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Marissa Lingen

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Pippi Longface [May. 7th, 2012|02:29 pm]
Marissa Lingen
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On Saturday markgritter and I took our goddaughter Lillian to the Children's Theater performance of Pippi Longstocking. Lil announced that she was taking her Bear*, decked out in Bear's theater-going dress, in case things got scary. I told her that things were unlikely to get scary, but there was no harm to bringing Bear.

I was wrong.

They had added Obligatory Orphan Angst and Nightmares to Pippi Longstocking. The end of the first act was Pippi having a nightmare about being small with her parents and then being separated from her (now-dead) Mama and waking up screaming for her Mama. Then the curtain went down and the house lights came up; intermission!

There were a lot of unsettled little faces in that theater.

Look, I get that the theater is not always about sweetness and light. But Pippi Longstocking. It is not about woe. It is not about psychological realism. And I find it pretty sketchy that their mode of introducing the woe and the psychological realism just happened to be removing a lot of the anti-authoritarian content of the work along the way. Pippi is a strong, funny, independent kids' fantasy** who carries her horse around on her shoulders and thumbs her nose at stuffy grown-ups? We can't have that without injecting lots of stuff about how kids need to learn manners and go to school and have adults looking after them!

Look. Pippi is 9. NINE. It's okay for nine-year-olds to have fantasy characters who turn school upside down and never apologize. It's okay for nine-year-olds--hell, six-year-olds, twelve-year-olds, forty-year-olds, eighty-year-olds whoever--to have trickster characters who make bureaucrats look foolish and trip them with their own words. Not every play--book, movie, whatever--is about Teaching A Great Moral Lesson. Not every character is a role model. That is not the only thing we do. But also, not every role model is or should be modeling dependence. Kids know they need their parents. We don't have to tell them this at every single turn. "Don't even think about having fun with a horse and a monkey and your best friends, because your real focus should be the horrible impermanence of life! And also fitting standard adult modes!"

There are good plays for kids that do the psychological realism things and the role model things. Good books, movies, stories, whatever. Pippi was not written to be one of them, and I don't really like that it was rewritten to be one of them. I accept that children's classics sometimes need to be adapted to work better on the stage. Adapted to have more pro-authority message, less joy, and more nightmares...for the single-digit set? No. No, no thank you, no. Not a win for my goddaughter, not a win for her attendant godparents. Not even a win for Bear in her theater-going dress. I try to set aside my instinct that things have to adhere to the details of the book to be good when I go to something like this. But this version went very much counter to the spirit of the book--the meaning of it at all. And that made me frustrated and angry as well as leaving Lillian wanting to go home at intermission. (We decided to stay for the second act, in which Pippi's pirate father turned up. So at least there was that. The ending was incoherent but considerably more colorful.)

*Not to be confused with matociquala.
**I mean this not in terms of genre fantasy but in terms of daydream non-realism.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: alecaustin
2012-05-07 08:06 pm (UTC)
Daydream non-realism does kind of blur into adventure fantasy in Pippi Longstocking, IIRC, via the pirates and so on, and this is core to the work's appeal.

I mean, obviously Pippi is not the chosen one, and no one is coming up with a magical explanation for why she has the strength of twenty girl-children. But she's a red-haired female Peter Pan who's intruded into the real world and is gleefully wreaking havoc, and adding obligatory orphan angst doesn't add to that story, it undermines it.

I'm glad that Lillian's big takeaways were the core points of the story rather than the extraneous adult-comforting junk that got tacked onto it.
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[User Picture]From: hobbitbabe
2012-05-07 08:07 pm (UTC)
How infuriating!! Did Lillian already know the story in the book?

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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2012-05-07 08:37 pm (UTC)
No, it was all new to her. But she still came away with, "My favorite parts were when Pippi threw the wrestler in the air because he was the strongest man but she was the strongest girl. And also her daddy came home and he was a pirate." Which were indeed the best parts of the play.
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[User Picture]From: rysmiel
2012-05-07 08:10 pm (UTC)
Oh dear. That is... not even wrong.
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[User Picture]From: cathshaffer
2012-05-07 08:58 pm (UTC)
Oh NO! I would have been super angry if they had sprung that on my child at a vulnerable age. Loss of parents is a terrible, insomnia-inducing fear in children. No need to dwell on it. Ugh. Did Lillian deal with it well?
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2012-05-07 09:00 pm (UTC)
She is a tough little cookie, and Pippi's papa did come back in the end. And she had Bear and Uncle Mark and me. But the bit where she turned and asked why we didn't go home now was kind of...indicative. And I was hoping I wasn't lying to her when I told her that there would be a better ending, because I didn't know there would be that kind of ending to the first act in the first place!
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[User Picture]From: cathshaffer
2012-05-08 02:13 am (UTC)
I'm glad she had Bear. And you and Mark of course.
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[User Picture]From: cakmpls
2012-05-07 11:01 pm (UTC)
"And I find it pretty sketchy that their mode of introducing the woe and the psychological realism just happened to be removing a lot of the anti-authoritarian content of the work along the way."

