Jewish World Review Oct. 12, 2004 / 27 Tishrei, 5765

Karen Heller

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Consumer Reports

Movies' princess myth becomes a royal pain | Like the yellow jackets of early autumn, malevolent forces are busy at work, buzzing about, threatening the picnic of everyday life.

There's a vending machine of trash culture out there looming large. As an adult, as a parent, it's a full-time task protecting yourself and, more important, your children from the dross and drivel.

Remember in 1979, when people worried about Skylab and so much junk falling from the sky? Today, we should be so lucky. Debris is everywhere, swooshing through the Internet, oozing from the tube, consumer kudzu suffocating the mall. It's an Olympian task, akin to being a Chinese badminton titan, trying to swat the stuff away.

All summer long I held Cinderella at bay until she took the form of a tornado in a trailer park.

Anne Hathaway came into our home and, as is so often the case with royalty, would not budge.

"Ella Enchanted'' went into heavy rotation, as did "The Princess Diaries.'' We successfully averted Hilary Duff's Valley Girl riff ("A Cinderella Story'') and Julia Stiles' Midwestern spin ("The Prince & Me''), only to crash head-on into more Hathaway in "PD 2: Royal Engagement,'' an odious piece of plutography, the bait being more Julie Andrews. As we know, baby-boom mothers are powerless to resist Julie. We are mere paupers in her gracious hands.

The princess myth is a powerful drug, professing that life is a dust rag of misery until some prince Lippizaners along. Julie taught us that, changing from a nun with a dire haircut into a baroness cruising toward a recording contract. Of course, so did Jessica Simpson.

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The fiction that every woman is waiting for a prince to save her is responsible for the multibillion-dollar wedding industry, the blinding bling market, the sad lies of "Joe Millionaire'' and "For Love or Money,'' as well as the late-stage interventions of "Queer Eye.'' It's also behind the tsunami in cosmetic surgery predicated on meeting that second or third prince - or preventing the original regent from decamping for a latter-day Anne Boleyn.

Heavily invested in princess pornography, Disney tries obfuscation, making their princesses seemingly sporty and spirited or, in the case of Hathaway, maladroit, unibrowed and Princeton-bound. Garry Marshall, helmsman of the PD effluvium, even made his princess slutty in "Pretty Woman.'' In the end, though, it's all about the hardware, the shopping makeover (and eyebrow pruning), and the prince.

And it's hard to resist. The princess myth is the OxyContin of romanticism. Who reads "Pride and Prejudice'' and fails to dream of taming her own Darcy, a figure so dreamy as to have been portrayed by Laurence Olivier and Colin Firth?

There is a boom industry of pale, pathetic Austen imitators, all goo and little bite, everything about engagement, nothing about a society we thought beyond such pressure. Entertainment Weekly, the Racing Form of popular culture, reviews pink-sheathed chick lit separately from other books, a nod that the stuff isn't literature at all but Cosmo without boob shots.

Look, women are all for more spa treatments and men who open doors and belch a little less. But it's amazing that at a time when women manage movie studios as well as national security, princesses are being pushed in our culture from grade school to the grave. Every actress does a Cinderella turn, the female equivalent of playing a superhero - Julia Roberts (the aforementioned princess/ho), Meg Ryan ("Kate & Leopold''), Renee Zellweger ("Bridget Jones's Diary'' and a sequel in November), Cameron Diaz (the myth-inverting "Shrek''). Nicole Kidman chose to play the part in the tabloids when she was married to Prince Cruise.

Chatter of "Ella Enchanted'' and PD's — Princess Mia'' continues, as Anne Hathaway looms large in our household. How do you tell a young girl that the Cinderella story is more mythic than a substantive presidential race, more elusive than peace?

Men don't fall for such hooey. They're more fortunate, growing up to marry fairy godmanagers with benefits.

Karen Heller is a columnist for Philadelphia Inquirer. Comment by clicking here.


04/22/04: When your name's not the same as the children's

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