great Depression, and Disney wanted to give people hope so the story of Snow White was reloaded,” Esa says. “The film painted a more positive picture, otherwise people wouldn’t go to the movies. They wanted to be entertained.”

Still, Esa says, even Disney’s revised Snow White teaches values and important life lessons, just as Rammstein’s music video, “Sonne,” reloads Snow White to send messages relevant in the 21st century. The music video portrays Snow White entirely different than Disney’s version – a mature adult with greed, vanity, obsession and drug addiction playing prominently in the images.

“It is purposely ambiguous – Rammstein wants us to be confused,” says Esa. “For everyone there will be a different message.”