The Lie of “True Love” (Essay)

By March 29, 2024 No Comments

In chasing the lie of “true love”, we’ve left actual values behind.

Disney’s lost a lot of money. Critics, commentators, and consumers point to the woke-ification of content, including the recent fiasco of their race-swapped Snow White, who doesn’t seem to like the character, and her seven persons of non-dwarfism. The general reaction to their long string of remakes-no-one-asked-for has been a continual lowering of interest and approval. On Disney’s hundredth anniversary, Daily Wire launched Bentkey, a kid-friendly entertainment platform, which included a teaser for a live action Snow White remake. It’s plausible their version of the princess, however it’ll be told, will align with stories more familiar to Disney of old.

While the old Disney was cleaner and less overtly political, was it truly better? What exactly were old Disney stories about?

Focus on the fairy tales, the ones with charming princes and picturesque princesses, Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Belle, Little Mermaid, et al, shined and primed for happily ever after. Although there’s enough to philosophize over in terms of heroes and curses and saviors and good versus evil, consider these fairy tales’ origins. The princesses Disney built their magic kingdom upon aren’t only pulled from the Grimm brothers, as many are centuries old with variations across cultures. Unlike what Disney’s careful scrubbing would have you believe, most of these stories are not just about romance.

Old Disney may have done a good job cleaning up stories and creating a magical brand with happy promises of ever after, but they also left out a lot along the way. Ironically, previous criticisms of Disney included accusations of “princessifying” young girls and luring them with unrealistic expectations of heroic princes and perfect endings.

Consider The Little Mermaid, written by Hans Christian Andersen in 1837. Disney animated a story about a glimpse, a voice in a storm, and the transcendence of “true love” over ocean and land. Andersen, however, wrote a religious story about a glimpse, an obsession, and a mermaid desirous to be human and obtain an everlasting soul. That mermaid did not wed her prince.

Early versions of Beauty and the Beast highlight love but not the panacea of “true love” powerful enough to break curses. Central themes include goodness, kindness, and looking beyond an ugly exterior. The German Snow White wasn’t either awakened by magical “true love’s kiss” but a stumbling servant who inadvertently dislodged the piece of apple choking her. Moreover, the happy ending is overshadowed by far more powerful warnings against vanity and envy. Sleeping Beauty has differing origins from her awakening while birthing twins she was impregnated with when her rescuer raped her in her sleep to an ogress mother-in-law who wanted to eat her kids. Hardly the material happily ever after is made of.

There’s not much controversy over Disney deleting inappropriate scenes, removing the ugly and morbid to better serve a wholesome family setting. There’s no question that some parts are better left out in telling these stories to children. Yet, in doing so, what message was singled out for the foundation of the magic kingdom?

True love is timeless. True love is all you need. True love conquers all…except the divorce rate.

Remember the climactic battle at the end of Wonder Woman, when she finally, finally overcomes the villain, finding strength in the most eternal and positive belief in mankind…goodness…sacrifice? Nope, love! And Superman is mocked for his boy scout adherence to truth, justice, and the American Way. His credo may be idealistic, but it certainly provides a better compass for humanity.

Over the last several decades, the bulk of stories across formats have incessantly hammered the supposedly unimpeachable message of “true love”. Countless songs are about the power of love. Most films and stage productions include some romantic subplot, whether or not the story needs it. Romance used to be its own genre, and remains a bestselling one, but it’s since become the pumpkin spice of storytelling.

At the summit of the “true love” pile are stories about true love across generations, couples who find each other over and over again across continents and centuries. Romantic, isn’t it? Except, if we’re all just atoms floating around the universe, then which part exactly orchestrated this epic, transcendent love? Maybe it was Pluto before it was downgraded. Or an undiscovered black hole in a galaxy far, far away. Perhaps it was a glorious, unknown star, how else to star-cross lovers? Obsession with “true love” somehow makes sense of an unnamed, burnt out, gaseous fire bringing you and yours together over and over and over again.

All to say that according to a secularized worldview the highest of human achievements is “true love”.  “True love” and its kiss have the power to break through any barrier, answer every question, solve every issue known to man. And not only that, but you deserve it, just because you were born.

There’s no escaping that many social issues of the day are a result of the constant drilling of this false message into our thoughts and imaginations. The way so many feel jaded by the capitalist system that didn’t facilitate their instant success, so do many think true and eternal love is merited by mere existence.

Think of the accusation, “You can’t tell me who to love.” True, a heart can’t usually be commanded by someone else, and no one’s arguing whether or not there’s a feeling of love toward someone else. If love is life’s highest achievement, then it would be right to protest that no one can hold anyone back from reaching such fulfillment.

Except, this is where Disney and the songs and stories are wrong. Because love isn’t enough. Because love isn’t always good, and can even lead to harm. Because someone can truly love someone else and still disagree with their choices. Most importantly, there’s something greater and more eternal than love, many things rather, things like respect, things called values. Unfortunately, respect is much less fun to write about and certainly doesn’t sparkle like promises of love. It was never set into the foundation of a magical kingdom, though a value is more enduring than an emotion. Unlike love, respect is more the stuff lasting relationships are made of.

Ask the question of someone married ten, twenty, fifty years, “What is love?” Will they answer, “Well, love is love.” Rather, their answer will probably center around an action requiring work, effort, and upkeep. Protest as you will, but no marriage lasts on love alone, especially if left untended.

Love is an emotion, and like all emotions it waxes and wanes. Values not emotions are everlasting and used to guide us until they were hammered to death like Pinocchio’s original Talking Cricket. Values must resume center stage, even if that means tweaking how we tell stories. With so much emphasis on “true love” over real values is it any wonder respect for others, and ourselves, was lost? It is any wonder people feel lost and betrayed when they don’t have something bigger to believe in when love lets them down?

Certainly, real and enduring love is relevant and definitely makes for a better life in its various healthy forms. Biblical teachings have plenty to say about love, but never in such deceitful terms as “true love”. There’s love for the Creator. Love between neighbors. Love as a directive which results in better treatment of others, a love hardest to achieve for the effort it demands. Love is considered worthy of focus and cultivation not because it feels good, but because an outpouring of emotion leads to an outpouring of positive, productive action plus the will to abstain from harmful, undesirable action. That’s to say, love isn’t automatic or everlasting without work. Most agree that deep, abiding love doesn’t just happen.

It’s not just wokeism that’s made stories boring but the constant harping on “true love” and all its supposedly unassailable perversions, which promote the forced normalization of lust, adultery, and pedophilia. It’s created the mindset of if “I love then I must act upon it”, without taking into account whether this love is moral or worthy of action or will harm someone else. It also doesn’t account for the fact that love does not exist in a vacuum, and that relationships only endure when both sides care for it. Love might feel good in the moment, but it’s not a reliable north star, despite what the stories would have us believe. Values like respect mandate certain actions regardless of the feels and mood of the moment. There’s a reason fairy tales don’t usually have sequels six years and three kids into the marriage.

People should not be reduced to their current love status, and stories are more interesting when they grapple with moral courage and strength of conviction. Jekyll & Hyde, The Count of Monte Cristo, To Kill a Mockingbird and the like endure for a reason. Even early iterations of the Romance genre focus on the destructive nature of lust and obsession or frame love as a path to marriage, thereby fulfilling societal and familial duty.

Old Disney created a colorful, feel-good world of magic and “true love”, which overshadowed more important morals. It may have been cleaner, but was it really better?