As we move back into classic fairy tales with “Beauty and the Beast”, we once again get a prince with no name. Called ‘Master’ or ‘Beast’ throughout the film, we never learn that the cursed Prince actually has a real name. At some point, Disney revealed the fact that the young man’s name is Adam and Adam is not a very nice person.
On the surface, this is a story about how love transforms a young man into the best version of himself. You don’t have to dig too deeply, however, to find much darker and frankly dangerous messages. Adam is violent. He lashes out at his servants, at his environment, and at complete strangers. He repeatedly yells at and threatens Belle, who somehow falls in love with him. This tells our girls that if they just tough it out through the violence everything will be fine (false!). It tells our boys that no matter how they act the perfect girl will see past their behavior to their ‘real’ selves (false as well!).
Sadly this is a common model in the romantic genre: A pair of people who dislike each other are really just covering up deeply hidden feelings. I don’t know about the rest of you, but usually when I am unpleasantly toward someone it is not because I secretly love them, it is because I don’t like them. I guess I missed out on that lesson on relationship behavior. Alternatively I grew out of it about the time I hit double digits. I think most adults have in spite of what the movies tell us.
If we evaluate Prince Adam by what his behavior says about the role of men in our society, it’s not good. For this Prince there are no real consequences for his behavior. He was rude once and was punished for it, but no one has held him accountable since. His servants allow his rages and even go so far as to defend him and explain away his actions. He imprisons and threatens Belle and instead of escaping, she remains in the palace and falls in love with this bully. Apparently men, you can break things, destroy your home, and vent your anger on everyone around you. No one will really mind. They will happily clean up your mess and love you anyway. At least they will if you are really good and kind underneath it all.
It may be a tale as old as time, but I’m not sure it really has a happy ending.