I thought I was done writing about the Frozen live musical adaptation, but I guess I’m not. The thing is, both Metamaiden and I aren’t done thinking about it. The new song Monster, written by Oscar, h*ell, EGOT-winning songwriters, is stuck in our heads, telling us over and over that being a powerful woman is dangerous, that we should either leave and go live in solitude or, even better, kill ourselves, so that we don’t destroy our country and everything we hold dear.
And that’s only the beginning. I, personally, like most adult women, am a sexual assault survivor, which I have rarely, if ever, talked about. (Probably also like most women.) The scene where Kristoff rips Anna’s dress off and forcefully throws it off stage, while telling her how stupid she is, was very triggering for me, especially after seeing it twice.*
When I was young, I stupidly got into a car with two young men. One of them tried to rape me in the back seat. After several minutes, I was able to physically fight him off, but only because he was very drunk. The other man sat and watched. After I fought (and I do mean FOUGHT) the attempted rapist off, his brother took pity on me and dropped me at a pay phone. It never occurred to me to contact the police, because I knew that I had asked for this to happen to me by getting into the car in the first place, even though all I had been offered was a ride home. Notice I still think of myself as stupid for being trusting, rather than blaming them for being the violent criminal and his co-conspirator that they were. More than 30 years of the women’s movement later, this is what society still teaches women. This is what Frozen the Musical teaches women.
In the movie, Anna meets Kristoff in Oaken’s store. Oaken is a respected business owner and family man, a symbol of the community. He and Kristoff seem to already know each other, since Kristoff knows which shelf his supplies will be on and how much his supplies should cost. So, community (albeit male) approval of Kristoff as a decent man who can be trusted is implied before Anna goes off into the wilderness alone with him, and this is borne out by Kristoff’s behavior and their equal relationship.
In the musical, they meet alone in the forest, he insults her from the beginning, she is far less than his equal, and he rips her clothes off within a few minutes of their meeting. She’s fine with him taking her clothes off!!! It’s played for laughs. He is a complete stranger. She’s a young woman walking alone in the forest. This is a Little Red Riding Hood/Big Bad Wolf situation, the archetypal situation all little girls are taught to fear for a very good reason. IT HAS ALWAYS BEEN DANGEROUS FOR WOMEN TO WALK THROUGH THE FOREST ALONE, WHETHER IT’S A REAL OR METAPHORICAL FOREST. IT’S ALWAYS BEEN DANGEROUS TO ENCOUNTER A STRANGE MAN ALONE IN THE DARK OR IN THE WOODS.
And, to make matters worse, now that Kristoff appears as a metaphorical rapist (and kidnapper, as I mentioned in another post), Disney has cast Kristoff with a black man. (I’m sure I will be accused of being racist** for simply pointing this out. I enjoyed the actor. He’s very charismatic and talented. The problem is with the character assassination the rewrite has done to Kristoff’s character.) So now we have the racist element of subliminally teaching little girls that the Big Bad Wolf who will rip your clothes off in the woods (and kidnap you) is a black man.
(I haven’t even been able to bring myself to talk about the ways that the new song Hygge is staged like an orgy. And, they have Anna, after she’s been symbolically raped and kidnapped, jumping into the orgy while Krystoff looks on. Then Oaken passes out merchandise for “free”. Or did Anna just pay for it with her body? Was Kristoff her pimp? Or, now that she’s been raped, has she become a sexual wanton, as all stereotypical women do in rape culture? Let’s just not go there, I’m sure I’m overreacting, as usual. Archetypes and symbolism mean nothing. Neither does the song telling me I’m a monster that should kill myself, which I’ve had stuck in my head for days. Thank goodness I don’t have suicide triggers, as well. Hope no one else does.)
Fairytales aren’t just cute stories. They have deep, layered meanings that stick with us long after we’ve forgotten the details of the story itself. This has been studied and written about extensively by far greater minds than mine, many of them, unfortunately, very sexist men.
But not all. I encourage you to look at the books The Heroine’s Journey, by Maureen Murdock and From Girl to Goddess: The Heroine’s Journey through Myth and Legend, by Valerie Estelle Frankel. Both are written by women who sought to extend the work of writers like Joseph Campbell. Campbell thought The Hero’s Journey doesn’t apply to women, that women are meant to stay home and be the object that men strive to return to. In metaphor and in fact, undoubtedly.
In the movie, Anna and Elsa are both fighters. They both fight physically, and with every other resource they have, for themselves, their kingdom, and the people they love. But their journeys and their fights don’t necessarily look like what a man’s fight or journey would look like. Just as many women, like me, fight physically. Just as women tend to be the caretakers of their people, in many senses of the word caretaker, and use the resources available to them.
