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Symbolic interactionism in our society is present everywhere and on everything; Shrek from its comedic and light hearted nature proves to be an antithesis to this idea of symbolism amongst our society. Shrek is about a story of an ogre who is represented to be ugly, feared and a terrifying protagonist that breaks the stereotypical expectations of the society. Other characters like Princess Fiona, Donkey and Lord Farquaad break the typical notions of a society by going directly against our stereotypical beliefs. This different take on a fairytale has resulted in a movie unlike others at the time which really highlights the sociological perspective, particularly with symbolic interactionism when looked into from the various stereotypes, notions and beliefs we have towards symbols in society.
“Shrek” is about the story of an ogre who lives a lonely life; being banished from the society by being an ogre, he likes to spend his time alone and enjoy it with himself. But due to Lord Farquaad, his private alone time is hindered by the banishment of all the “fairy tale creatures” that now live in his swarm. To get his swarm back he makes a deal with Lord Farquaad that when he rescues Princess Fiona from her castle and brings her back to Farquaad for marriage, he will get his swarm back. During his journey with donkey, Shrek and Princess Fiona fall in love with each other but due to the complications between ogres and humans and the princesses curse they are unable to be together; a misunderstanding leads Shrek to fall back into a naive state away from society but finally understands the right thing to do with the help of Donkey. Shrek eventually fights Lord Farquaad’s knights; Fiona and Shrek reveal their love for each other; the curse of Fiona is lifted; Shrek finally finds himself within a community; both of them have a wonderful and happy wedding.
Shrek is a classic amongst children of the early 90’s and 2000’s from its comedic style and the class leading animation for the period. In this 2001 Dream works 3D animated film most people would probably miss out on the vast amounts of symbolic interactionism and different sociological perspectives present in it that has been covered up by the excellent comedy present in the movie. “Symbolic interactionism views society as being composed of symbols that people use to establish meaning, define their relationship, develop their views of the world, and communicate with one another.” Symbolic interactionism is a framework to better understand how individuals perceive and communicate with each other through repeated interactions. Symbolic interactionism in Shrek can be seen sprinkled throughout the interactions between the four main characters of Shrek, Donkey, Princess Fiona and Lord Farquaad and how this fantasy world is operating in the current social structure. The storyline in the movie portrays Shrek as an angry and terrifying creature but as the story goes on this is revealed to be far from the truth. As Shrek himself states ogres to be like onions which have multiple layers to them. The use of the onion analogy about how judgment by appearance is misleading and should be done by character is exactly what symbolic interactionism has resulted in. The prejudice put upon Shrek is invalid due to the countless years of ogres that came before him which led the society in the movie to have a negative symbol of ogre’s amongst the community. According to Henslin, he describes this to be symbols that are present in our everyday lives; symbols used to define and distinguish parts in society help in defining status, position and relationship amongst our society. In this case, Shrek is a symbolic monster to the society and that is why he is feared, hated and banished from it.
The movie breaks the stereotypical symbolic interactionism present in the society by the use of two main characters, Princess Fiona and Lord Farquaad. During the rescue of Princess Fiona she is portrayed as a classic damsel-in-distress waiting for her hero/prince to come and rescue her from a dragon. This portrayal in my opinion was done in the movie intentionally to showcase and contrast how Fiona as a princess broke this stereotypical role later in the movie. The stereotype and symbol of princesses to have lady like manners and be a damsel-in-distress is broken as Fiona stands up herself by excellently fighting off her male counterparts. Becoming at ease with Shrek perceived Lady like manners the society are dismissed as she is very informal with Shrek and does things like one upping him in burping. “Sexual behavior, like all human behavior, is symbolic.” (Longmore, 1998) Fiona goes against this statement and breaks the generalized symbols put up by the society and the same can be said for Shrek as to how Heroes traditionally are tall, handsome and powerful that the society loves but Shrek is exactly the opposite of these generalized symbols amongst fairytale heroes. Lord Farquaad proves to be an antithesis to the expectation of a valiant knight-in-shining armor. Stereotypically Farquaad would be portrayed as a tall, handsome, young knight but is short, old(er) and although rugged looking is disreputable and villainous. To compensate for his shortcomings and his failure to meet this stereotype Faquaad wears a suit designed to portray his arms and legs to be longer and in a comedic fashion stands on stools in the public.
Shrek as a movie has excellently captured the symbolic interactionism our society is used to and has perfectly encapsulated the antithesis to this theory. The portrayal of Shrek, the protagonist to be ugly, repulsive, feared; Fiona, the princess to be independent, transparently “unladylike”, and not a damsel-in-distress; Farquaad, a knightly king to be short, disreputable and villainous; the movie lets the audience realize the preconceived notions our society has placed on different symbols. These multiple examples of symbolic interactionism in the film portray how our societal structure functions by the use of different symbols help differentiate and define status, position and relationships amongst individuals in society; this different take in our views and perspectives of society lead the movie to validate how prejudice and preconceived notions society places on things cannot always be believed.
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