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Before Jimmy Fallon became the extremely successful television personality today, a comedian named Louis C.K. ruined Jimmy’s chances to star on the Dana Carvey Show in the 1990s. In a 2015 interview between Jimmy and Louis, Louis revealed that he judged the auditions for the Carvey show. Louis witnessed Jimmy Fallon do an audition for that show. When the panel decided who would go on the show, all the women in the meeting said “he [Jimmy] has to be on the show!” However, Louis said “never; I will quit the show if you hire that kid.” In the 2015 interview, Louis revealed that in hindsight, he was completely jealous of Jimmy’s charisma, youth, and full head of hair; Louis didn’t want to feel upset about himself by looking at Jimmy every day, so he “torpedoed Jimmy’s chances to get on the show” (The Tonight Show). Jimmy never made it on the Carvey show. This situation reveals that envy is insidious; if you’re not careful, then the envy of others will destroy you. The evil stepmother bogey who becomes jealous of the daughter’s beauty is the perfect embodiment of this destructive force of envy. The details of wicked stepmother stories have changed in history, reflecting the current state of society; however, the evil stepmother tales have been unchanging in that they always had envy their core. The evil stepmother bogey reveals that when humans come into contact with someone who appears superior, then they become envious and attempt to destroy that person; as a result, a modern audience learns that they must downplay exceptional qualities as a sacrifice in order to deflect the dangers of envy.
In Marina Warner’s “Wicked Stepmothers” chapter about a story entitled “Cupid and Psyche,” Warner reveals that envy drives the stepmother figure to destroy her competitor in beauty, which shows that the evil stepmother symbolizes jealousy. “Cupid and Psyche” is the first story in recorded history in which the evil stepmother makes an appearance. Cupid’s mother, Venus, commands her son to murder Psyche, her challenger in beauty. This tale of jealousy represents the soul striving to reach inner peace. The word psyche means “soul” in Greek. Thus, when Venus wants to murder Psyche because she’s jealous of Psyche’s beauty, this action represents Venus wanting to purge the part of her own soul that brings her pain. This insight reveals that humans who destroy others because of envy don’t do it simply to destroy another person but for the end goal of bringing peace to themselves. Also, it’s not necessarily beauty itself that causes envy; instead, the beauty symbolizes any manifestation of superiority that causes envy. Finally, this story about envy was published in the 2nd century AD, which shows that envy is an emotion that has been present in humans for millennia. Envy is such a powerful emotion that it can even drive a person to murder, so people should downplay their talent or image in order to protect themselves from another person’s envy.
Two thousand years later, the Grimm brothers published the wicked stepmother tale of Cinderella in the 19th century that is much more violent compared to today’s Disney version of Cinderella; this shows that the portrayal of the evil stepmother bogey depends on the real-life circumstances surrounding the authors of the story. The Grimm brothers grew up in the German states during the early 1800s, which was in the center of military conflicts such as the Napoleonic Wars and the French Revolutionary Wars. As a result, the violence in their Cinderella version was in congruence with the authors’ environment in real life. In the Grimm version of “Cinderella,” an evil stepmother torments the daughter because the stepmother is jealous of her beauty and charm. When the prince announces that whoever’s foot fits the shoe can marry him, the evil stepmother says to her daughters “Cut your toe off. Once you become queen, you won’t have to walk anymore” (Grimm, 83). When Cinderella rightfully marries the prince, the sisters come to the wedding in which “pigeons pecked out one eye from each of them” (Grimm, 84). These portrayals of graphic violence are absent in the American Disney versions, which reflects the time of peace on U.S. soil. Although the U.S. was involved in wars during the time Disney published Cinderella in 1950, there were no major ongoing military conflicts on U.S. soil as there were in the German states. Despite the changes in violent descriptions, envy was a common factor and remained at the core of both stories. The comparison of the violent Grimm’s “Cinderella” to the toned down version of Disney’s “Cinderella” shows that the environment surrounding the publishers affects the portrayal of the evil stepmother bogey, but it doesn’t affect the presence of envy.
Along with the Grimm’s “Cinderella” version, there are the Norwegian and Native American versions of “Cinderella” in which envy is common in all three stories, which shows that envy is common in all cultures. In the Grimm’s version of Cinderella, when the prince marvels at Cinderella’s beauty, the sisters “stood in the corner, pale with envy” (Pitt). Similarly, in the Norwegian version of “Cinderella,” the story is nearly identical to the Grimm’s version; the Norwegian story also states that “the stepmother and her daughter were jealous of the princess, because she was so lovely.” (Pitt). In the Native American version of “Cinderella,” instead of a king, there is an Indian warrior named Strong Wind who has the ability to make himself invisible. When he wants to find a woman to marry, he turns invisible and tells his sister to ask the women if they can see him. If they falsely answer “yes,” then he rejects them. Finally, a young woman answers truthfully, but “her older sisters were very jealous of her charms and treated her very cruelly” (Pitt). This shows that envy is common in different cultures. Among the different cultural versions, female hatred is a common theme in “Cinderella,” which reveals the hatred and sabotage among females. Because women must outdo their competitors to get the symbolic prince, it’s no wonder that “female friendships are so problematic, when this is how we are trained to see our relationships with other women” (Baum). The element of envy gives us a deeper insight into female relationships. Because the destructive force of envy is common among these different cultural versions of “Cinderella,” this shows that the evil stepmother story at its core, which is about envy, is a part of the human emotional dynamic.
