It worries me when people actually believe that Beauty and the Beast is about Stockholm Syndrome and/or abuse. Everyone is entitled to their own interpretation, for sure. But when people start shaming others for enjoying the tale, it becomes a problem.
Let’s break it down:
“Beauty and the Beast shows how Stockholm Syndrome works”
Actually, Stockholm Syndrome is yet to be recognized as an actual mental disorder, and people who have been part of hostage situations have denied it.
Stockholm Syndrome involves adapting your actions to please a captor when you feel threatened. It is a survival mechanism. In this case, Belle never changes for the Beast, and instead challenges him every time.
“But Beast kidnapped and captured Belle in his castle. He is a captor”
He didn’t kidnap her. Belle chose to take upon herself a penalty that fell on her father due to his trespassing.
Also, let’s remember that we can’t analyze a film without taking its historical setting into account. The story takes place in a Royal background during the 18th Century, when the justice system was nothing like ours.
As a result, Royalty -to which the Prince, who is now a Beast, belonged to- dealt with trespassers much differently than we do, as they believed their word to be the law.
Yes, the Beast/the Prince is her captor. But only because he is punishing her for what he considers to be a transgression on her father’s part. Let’s remember: this is a character that lost his kingdom, and the only power he now has, has been reduced to the castle and what exists in it. Growing out of this mentality and what has been wrongly taught to him, is part of his character arc (and it’s also why it makes sense that an Enchantress would want to teach a lesson to a Prince and not someone like Gaston, since the entire kingdom depends on him).
“But he’s abusive”
The Beast never insults or physically harms Belle. At most, he’s rude and demanding…in 2 scenes. Yes. When people talk about the Beast’s abuse in the animation, only two or three scenes where he’s yelling or smashing furniture are used to support the theory.
1- The scenes (being rude to Belle on the way to her room, demanding Belle dines with him, and throwing her from the West Wing and smashing furniture) occur on the same day. The very same day he’s had to interact with another person for the 1st time in 10 years, after almost becoming a complete animal. There’s pent up anger, for sure. But never again do we see the Beast being either forceful or violent. On the contrary, he learns his way into gaining his human behavior back.
2- In each of the scenes, the animators made careful decisions to show the Beast’s instant regret. When analyzing a film, we can’t forget the visual cues that it gives us.
3- Belle doesn’t fear him. Even after seeing him easily take on the wolves that attacked her (that is, at his most violent), she confronts him and calls him out on his rudeness. A scared person wouldn’t dare to do so. She’s an immovable force that the Beast doesn’t know how to deal with, not a victim.
4- We can’t choose to forget that the Beast sets her free, which is no small feat for someone who has been brought up in a royal background.
“But it glamorizes abusive relationships by making girls believe they can change men”
No. Choices made by Linda Woolverton (script) and Howard Ashman (lyrics) focus on Belle and the Beast as outcasts, and forcing her to stay in the castle is a plot device to help the characters get to know each other (and, like I mentioned before, it’s justified by the messed up royal background of the Beast).
It doesn’t ‘glamorize’ an abusive relationship. When the Beast is rude and violent, Belle doesn’t take an interest in him and she actively rejects him. It’s only when the power balance shifts and they treat each other as equals, that the friendship and attraction begin.
The tale is more about outcasts finding solace in each other, than about a woman changing a man to fit her standards. Both Belle and the Beast change in some way. Both must look past each other’s appearance and behavior (both are stubborn and set on their ways) to find what is within. The fact that what is in there pleases them both is what makes the tale great. After all, Belle could have found another Gaston inside the Beast.
“But in real life people don’t change for other people”
In real life, people don’t turn into beasts and furniture. There are no curses or enchantments. We’re dealing with a fairy tale that shows us how the world should be, could be or we would want it to be. And if things didn’t work out for the better, there would be no story to tell.
Let’s never forget the striking difference between fiction and reality. And if you’re worried kids will get the wrong message, talk to them. Don’t blame it on the films or the stories.
We can’t and shouldn’t judge a film on account of its validity in real life. In real life, most of us wouldn’t support vigilantism, yet we enjoy films like Batman or The Avengers without a hitch. In real life, we would probably reject terrorism, yet we enjoy Heath Ledger’s Joker (The Dark Knight) and Hugo Weaving’s V (V for Vendetta) despite the fact that both can be labeled as terrorists.
I’ll be writing more about this soon, but for now, I truly hope people will take a closer look at a film before just glancing at the plot and thinking: “oh, this sounds too much like this other thing! It must be the same!”.
Take the time to consider all the elements in a story before letting a Meme or a Tweet define how you see it.