Oh, ick, on both counts. "Just happened," yeah, right.
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[User Picture]From: fidelioscabinet
2012-05-07 11:36 pm (UTC)
Is there a word for something that is more wrong than 'wrong'? Because that would apply here. Pippi Longstocking is not here to uphold your stuffy social norms! She is here to be Pippi Longstocking!!!!!! (eleventy)
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2012-05-08 12:43 am (UTC)
Yah, except that those books were a love song to Swedish literature and Lisbeth would have kicked their asses for messing with Pippi, and Kalle would have helped.
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[User Picture]From: redbird
2012-05-08 01:14 am (UTC)
Among other things, this seems unfair to parents (and godparents and other adults involved), who might reasonably base the decision of whether to take a child to this play on how scary (and in what directions) the book was. If the playwright had started from scratch, parents might have asked which kids the show was suitable for, rather than thinking they knew.

On a separate matter: what does the well-dressed bear wear to the theatre? I think Panda might be interested.

[trying again: I had written a comment and then the Amtrak wifi faded, and the content was lost]
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2012-05-08 01:17 am (UTC)
This particular bear is distinctly femme and wore a dress with a black velvet bodice and a fuchsia and black poofy taffeta skirt.
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[User Picture]From: buddhistmippo
2012-05-08 02:21 pm (UTC)
Oooo
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[User Picture]From: katallen
2012-05-08 01:27 am (UTC)
*Not to be confused with matociquala.

Darn. (It made perfect sense though!)
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2012-05-08 02:25 am (UTC)
I am imagining matociquala going, "Gurk!" and other expressive noises when grabbed about the neck at key moments by the small child.
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[User Picture]From: katallen
2012-05-08 02:55 am (UTC)
:: grins :: see, it totally works for warding off the scary!
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2012-05-08 03:00 am (UTC)
For the child, sure! For the matociquala, I am less certain. Is a very fierce child.
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[User Picture]From: miz_hatbox
2012-05-08 03:57 pm (UTC)
That made me giggle too. But the first time I missed that asterisk and read the entry as follows:

"....Pippi is a strong, funny, independent kids' fantasy** who carries her horse around on her shoulders...."

Ooh! A footnote.... la la scrolldown la la ...Not to be confused with Matociquala? Okay! Of course! Matociquala is strong funny, and independent. That's wonderful!

(We could imagine her carrying Giant Ridiculous Dogs on her shoulders, if not horses.)
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[User Picture]From: katallen
2012-05-09 01:55 am (UTC)

I know she's carried a few horses around (figuratively speaking) and she could definitely tuck a GRD under each arm :)

(Everything is better when confused with Matociquala)
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[User Picture]From: pameladean
2012-05-08 08:03 pm (UTC)
Those ignoramuses. How dare they.

And hey, "It is okay for anybody to have trickster characters who make bureaucrats look foolish" is a Great Moral Lesson, and a much more important one than the usual, if only because it is not that often heard.

I snarl in their general direction. I am glad Lilian was foresightful and brought her Bear.

P.
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[User Picture]From: gaaldine
2012-05-08 09:21 pm (UTC)
This is yet another conversation I seem to have on a daily basis . . . only it tends to come up as wanting to transform all books into "life lessons."

I hate that term, hate it hate it hate it.

I've even banned its use from time to time.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2012-05-08 11:28 pm (UTC)
Fun is a life lesson. Fun is one of the best life lessons.
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[User Picture]From: toadnae
2012-05-09 05:04 pm (UTC)
Thank you for telling me this - I was thinking about taking my nieces and I won't be now. That anti-authoritarian streak is one of the delights of Pippi Longstocking. Foo on them for messing with it.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2012-05-09 05:09 pm (UTC)
In the school scene, Pippi ends up telling the kids that it's good to go to school and learn stuff, but it's also good to play.

In the scene at Tommy and Annika's mother's coffee party, Annika comforts Pippi that she will know how to behave better next time. This is never contradicted.

I am not kidding.
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[User Picture]From: miz_hatbox
2012-05-09 11:24 pm (UTC)
Did they add a part where Pippi starts taking Ritalin and becomes more docile than Annika?
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2012-05-10 03:40 am (UTC)
Hee! (Thereby both undermining the original and offending people who actually have ADHD issues...)

Edited at 2012-05-10 03:41 am (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: hypatia_j
2012-05-12 02:49 am (UTC)
I am simply dumbfounded by this. Bleh.
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