Saturday, March 13, 2010

Jack Zipes Talks Fairy Tales at UBC

Image still from Fractured Fairy Tales: The Phox, The Box & The Lox (1999)

Heads up, children's media fans in the Vancouver area - you're about to get the chance to hear the wonderful and prolific Professor Jack Zipes (Professor Emeritus at the University of Minnesota) discuss his ongoing and thoroughly fascinating work on fairy tales. UBC's Green College is currently hosting Zipes as Cecil H. and Ida Green Visiting Professor, through which he will be giving a series of public and community lectures from March 23-27, on various aspects of his research on the evolution and function of fairy tales within childhood and children's media (literature, films, tv). Here's a copy of his bio, as posted on the Green College site:
Jack Zipes is one of the world’s leading authorities on fairy tales, writing about and translating them. An internationally renowned scholar and author of more than 50 books on many subjects, he has through his writings transformed research on fairy tales, particularly with respect to how they function in the socialization of readers. His books include Why Fairy Tales Stick: The Evolution and Relevance of a Genre (2006), Relentless Progress: The Reconfiguration of Children’s Literature, Fairy Tales, and Storytelling (2008), Fairy Tales and the Art of Subversion (1985, 2006) and The Enchanted Screen: A History of Fairy Tales on Film (coming, 2010). His translations include The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm (1987), The Fairy Tales of Hermann Hesse (1995), and most recently Lucky Hans and Other Merz Fairy Tales by Kurt Schwitters (2009). Jack Zipes is Professor Emeritus of German and Comparative Literature at the University of Minnesota.

Zipes' work has been an invaluable resource to me, ever since my early days as an undergrad writing about Disney Princesses. I've particularly enjoyed his discussions of subversion and transgression in fairy tale storytelling traditions, and his descriptions of how visionary media creators like Jim Henson have managed to translate these elements (at least partially) into film and television. For example, in Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales, Children, and the Culture Industry (1997), Zipes proposes that whereas many children’s media texts, such as Disney’s fairy tale films, employ “techniques of infantilization, narrative strategies of closure, and the exaltation of homogeneity” (p.96), there are also some that work to challenge hegemonic conventions. As mentioned, Zipes points to the works of the late Jim Henson (including The Muppet Show, Muppet Babies, Sesame Street and The Storyteller) as key examples of subversive children’s media texts. Using bricolage, multimedia pastiche, satire and parody, these texts subvert their own authority by transgressing established norms and conventions (such as "breaking the fourth wall” or having characters step “out of character” to question a particular plot development) and reviving pre-Industrial, oral storytelling traditions that invite children “to explore the tale’s manifold meanings” (p.99). Rather than simply promoting conformity to established scripts, structures and consumer behaviours (although these features may nonetheless also be present), these texts can be seen as “challeng[ing] the creative and critical capabilities of young viewers” (p.95).

Reading through next week's schedule of talks, Zipes will likely address this aspect in further detail, along with more thorough discussions of gender, Disneyfication, and the ways in which certain versions of fairy tales get lost while others become the "authoritative" texts. I've reproduced a very brief outline of the schedule below, but if you want to see a more detailed overview, I recommend visiting the Early Romance Studies Research Cluster website, which includes descriptions of each talk/event. I have a major scheduling conflict that will take me out of town for most of these talks, unfortunately (or fortunately, given that the reason for my trip could ultimately lead to major awesomeness, including opportunities to set up similar events in the very near future). But I'll definitely try my best to be at the Tuesday lecture on feminist interpretations of fairy tales and the fireside chat.

Jack Zipes, Folklore and Fairy Tale Scholar at UBC
March 23-27, 2010

Green College and ISGP Weekly Lecture
Green College Coach House,
6201 Cecil Green Park Road, UBC
5 – 6:30 pm, Tuesday, March 23, 2010, with reception to follow

Piano Lounge, Graham House, Green College,
6201 Cecil Green Park Road, UBC
8 – 9 pm, Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Special Lecture
Dodson Room #302, Irving K. Barber Learning Centre,
1971 East Mall, UBC
12 – 12:50 pm (followed by discussion), Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Co-presented with the UBC MA in Children’s Literature Program

Arts Wednesdays Public Lecture
UBC Robson Square Theatre,
800 Robson Street, Vancouver, BC
6 – 7:30 pm, Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Vancouver Children’s Literature Roundtable
The University Golf Club,
5185 University Blvd, UBC
9 am, Saturday, March 27, 2010 (Registration and coffee from 8 am)
* TICKETED EVENT: For prices and details, see the VCLR website


Daniel said...

I got to listen to Jack present at a Childhood Studies conference here in London a month or so ago; he seems like a fantastic guy.

Unfortunately his presentation while here was what I always affectionately deem 'An Old Guy Rant', and a bit heavy on the "kids these days" crap. In sum, he offered a lecture about the damaging impact on kids of of consumerism – while disregarding with one swift phrase the vast body of commentary on children's active agency within culture and their roles as consumer citizens, and children's ability to subvert and re-appropriate the infantilized or commodified materials that the bulk of society offers them. Michael Rosen, who appeared after as the Discussant for Zipes' talk, took him to task severely for that.

Nevertheless, it was a fascinating discussion. I'm sure anybody who goes to this coming event will greatly enjoy it.

Sara M. Grimes said...

thanks for the info Daniel!