Fairytales are metaphors. Frozen is a fairytale. Frozen is a metaphor. The movie gave girls two amazing examples of two very different women to look up to and an anthem that resonated with females around the world. The musical took those two female icons, and that feminist anthem, and stripped them of everything that made them empowering to women and girls.
And it’s misogynist. And racist. And it promotes rape culture.
So, I’m angry. Triggered. Feeling stupid and duped, again, for trusting someone. And, this time I poured a lot of money into tickets which supported the offensive material. Almost getting raped was at least free.
In the midst of all of this, Metamaiden has been asking me to donate money to help support the production of a new radical feminist off-Broadway play by a female playwright and an (almost) all female production team. The play is GYNX, by Alicen Grey. It’s a dark comedy about 4 women who are recruited to become vigilantes by a mysterious 5th woman. They round-up rapists and castrate them.
Feels pretty appropriate right now. I donated this afternoon. It’s blood money, to offset what I spent on Frozen, but I would have supported the play anyway. We need more shows by, for and about women. We need more shows about women’s honest feelings, instead of women being told to go sit in a corner, be quiet, and stop overreacting. Or, you know, to metaphorically or actually kill themselves because they’re too much trouble.
We need to stop feeling like we need to be nice all of the time. I can’t tell you how many times I started to apologize for my feelings or for being too much trouble in this post, and I’m sure that tone still comes through in parts. I’m sure this post is still offensive and too whiny to many, too. As a middle-aged woman with an invisible disability, I’m used to people trying to make me feel offensive and whiny. It mostly doesn’t work any more, but we all have our bad days.
Alicen Grey is setting up a professional recording that everyone will be able to pay to stream. I can’t wait to see GYNX. I hope “it’s lacking in the male perspective,” a criticism once used toward Lena Dunham’s Girls. That’s exactly what we need.
ETA 8/27/17: We watched the play and it’s fabulous! Review coming soon. By the way, Alicen is on the lookout for a new producer for the next stage of GYNX’s evolution. Alicen’s email is on the GYNX website or below in the comments.
ETA 2: The review is up- GYNX the Play the Review And it has a sequel post- More on GYNX the Play
*I really tried, in previous posts, to be as positive as possible about this show. I really wanted to like it. But triggering is a funny thing. In me, the trigger tends to burrow into my head like a worm, and squirm around until, days later, it’s created a giant hole that I can’t ignore anymore.
**I am white and middle class. My attempted rapist was white and middle class. This has nothing to do with race, for me. All kinds of women are attacked by all kinds of men. There is nothing that will protect you. Not social class, not age, not race, not ethnicity, not wealth or the lack of it. The only thing that might protect you is being seen as another man’s property. Some men will respect property ownership rights. Some will see raping another man’s woman as a chance to win a competition with that man.
12 thoughts on “Frozen the Musical vs Radical Feminist Theatre”
I not only read your full review but the review of your second viewing AND this, and they’re all fantastic! Thank you for calling out the very slippery slope this takes of degrading women…oi, while I can’t imagine they did this on purpose, I still can’t believe the writers didn’t think this through at all, and how that could come across! This thing is still so ingrained in our society, that no one thinks anything of it and it’s like writers don’t know how to write a story starring women without adding men into the mix in some way. As for Elsa and her mindset, I can 1000% understand where you’re coming from, but I’ve personally always though of all that as her being mentally unstable, which makes sense as her power is connected to her emotions, like a metaphor for mental illness. She’s in a frenzy and manic/in anxiety, her powers go awry. When she’s depressed or in grief, and/or…well, suicidal (though I do think this is a tad much for the stage), her powers are (so sorry) frozen in time, like she’s in shock. And when sees perfectly at ease but still on a high, she’s in complete control. Great commentary for mental health. This is something the movie touched on and I don’t even think they meant to. This is something that triggered me, dealing with panic, mild anxiety, and depression back then, but now this stage version, now dumbs down these ladies, and triggers a different issue with YOU who’s dealt with these degrading things, and I’m nothing but empathetic towards that. I’m still shook that they even did this, it soughs like they didn’t consider any of these things when they were rewriting this for the stage. I’ll repeat, I’m sure they didn’t do this purposefully, but when something is so ingrained in culture, things like that are written in even without meaning to. It’s up to us to call it out.
