Beauty and the Beast might be the best traditionalist story dealing with the problem of marriage and women, even in its modern animated form – which is the only form I’ll be dealing with, as the original lacks Gaston. Most people who talk about Gaston, particularly women, pretend they are Belle – or that Belle represents all women – and that Gaston is some kind of anti-woman patriarchal demon behind an attractive mask. Clearly this isn’t the case – in fact, central to his character is his nearly ubiquitous female appeal; women want Gaston, and to pretend they’re all oblivious to his character, or that Belle’s refusal was even tied to character, is childish. Is there something to say about both this obvious fact, and the modern unwillingness to apprehend it?
First, Belle loves fantasy, she is not a realist – there’s a whole song about it, in fact. Her nose is always in a book, she reads rather than playing social status games like all the normal people. Belle is a woman free from awareness of her own ability, or need, to select; she’s dreamer, whose head has been filled with romantic notions, which can, in high-IQ individuals, override human instincts. So what does she see when Gaston, manly paragon, approaches her? She sees nothing but a person, not a dream – nothing more than a superior man. Gaston is any empty success-object, ready to be plastered on the cover of a thousand for-women romance novels.
Nietzsche may not have liked Gaston, but Gaston is what he deserves nonetheless. A man who, as we see in one of Disney’s best songs, can lift three women and a wooden bench with one arm, is a talented hunter, and a cheater at both chess and wrestling, who is thus beyond good and evil – creating his own morals the goal of which is nothing less than his own success. Nietzsche would have preferred more brains, I suppose – but his ‘aristocratic’ philosophies are rotted by freedom; nature’s truth is a woman, and nature selects the fittest, not genius syphilitics. Nietzsche was famously, as we all should know, rejected by women; he struggled to overcome himself and become a ladies man, perhaps.
So what about the Beast? Who is the Beast? Actually, the symbolic identity of the Beast is somewhat empty. The Beast is every man a woman’s individual instincts reject at any given point. The Beast is any man, or every man. The Beast, in fact, is initially nearly indistinguishable from Gaston in Belle’s eyes – both try to capture her. Gaston, by appealing to instincts which are suppressed in Belle, and the Beast, literally, as a price for her father’s freedom – do you see? The father’s well-being depends on giving away his daughter. Yet, as a weak man, he doesn’t want it to happen – he tells Belle to run, save herself; change the laws, they imprison our daughters! But Belle is a moral woman. She submits to the Beast, to a monster who isn’t physically attractive to her, and agrees to be his prisoner.
Perhaps there is something to the fact that the Beast is a prince, though it doesn’t really matter. The origins of his condition are interesting, however. He, an arrogant, selfish youth, mistreated a woman who came to his door, and was transformed by her into a Beast. What could this mean? How do women transform men into beasts? By attacking their reputation, for one! The word around town is that this man is a Beast, and no woman should want to be with him – never mind the time gone by, and the fact that he’s changed, a man’s reputation, once ruined in such a way, may never recover. The Beast’s reversion to his ‘true form’ at the end then should be seen as completely from Belle’s perspective; she finally sees the real man, not the Beast, and through her, perhaps, everyone else will eventually see the same. Perhaps, then, there is something also to the objects returning to life – servants, who were seen as little more than extensions of their master, without dignity, are seen as full people who chose a good life.
Back to the point. Belle isn’t attracted to the Beast – who would be (don’t answer that)? Belle isn’t interested in Gaston, because he’s empty, but we can infer a physical attraction at least. Belle chooses to help her father by being imprisoned by the Beast – in the same way, she rejected Gaston also, though in that case the ‘prison’ in her eyes was marriage. But both imprisonments were marriage. She rejected Gaston, but due to her loyalty to family, accepted the Beast. Gaston is the key addition to a myth which was previously, supposedly, used to help young women accept the goodness of arranged marriages. Gaston is the alternative. It is telling, then, that Belle rescues the Beast herself, when she could have let them both fall from the castle. Not only that, but she recognizes Gaston as the monster, that the monster isn’t the Beast who was forced on her.
Gaston is the best, and the rest is all drips. Perfect, a pure paragon. He’s every woman’s dream, secretly or overtly – notice how the new version almost feminized him, and coated him in homosexual innuendo? Just a coincidence, I’m sure! I can’t think of a reason they’d want to downplay his heterosexual appeal. Anyway, Gaston is the man who achieves high status if women are allowed to choose freely in any way, even in the fifties ideal. We get Gaston, and equal rights are one step around the corner – why wouldn’t the Gastons support equality? They can get any women, or even every women, if women are free – I exaggerate, but this is generally true, and that’s all we’re talking about – and don’t tell me Gaston wouldn’t have gotten into private equity and investments. It’s also an essentially pagan outlook. A certain anonymous nudist would urge all his LeFous to work hard and become Gastons, if that was possible – or perhaps, that a world ruled by Gastons would seduce women into a more traditional arrangement. Possible, but I doubt it will be quick, and the cost to the non-paragon ‘rest’ would be unpleasant in the meantime.
The Beast is the man women are likely to be given to. Initially, women’s instinct is to recoil against their fate, to claim disgust at their appearance. Even, to recoil at their behavior: is it interesting that the Beast is a raging monster, and lacks even basic manners? And angry, unclean man – what could this mean? Never mind! Don’t think about it. Hush. This isn’t the story you’re looking for. Honestly though, the Beast is the man who is good in spite of appearances, social status, or other superficialities like temperment. He’s the arranged husband. And in the end, Belle realizes and rejects the monstrosity of a female instinctual ideal in Gaston, and accepts the Beast, now her Prince, forced on her by family circumstances, now the decent man he always was, once he was given a little understanding.
In spite of Disney’s efforts, they couldn’t turn such a fundamentally reactionary myth into anything less – and in spite of it’s other unusual origins, it was only improved in this effort by the addition of Gaston. The arranged marriage is the healthiest marriage, but most, if not all, women will recoil in disgust, because nature tells them to select. It’s an instinct, I suspect, as deep as the sexual pursuit instinct in men. As good liberals, we tell men “you cannot have sex with whomever you desire against their will” but no longer tell women “you cannot select whoever you desire against the higher good” anymore, because the higher good applies only to groups. And unless women understand this, and are willing to teach their daughters the same, I worry society is doomed to regress further and further into chaos, until order in installed by force, by nature’s strong men, who are not Beasts but pure paragons, but who are not necessarily good men.