“There’s a beast running wild, there’s no question
But I fear the wrong monster’s released”
I had the privilege of watching the live action re-make of Beauty and the Beast last week and it was a welcome break from the endless superhero movies I’ve been watching as of late. It was pleasantly surprising and I loved the little bits and pieces that were added to fill the animated version’s plot holes.
I’ve always loved the story of Beauty and the Beast and I’m surprised that my sisters and I did not destroy our platinum DVD animated version of the movie. Not only does the story feature a strong female lead, it also features a prince who is the antithesis of charming and who desperately needs to learn how to love another person more than himself. However, heroine and hero aside, Beauty and the Beast is most memorable due to its villain: Gaston.
If you are unfamiliar with the character, Gaston is the epitome of narcissism. He’s a well built, intimidating, and persuasive man who very much embodies the societal yet romanticized notion of a “manly” man. He’s obviously an accomplished hunter and soldier as made apparent by the song named after himself, that his companion/henchmen named “LeFou” (Literally translates to “the fool”), sings for him. The song is intended to cheer Gaston up after the one girl not impressed by him rejects his generous marriage proposal. Of course, after the much needed encouragement from the fool, Gaston hatches a diabolical scheme to coerce Belle (protagonist) into marrying him.
Now, Gaston is an interesting villain because unlike most Disney antagonists, he is a plain and regular human. He is not a demigod, wizard, pirate, jealous lion, or otherwise magically modified being. Stripped of his covered-in-hair/chiseled body he is just a man.
Besides being human, Gaston also possess character traits that would make his real life equivalent likable to most people in society. He’s charismatic, an excellent public speaker, good at what he does (hunting), and he is a strong and decisive leader. If you take away the fact that he doesn’t take no for an answer and that he will manipulate and coerce until he gets his way, Gaston is a charming and inspiring leader.
During the finale of the film, it is revealed that this monstrous beast that Belle’s father has been mentioning actually exists. In no time, Gaston manages to mobilize the entire village to go on a murderous rampage to go and kill this beast that no one except Belle and her father knows about. Gaston has not a shred of evidence that this beast is a threat to anyone, yet he capitalizes on the villagers’ fears to provoke them to act. There is an entire musical number called “The Mob Song” that channels the villagers’ fear into aggressive action. You should definitely check it out here. AND while you are at it, here is a link to the lyrics to disturb you even more.
As easy as it is to distance ourselves from villains in the media we consume, I find that there are oftentimes valuable lessons that we can learn from the “bad” guys.
For example, Gaston uses fear to manipulate un-educated villagers into violent action against an entity that they know nothing about. He makes claims about what the beast looks like and what the beast will do, but he has no viable support or any knowledge of who the beast actually is. Sound familiar?
How many of us are guilty of buying into the lies of some “champion of _______,” who inspires us to some sort of action against a faction that we know nothing about (except what we’ve been told by said champion)? How many times have we torn down and written off people that we knew nothing about? We think we can make judgement calls on the integrity and moral quality of people simply from one action or a persona that a third party creates for us.
People like Gaston… No…. people like myself, are the reason why hostility exists towards certain individuals or groups of people. We jump to conclusions based on physical appearance, stereotypes, and “what we’ve heard” from sources that are oftentimes unreliable.
While the movie played on the theater screen, I shifted uncomfortably in my seat as I pondered these questions and thoughts. We live in a digital age where the internet and commentators rally us to follow them. We are afraid of the unknown and if we are told that we may be threatened, then we are motivated by fear to take “precautionary” action even before we understand the whole story.
I’m not advocating that we throw prudence and precaution to the wind, however, the phrase “to err on the side of caution” is not reflective of our actions in this day and age. We are too busy (so we say/think) to genuinely care about anyone else who is too different than us, and we would rather be like Robert Downey Jr.’s character in The Soloist and try and “fix” people who we don’t understand rather than listen and attempt to empathize.
Let’s be more intentional by not judging books by their covers and by not writing off people before listening to their side of the story.
Thanks for reading!