Sunday, March 6, 2011

Villains Rock

Disney Villains-Sheva Apelbaum
For more great sketches by Drew Graham's visit his Gallery 

When I was little, I loved to watch Disney movies.  I found myself cheering for the hero and hoping the villain would fail. After a while though, I came to realize that all of these movies had the same basic  plot. 

In “Aladdin” as well as in many other Disney movies, there is a princess who lives alone (for some reason she has no normal people around her). Often, even though she has everything she needs, she is very unhappy and is constantly looking for that something “special” that will bring satisfaction to her life. 

As the story develops, we learn that the heroine is prevented from realizing her dreams because the villain either wants her to himself or wants something precious that belongs to her.  She battles the villain for the rest of the story (usually with the help of a friend or sidekick) and always wins in the end.

Sleeping Beauty Snow White Cinderella

Other than because of the obvious reasons, there are some real problems with all of these tales.  If you examine the cast of characters, you will discover they have the following things in common:

The Villains:

  1. Understand and master advanced technologies which they either invented themselves or else adapted from others.
  2. Are the most intelligent characters in the plot and have understandable human motives for their actions.
  3. Are well educated, analytical, and have a realistic understanding of the world around them; they also plan for the future and adapt well to change. 
  4. Are politically savvy, build strong alliances, and are good public speakers.
  5. Have a sense of humor, and use satire and clever sarcasm (which the heroines almost never understand).
  6. Have a strong drive to succeed, and their sense of leadership entitlement is based on their natural talent and ability.
  7. Are experienced, hard working, and recognized by others as experts at what they do.

The Heroines:

  1. Hold a romantic view of life and think that problems just work themselves out magically.
  2. Are naive and gullible and believe almost everything they are told.  Which include: taking poison apples from strangers, believing in magical fairy godmothers, and trusting that wishing is a good way to reach goals.
  3. Have no plans for their future or any control of their own destiny. 
  4. Lie, disregard or break the law because they believe that it doesn’t apply to them.
  5. Have no real skills or mastery of any field and even when they do study or read, their knowledge is flaky and often not practical.
  6. Can’t defend themselves and are always at the mercy of someone else (father, prince, friend, stepmother etc.).
  7. Can’t perform any useful service and are viewed by their peers as mostly useless.

The psychology of the villain and the heroine is very interesting.  It looks like these stories are some sort of a metaphor and if this is the case, why don’t they better reflect the world we live in?  I can’t remember last time I ran into anyone that resembled Ariel, Jasmine, Cinderella or Belle.

After thinking about this for quite some time and discussing the topic with my family, I have come to the conclusion that the characters as well as the typical settings in their movies represent certain historical events.  So if you would like to peel off the thin veneer of cuteness and see the princesses and villains for who they really are, here is my analysis:

The Merry Family-Sheva Apelbaum Sweatshops-Sheva Apelbaum

The plot for these stories typically takes place in a palace, a small village, country estate,  uncharted dark forest or some other idyllic location.  Sounds like a typical setting for 18 century plays.  So, relationship between our characters can be seen as the clash between the old world of idealized agrarian life  and the modern and scary impersonal industrialized sweatshops.  My dad agrees with me, and says that the following events have probably contributed to this struggle:

  1. The disappearance of the old empires and monarchies of Europe and the destruction of the old social and religious orders.
  2. The elimination of professional guilds through the introduction of mass production assembly lines.
  3. The opening of universities to minorities and the quick rise of these minorities to positions of political and economic power.
  4. The mass migration from the country to the cities and the resulting demise of the small village and sense of community.  
  5. The emergence of communist, anarchist, and fascist movements.

World War I Gas Mask-Sheva Apelbaum World War I Machine Gun-Sheva Apelbaum World War I Tank-Sheva Apelbaum

It also seems that the outbreak of the First World War and its outcome had also convinced many people that technology was a monster that can’t be tamed (tens of millions of people died through the use of chemical weapons, machine guns, and tanks).

So, it turns out that the struggle between the nature loving innocent heroines (the pre-industrial person) and the industrious, self driven and enterprising villains (post industrial person) is the clash of cultures that took place during the Industrial Revolution and in some parts of the world is still happening today. 

Bill Gates and Steve Jobs 1991-Sheva Apelbaum

You may not like it the sound of it, but it turns out that the villain is all of us—the modern person: Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Jeffrey Zuckerberg, Albert Einstein, and any other entrepreneur and innovative thinker. We’re all intelligent,  multi-cultural, enterprising, and ingenious, and we’re all playing to win. 

Considering this, who would ever want to be an innocent princess?


  1. Oh dear oh dear...
    What am I going to do now Jill, hm?

    Okay, great post Sheva!!!

  2. Well, Yael...if we just abandon the image of the princess as Disney portrays it and add a little spice, drive, accomplishment, and intelligence, then we can keep the institute of the princess in tact. Princess or otherwise, justifiable purpose and a little hard work is always a good thing.

  3. I agree entirely with you, Mommy, hard work is always meritable.

    And Yael, thank you for your sweet comment. I'm glad you enjoyed this blog post.