Brian Beacom

PANTOLAND is currently being bombed by the criticism it should look in on itself and update. But is it fair?

How far do our fairytales have to go to coalesce with modern thinking?

In recent days, a stooshie on the level with Jack’s decision to sell the family cow for beans has erupted.

Inspired by the #MeToo campaign against sexual harassment, campaign, a mother of a six year-old son complained that the Prince’s kiss in Sleeping Beauty is “non-consensual.”

She wants to know if this were the sort of sexual behaviour she would wish to see her son “absorb.”

But the entire point of the Sleeping Beauty storyline is that she’s in a coma, as a result of a bitter act of jealousy.

And panto isn’t real life. It’s a made-up tale, more often than not derived from a story that’s hundreds of years old.

In panto, people turn into frogs or pumpkins into coaches. They fly off on magic carpets. Princes kiss Beauties.

In real life, sadly, we don’t have Fairy Godmothers who grant us three wishes when we’re in schtuck. Therefore we need to cut the 100 year coma storyline some slack.

What you also have to consider with the Sleeping Beauty debate is the likely impact of the storyline upon a child.

Any little boy who watches Sleeping Beauty this year will not come away with the belief that rape is a possibility in a relationship, that an unsanctioned peck on the lips suggests that women are simply prey.

Panto is about Good versus Evil.

Can children seriously be under threat from a moral universe that reminds them they should; be honest with your mother (Jack), work hard and be honest and you’ll achieve in life (Cinderella), don’t let envy eat you up (Snow White) and so on.

Kate Edwards of Seven Sisters, the national centre for children’s books, agrees.

She said tales such as Sleeping Beauty had an important cultural role. “The fairytale tradition is rooted in moral instruction, telling children what’s right and wrong.”

She’s right; you can’t lose the storylines. If you take away the idea of locking small boys in caves, you take away the essence of Aladdin.

If you prevent a young girl being condemned to a life of drudgery, trapped in domestic slavery you’ll invert Cinderella. If you take away the fear of young children being lured into dark, dangerous forests you impale the heads of Snow White and Red Riding Hood on a spike of political correctness.

On that subject, is Cinderella a bad tale to be teaching young women?

The feminist argument suggests Cinders places too much faith in finding a man. The argument isn’t invalid, that the story should be less about fitting a glass slipper than breaking glass ceilings for women.

But it has to be countered by the fact Cinders isn’t being controlled by a man; she’s being controlled by two evil women.

The fact panto is being debated upon it’s modern relevance lines is rather ironic.

In these demand for gender fluid days, panto is in fact as an inclusive world as they come. Gender stereotyping went out the window about the same time as Jacks’ beans.

Panto, in fact, continues to evolve. It’s not a fly trapped in amber. It’s moved on from the 18th centure Harlequinades to music hall to the modern-day spectacle.

Panto also changes to fit the glass slippers of modern expectations. There was a time for example when the only time actors of colour were hired would be to play the role of the Genie or Princess Jasmine in Aladdin, or perhaps one of the Forty Thieves.

But these days, panto is (rightfully so) colourblind, as is in the case with Dundee’s Gardyne Theatre version of Sleeping Beauty, in which Beauty is a young lady of mixed race.

Will the children in the audience notice the positive casting? Not a bit of it. And nor will they reflect when the Prince kisses Beauty.

All they will do is cheer when she comes back to life.

That’s not to say all is entirely well in pantoland, that it shouldn’t evolve even more.

Sleeping Beauty is altogether a rather passive creature. The traditional Cinders could do with attitude and too fairygodmother dependent. She could instead be trying for an OU degree on the sly, or working secretly at a substance abuse clinic in Easterhouse.

And Snow White seems to be a little over-accepting of the Seven Dwarfs hospitality, spending her day singing around the house while doing only a little light dusting.

Panto is a trip into a world of darkness, of dingy castles and dangerous forests and when kids do go on this awesome journey a light goes on in little heads that evil doesn’t win, that the world is full of goodness.

And that’s what they should be thinking about, not made to consider the question if Prince’s kisses are consensual.