No, I did not spend my adolescence torturing kittens. No, I am not a member of any deviant online forums. And in answer to my sister’s question - No, I have no intention of becoming pen pals with an incarcerated serial killer. Nor do I plan on marrying said incarcerated serial killer. I am just really interested in evil. Sorry Mum.
If the past two years of research have taught me anything it is that this subject makes most people rather uncomfortable. It’s either that or my experience of averted gazes, nervous laughter and backwards stepping is connected to my personal hygiene or perceived mental health status. But I’m all in favour of blaming it on evil. Aren’t we always.
My practice-led research is concerned with strategies for constructing more productive dialogues with the subject of evil through art. However, I must confess to having self-indulgently reveled in a few cathartic orgies of hatred and horror, facilitated by this umbrella term, in my time. Let’s be frank here, there’s much pleasure to be had in booing a baddy and tut tut tutting a terrorist.
Which brings me to the subject of the fairytale and it’s realms of darkness that we so delight in. At a lecture on the positive psychology of fairytales at Edinburgh University, Dr. Licia Masoni argued that the genre performs as a kind of daydreaming, catharsis and collective analysis session that provides its audience with the ability to engage with the taboos and traumas encountered there, but at a safe distance. And she is not the only one to take up this position in praise of the fairytale; among others Bruno Bettelheim, Sheldon Cashdan and Marina Warner have written on the subject of its capacity to help us cope and rationalise distressing relationships and circumstances in our lives.
But with the likes of Disney at their helm, children’s experiences of fairytales have been taking a detour away from the dark and productive towards the, well, simply delightful. Perhaps in this case the emphasis should be on the ‘simply’. Don’t get me wrong, Walt, ‘cos we’ve had some good times and tone-deaf sing-alongs but I’ve got an army of cruel stepmother’s, wolves, witches, ogres, giants and other equally heinous bogeys that would like a word with you... and the kids. That’s if they can pry the red tape from their mouths.
I am not saying that there isn’t value or a need for censorship to protect our children from inappropriate subject matter. But there are some things, disquieting and disturbing as they are, which need to be said and fairytales are one of those places to say them. We do the fairytales and ourselves a great disservice when we sanitise them. The darkness is there for a reason, and there is much to be seen within it once you let your eyes adjust.