Happy Never After
“An awareness campaign targeting any girl / woman who has been subject to domestic violence. The aim of the poster series is to encourage victims to report their cases in order for the authorities to prevent it from happening again.”
via Happy Never After.
I was introduced to Saint Hoax’s “Happy Never After” series of posters featuring Disney princesses as domestic abuse victims via this Jezebel article. As described on the artist’s website (and quoted above) these posters are intended to encourage awareness, reporting, and prevention of domestic violence, and while there have been several variations on the topics of both domestic violence and Disney princesses, this one by Saint Hoax struck me as particularly effective.
Featuring a battered Cinderella, Jasmine (Alladin), Aurora (Sleeping Beauty), and Ariel (The Little Mermaid), each poster has the same caption:
“WHEN DID HE STOP TREATING YOU LIKE A PRINCESS? It’s never too late to put an end to it.”
I think part of what makes this series so powerful is that it gets right to a basic, pervasive cultural belief: marriage and romance leads to happily ever after.
Teaching fairy tales last semester, I asked my students for the components that form the genre of the fairy tale (What is a fairy tale?), and I was stunned by the number of students, especially female students, who insisted that fairy tales need to have a romantic component. Likely drawing on cultural ideas concerning the fairy-tale wedding and the wedding day as a bride’s chance to be treated and look like a princess, not to mention the heavy influence of Disney’s princess films on their conception of fairy tales, for these female students, fairy tales are inseparable from the marriage plot. Happily ever after weddings were so essential to the fairy tale that most of these students were more than willing to discount and discard stories that did not feature this romantic component as not being fairy tales. Furthermore, when my students were asked to write their own original fairy tale, almost all featured a romantic plot, even those written by students who did not explicitly include romance and marriage as part of their definition of the fairy-tale genre.
So for adults and young adults like my students last semester, who cannot separate weddings and marriage from fairy tales, these posters seem particularly impactful. These Disney princesses, these epitomes of feminine beauty that lead to a presumably happily ever after wedding, live on in perfection after the end of their respective Disney films (sequels not withstanding). So to show that even these women might be abused, that the models of happily ever after romance might not live up to their own mythology, is, I think, profound.
It also may help to alleviate shame in a similar manner. If Cinderella can be fooled, if the male perfection of Prince Charming can be a deceitful masking of an abusive boyfriend or husband, then the idea that a “regular,” flesh and blood contemporary woman might make the same mistake of finding herself in an abusive relationship is a lot less surprising or even embarrassing. If a “real” princess can be abused and presumably stand up to and leave her abusing, princely husband, then so can the every woman.
I am constantly intrigued by the many ways Disney princesses are reinvented by artists (and I actually have a Pinterest board basically devoted to the topic), but this poster series by Saint Hoax stands out among the crowd for me. Reminiscent of the less “pretty” and more violent and dark fairy tales of previous centuries, these posters help remove the Disney veneer of perfection and utter happiness, and for a good cause. As visual rhetoric, I think “Happy Never After” succeeds in communicating its message, and I think these images would prove to be useful subjects of discussion in both the basic composition and fairy tale classroom, probably (possibly?) with a trigger warning in advance to prepare any student victims of domestic abuse. (Trigger warnings have been a topic of debate this year and The Chronicle of Education and other publications have featured several articles on the topic, including this one and this one. I also responded to a practicum discussion on the topic in this previous post, although I haven’t decided how I feel about the subject of trigger warnings overall.)