Panto Morality

I am trying to write a pantomime – though it must be admitted that I have been making little progress.  I’m going to have to get my skates on to get it written, cast, rehearsed and staged in time for Christmas.

My panto will be a chimera composed of elements of Dick Whittington and Puss in Boots (double the scope for double-entendre: quadruple-entendre!) fused to some good solid humanist values.  This is in response to the very poor message being transmitted to our children by the current crop of pantomime stories.

In most pantomimes, you must be beautiful and/or possessed of very flexible morals if you want a positive outcome. The less attractive members of the cast get a very poor deal – consider the ugly sisters for just two examples.  It is also rather unwise to be a step-parent, particularly if you have a more attractive step-child – one has only to look at the step-mothers of Cinderella and Snow White (admittedly neither were paragons of virtue – though perhaps we should remember that history is written by the victors before judging them too harshly).

One way to wealth and happiness is to snag yourself a member of royalty for your spouse. Sadly, this only works if you are beautiful.  If you have a face with character or a non-standard body shape you can forget this route, as whilst royalty will sometimes marry a commoner they will only marry a good-looking one.

  • Cinderella with a little magical help gatecrashes a party, gives a false identity, and gains Prince Charming – leaving poor (in both senses) Buttons behind.
  • For some reason, Snow White can only be awakened from her slumber by a prince, not by the seven hard-working miners with whom she had been shacked-up.
  • Aladdin, again with magical aid, makes himself sufficiently wealth to marry the Sultan’s daughter – though at least he didn’t abandon a previous relationship to do so.

I can’t think of any republican pantos where the heroine marries the prime minister or a leading trade unionist (or any form of elected official) – perhaps the age gap is considered an issue?  Or does magic only thrive under an absolute monarchy?

If you can’t find an available scion of the local feudal overlord, then the only way to panto success is to become immensely wealthy.

  • Dick Whittington uses this route, and unusually does so honestly (if improbably) after receiving a very large pay-off when his cat rids a foreign state of its rat infestation (not sure what reward the cat receives). He also marries into wealth – but into the bourgeoisie rather than royalty.
  • In Puss-in-Boots, our human hero impersonates a member of the nobility and then gains an ogre’s castle and fortune – in both cases, through the deceit and trickery of his cat which murders the beautiful-only-to-his-mother ogre.  In this case, the hero is merely complicit in extreme moral turpitude.
  • However, the real villain in the world of pantomime is Jack.  Having shown himself to be a feckless youth by exchanging the family cow for ‘magic’ beans, he has a stroke of magical good fortune when the beans produce a substantial crop. Rather than going into the legume business, he instead climbs the bean stalk – an activity with no obvious practical benefit.  Having ascended to a new realm in the sky, he moves on to petty larceny – stealing poultry and a musical instrument from the local home-owner.  Understandably, this upsets the giant who pursues the thief who flees down the beanstalk.  Jack then chops it down, murdering the pursuing giant in cold blood to conceal his crimes.  Is there any come-uppance?  Any sign of repentence?  No, he gets to live happily ever after.

What sort of lessons are we teaching our young people?  Theft and murder are acceptable routes to wealth?  And more, that only wealth can make you happy?

My panto will have a very different moral compass – as well as very dodgy puns and quite a lot of rhyming couplets.  I suppose I better get on and write it now…

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