Shrek and His Modern Princess
The film Shrek makes myriad allusions to various other texts. These allusions are usually presented as a parody of an original text, in which the makers of Shrek imitate the style of the parodied texts. Their re-creation of these hypotexts (Dentith 36) involves subverting key aspects of the original texts, setting up incongruities between what the audience expects to see and what actually takes place. The focus is thus brought to the audience, as writers of media texts write based on assumptions that they make of their audiences. Studying the assumptions behind the construction of both the original texts and the parodies can then reveal something about the audiences for whom these texts were created.
This basis of creating media texts is important in order to further explore broader issues that are raised in Shrek. Since the effectiveness and popularity of many texts is based largely on creating a text that the audience can relate to and understand, such media texts are often reflective of society's conventions and mindsets at the time of the creation of both the parodied text and the parody itself. In the case of Shrek, in which one of the main parodied texts can be said to be Walt Disney's Sleeping Beauty (first screened in 1959), the film brings audiences back to the conventions and mindsets of the 1950s and sets us up for a conventional "fairy tale." However, in imitating the 1959 classic, then re-creating it in a modern, contemporary context, Shrek provides a contrast between the conventions of the 1950s and the reality in society today. By looking closely at a scene in Shrek, I will explore how the filmmakers use parody to show the degree to which conventions and mindsets have changed over time. In particular, I will look at how the film uses parody to address the issue of conventional femininity, and how contrasting media texts from different time periods can reveal the evolution over time of society's conventions regarding women.
In terms of Disney's "fairy tale princess" in Sleeping Beauty, the stereotypical woman is helpless, weak, dependent and submissive. She is conventionally "feminine," wearing her hair long and in a braid, and wearing long dresses that show off her womanly figure. In addition, she needs to be "rescued" by a gallant, conventionally masculine prince on his "noble steed" as, being weak, she is unable to defend or save herself. The character of Princess Fiona in Shrek is set up as a parody of Princess Aurora in Sleeping Beauty. She finds herself in the exact same circumstances, bound by a curse and imprisoned in a room in the highest tower of a castle. She also shares Princess Aurora's external appearance, dressed in a long green gown with long braided hair. As such, the audience watching Shrek is set up to expect Princess Fiona to behave according to the stereotypes attached to the conventional female of the 1950s as epitomized by Disney's "fairy tale princess."