I like the mental illness metaphor! I’d never thought of it that way before. She certainly has depression and social anxiety in the movie, but seems to learn to cope with them by the end. Thinking of her out-of-control powers as a manifestation of her illness makes her surrender to Hans even more sickening. It’s akin to being taken to a mental institution, or the old-fashioned version, which would be locking the ill relative up in an attic or cellar for the rest of their lives. No one but Anna tries to help her learn to cope with her illness, they only tell her to hide it and act normal. It becomes a classic Gothic story of an uppity woman driven to madness and instability, but redeemed in the end and brought back to live within the social order. A modern version of The Yellow Wallpaper, but with a happier ending. I suppose you’re right, in that way the adaptation is accurate, since Elsa was Yellow Wallpapered. Or Icy Wallpapered.
The really frustrating thing is that the writers of this stage version (Jennifer Lee wrote the book, the Lopez’s wrote the music and lyrics) are the same people who wrote the script and music the film. For all their noble intentions to make a deeper and more complex version of the story we all know, it seems like their way of developing Anna and Elsa has been to magnify their flaws. All the changes which Metacrone finds so offensive are rooted from placing too much emphasis on Anna’s naivety and Elsa’s fear and insecurity. There is so much more to both of these characters – why not highlight their strengths and abilities as well as their problems?
That’s part of what’s so frustrating to me. They didn’t deepen the characters, they broadened and simplified them, with the possible exception of Hans, the white male Prince. The subtle changes in Hans made me wonder if they’re getting ready to redeem him in Frozen 2. He’s written in such a way that his betrayal could have been because of jealousy, not even really preplanned. He could have lied about planning to kill one or both sisters because he found out that Anna was running around with Kristoff and wanted revenge.
I was shocked that they never had Elsa even notice that she was gaining control of her powers, or consider practicing while she’s up on the mountain. But that would’ve required showing her using them, and they avoided that whenever possible. She has a total external locus of control, making her unable to consider doing anything to help herself, other than taking drastic, panicky actions when she feels she has no other choice.
It’s sad to realize how differently the creators saw these characters, since, as you said, this was adapted by the original team. I can only think that it was accidental that they were so amazing in the movie, which is essentially what Metamaiden tells me is true, based on her knowledge of the history of the movie’s production.
My theory is that the movie was produced at the height of the Obama era, a time when diversity and empowerment were commercially successful themes. This adaptation was developed during Trump’s presidential campaign and early presidency, a time when we’ve also seen diversity and gender parity dwindle in our entertainment. We have a misogynist, racist leader, and an entertainment environment full of beleaguered, mostly white, but occasionally black, men. So, we get a new Frozen, focussed on the men and the male perspective, with a misogynist, racist point of view, because that’s what’s perceived as currently being commercially viable by Disney. People are so used to being fed that type of entertainment that the misogyny and racism have to be very blatant before they will notice it and complain.
Hey love, playwright here! Thank you so much for giving GYNX a shout-out and for donating! I promise, your money was NOT donated in vain. I made every effort to eradicate the male gaze from GYNX when writing it, and my production team & cast is over-the-top respectful of the subject matter. This play was made by survivors, for survivors. ❤
I would just like to gently clarify two things: The story is about 4 women recruited by a 5th woman (Gynx), and my production team does include 2 men, but the majority otherwise (especially our *major* production team members) are women.
Would you be interested in reviewing our play on this blog? I already have an (unedited) recording of the opening night performance, which I can send to you ASAP via email. It's not the same video we'll be sending as the perk to our IndieGoGo/Fractured Atlas donors, it's just the one we're sending to reviewers. Let me know if you'd like to! 🙂
Thanks again! Can't wait to show you the play!
Hi! Metamaiden here, the other metawitch. We would LOVE a review copy! I’ll email you as soon as we’re done screaming over the fact that you talked to us.
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LOL please, I’m not a big deal ^_^;;
Oops, forgot to include my email if you’d like a review-cut of the opening night performance video. email@example.com
Corrected the errors to the original text. 😊
Just wanted to say thank you for this analysis and reviews. I’ve already purchased Frozen tickets here in NYC for the spring, so I am hoping someone involved with the production reads what you have written and addresses Elsa’s strength (or lack of it) in this adaptation. If not, I’m preparing now for the conversation I will have with my daughter about the differences between the film and musical. For me, the story is in Elsa’s power and control, and the idea that she is wandering barefoot throughout the second act makes me nauseous.
Thanks for your insight.
Thank you! Hopefully someone else will write an honest review toward the end of the Denver run and let us know what has changed. I feel the same way about Elsa. To see her not only made a minor character, but dragged out looking like she was about to be burned at the stake, made me question everything I’d previously thought about the story.
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