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  • Exopedagogies and the Utopian Imagination: A Case Study in Faery Subcultures
  • Tyson Lewis (bio) and Richard Kahn (bio)

…the earth we pace Again appears to be An unsubstantial, faery place; That is fit home for Thee!

(Wordsworth, 2004)

Spirit, n. 1. Intelligent or immaterial part of man, soul….3. Rational or intelligent being not connected with material body, disembodied soul, incorporeal being, elf, fairy.

(The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary in Sargisson, 1996)

The subjective spirit which cancels the animation of nature can master a despiritualized nature only by imitating its rigidity and despiritualizing itself in turn.

(Adorno & Horkheimer, 2002)

The news is out: fairies are the latest cultural craze, “creating a pop culture wave” (Dunnewind, 2006) worth billions of dollars. Major films like The Spiderwick Chronicles, video releases like the Barbie Fairytopia series (which has now also been turned into a hit musical for the stage), best-selling books such as Fairyopolis and the Artemis Fowl collection, and Nikelodeon’s hugely popular television show The Fairly OddParents have quickly become vital cultural capital for many kids, thanks in large part to mega-corporations like Disney and Mattel moving to turn the fairy into the childhood commodity of the early 21st century. With sales increases of fairy-themed products up as much as 40% since 2005, the marketplace is becoming increasingly saturated and adorned by shimmering little people with colorful wings, wish-granting magic, and a kind of gentle sweetness that is very much the antithesis to our larger sociopolitical climate of genocidal war, ecological catastrophe, and ubiquitous greed.

Of course, fairy tales that appeal to idealizations of childhood innocence are nothing new. Great similarities exist, for instance, between the present moment and the form of popularity that fairies enjoyed throughout Britain after World War I, when a major cultural spectacle was generated over the possible pastoral existence of the Cottingley fairies (see Figure 1)1 and items such as Cicely Mary Barker’s Flower Fairy books became national bestsellers. There is, then, perhaps a kind of universal cultural logic at work in both cases – confronted by the blight of imperialism and industry that is the modern Mordor, people tend to find happy, fairy-filled fantasies of Tolkien’s shire appealing and eminently consumable.2 Those of us who are not ourselves the masters of capital can still at least clamor for the verdant peace of our own private Hobbiton, an imaginary place in which we tarry merrily and so let the horrors of the day slip slide into reveries that the world remains ever as it has been and social crisis is not worthy of our vigilant alarm. In this sense, the moral injunction of Solomon’s “This too shall pass” has been transformed into a kind of fairy pedagogy for capitalism akin to the “We’re making progress” of George W. Bush. Both serve to opiate the masses’ suffering in favor of a form of spiritual equanimity that really amounts to little more than the attempt to fashion people to work as placated agents for the monetization of hedonism.

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Figure 1.

Ironically, then, in their disturbing complicity with mendacious capitalist agendas, today’s fairies are not so dissimilar from present ruling class interests. Indeed Jack Zipes (2002, 1997), a careful social critic of fairy tales in both their old and new varieties, has illuminated how the genre, far from serving as a sanctuary from pathological values and norms, has almost always served to reproduce them in easily digestible ways for children (as well as adults) and should thus be considered as a socializing tool.3 Relatedly, W.E.B. DuBois has commented on how people “allow their children to learn fairy tales…which in time the children come to recognize as conventional lies told by their parents and teachers for the children’s good. One can hardly exaggerate the moral disaster of the custom” (DuBois, 1968). What is the tooth fairy after all but a creation of American post-World War II affluence (Tuleja in Narváez, 1997), and a child’s first ritualistic initiation into the commodity form? As folklorist Tad Tuleja states, “the unstated subtext of the Tooth Fairy...

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