The Grimm brothers revised “Snow White” from having an evil mother to having an evil stepmother to make the story more believable, which shows how envy can occur even in the family. “Snow White” is about the wicked stepmother who orders the death of her stepdaughter because she is jealous of her beauty. In the first Grimm version published in 1812, “there is no stepmother” (Gidwitz). Instead, the evil queen is the daughter’s mother. In the 1812 version, the mother orders the huntsman to “stab her [Snow White] to death” instead of merely killing her and bringing back her organs. Then, the Grimm brothers revised it to the stepmother in the 1857 version to make the story more believable and acceptable to children. Because jealousy and violence in the family is a taboo topic, it is important to make the story believable; thus, the revised evil stepmother story can educate people on the dangers of envy in the family. For example, Joe Orton was a famous playwright in the 1960s. He was in a relationship with Kenneth Halliwell, but their relationship deteriorated as Orton became successful. Orton tried to help Halliwell launch his career, but Halliwell failed, which only made him feel inferior. In 1967, Halliwell killed Orton with a hammer, and Orton’s diaries revealed that “Halliwell’s sickness came from envy” (Greene). This real life example shows that envy can occur in close relationships such as relationships in the family setting. Also, it’s difficult to imagine an older mother being jealous of her daughter, yet an essay analyzes “Snow White” through a Jungian perspective that “the older woman’s envy of the younger one’s beauty, sex appeal, and desirableness, is obvious in our culture, attested to by the booming cosmetic industry (Buchholtz).” “Snow White” portrays that envy can even lurk in the family. With the Grimm brothers revising their story, this portrays that it’s important to make the wicked stepmother story believable so that people can learn important lessons to apply in their own lives; for example, don’t cause envy in relationships even if they are familial relationships.
The contemporary movie of “Snow White” called Mirror Mirror was released in 2012; it makes fun of the emotion of envy because it’s a way for us to cope with the dangers of envy, which shows that envy is becoming especially problematic in modern society. In Mirror Mirror, the movie transforms the story into a comedy with moments such as having the queen get bee-stung lips, having her receive a manicure from worm creatures, and having her skin refreshed with parrot feces. The fact that we have to cope with envy using humor reveals that envy is becoming more problematic in today’s environment. Why? Today, we live in an increasingly democratic world; the Polity IV scale shows that the number of democracies in the world multiplied by six from 1900-1998. In a democratic environment, the sense of envy is heightened because there is more equality among peers, and “powers of display are looked down upon” (Greene). In contrast, an aristocratic environment has clear vertical communication links and inequality among peers, such as the servant and the master, in which there is a clear divide between social ranks. Here, displays of power are accepted according to one belonging to a high social rank, so it’s less likely for one to be envious of someone of a higher rank. For example, Guy Kirsch writes in his essay about envy that “while I don’t feel envy towards Bill Gates, I am envious of a colleague of mine who commands a higher lecture fee than I do,” which is similar to the master-servant phenomena in an aristocratic environment. As Marina Warner wrote, we use humor to cope with our fears. Because we use humor to depict the evil stepmother bogey in our contemporary society, this reveals that envy is becoming problematic in our democratic society.
Another contemporary remix of “Snow White” is Snow White and the Huntsman in which the elite band together and exploit their own people, which reflects the atmosphere of modern times. Snow White and the Huntsman is a more serious movie compared to Mirror Mirror, and its story is very similar to the Grimm version in which the evil stepmother envies Snow White’s beauty. In the movie, the evil queen allies with her brother and the dark forces, and they take advantage of their own people. This movie is “a metaphor to modern [financial] times” (Macdonald) in which financial giants including AIG and Goldman-Sachs took advantage of the American public by exploiting the housing market for their own gain. What happens in the movie is similar to what happens in the real world in which the elite exploit the masses; this shows that on the surface, the theme of the wicked stepmother changes according to world events while at its core, it’s still about envy.
Even though the wicked stepmother stories change on the surface to reflect the state of society, the underlying message remains that envy is a destructive and dangerous emotion, so people must downplay exceptional appearances and appear like others to deflect envy. For example, in medieval Florence, Cosimo de’ Medici turned his family business into a powerful banking force. When Cosimo became very wealthy, he had to be careful not to appear too ambitious, or else he would stir up envy as it did for the previous Albizzis that failed to rule Florence. Cosimo’s favorite saying was “Envy is a weed that should not be watered” (Ewart). In the public, he dressed modestly and blended in with the masses. He only had one servant and rode a mule instead of a horse. Even though he controlled Florence’s foreign affairs, he never spoke on it. He also financed buildings, donated to charities, and kept ties to the merchant class. When he decided to build a palace, it was extravagant on the inside, yet very simple and modest on the outside. The palace was a “symbol of his strategy – all simplicity on the outside, all elegance and opulence within” (Greene). When he died, the citizens wanted to celebrate him in memory with a great tomb, but he declined. Later, Machiavelli praised Cosimo as one of the wisest men because “he knew how extraordinary things that are seen and appear every hour make men much more envied than those that are covered with decency” (Greene). We can learn from Cosimo and from the wicked stepmother tales to strategically not stir up the envy of others; if we possess great talent, wealth, or quality, then we must downplay them to deflect the insidious dangers of envy.
The wicked stepmother tales from its origins to the contemporary context illustrates that envy is a human emotion that has always existed. The wicked stepmother embodies jealousy, while the daughter’s beauty embodies exceptional qualities, talent, or perfection. If the daughters downplayed their beauty, then they could have avoided hardships caused by envy. Although it’s difficult to downplay beauty, the message symbolizes that we should carefully craft our images to deflect envy. While the stories on the surface may change according to the time, the underlying message about envy remains the same even among different cultures. The wicked stepmother reveals that jealousy can even occur in the family setting, evidenced by the cosmetic industry in which older women desire to look young. From this, we learn a very useful lesson from the evil stepmother. It is foolish to appear grand and superior to others; while we think we are making others admire us, they harbor feelings of hatred. As the wicked stepmother tales have taught us, appear like others in style to deflect the dangers of envy.
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