“Once Upon a Time”: Politics the Fantastical Way

You’re More Likely to Find Worthwhile Political Drama on this New Show than CNN


Kharen Hill

The new show “Once Upon a Time” plays out like Washington politics, paralleling today’s political climate. (Courtesy of ABC)


The new show “Once Upon a Time” plays out like Washington politics, paralleling today’s political climate. (Courtesy of ABC)

Fairytales and storybook characters have been a part of American culture, as well as global culture, for centuries. Why? For one, they captivate us with their themes of adventure, suspense, romance, redemption and hope. They also offer lessons to any generation, a truth which can be seen in the most recent manifestation of fairytales in contemporary culture, ABC’s “Once Upon A Time.”

Although “Once Upon A Time” is the perfect example of a modern fairytale, it is also a gripping political drama about the nature of power. Ever since “The West Wing” left TV years ago, I have been in the market for a smart and clever political drama, and ABC has found it.

Unfortunately in contemporary American society, we seem to have forgotten what politics is supposed to be, as our nation’s political discourse has devolved into a petty game where politicians try to score points by attacking each other and refusing to compromise, all the while controlled by the outsize influence of corporate money from Wall Street and Super PACs.

It seems that the only way candidates try to win these days is to pander to the most extreme citizens while they ignore, and even criticize, the independent middle, where approximately 40 percent of Americans lie. The current Congress has an approval rate of 18 percent, placing it as one of the most hated Congresses in history, if not the most hated. Clearly something in American politics is broken. Some might even lament that our politicians have been, well, cursed.  That’s where “Once Upon A Time” comes in.

As all fairytales strive to do, this modern tale can offer our politicians some crucial lessons in how to govern and serve the public. The writers of the show have brilliantly placed the Evil Queen as the Mayor of Storybrooke, indicating that this program is hoping to send a lesson about the nature of political power.

In the show, the Evil Queen places a curse on the fairytale world and sends every single character we know—Prince Charming, Cinderella, Rumpelstiltskin and countless others—to present-day Maine, where they have forgotten their former identities. The only person who can save the town and break the Queen’s curse is the daughter of Prince Charming and Snow White, Emma, who escaped the curse when she was a child and returns to the town in the show’s pilot.

The Queen, Regina in the modern day, faces opposition only from Emma. Coincidentally, Regina is the adopted mother of Emma’s biological son Henry, a relationship that frames their perpetual battles. The two women offer wildly diverging styles of leadership. Regina controls the town with an iron fist—she installs personal puppets to city jobs, kills or destroys people who disobey her, does not allow for alternate opinions and under her rule, time literally does not move. Meanwhile Emma lives by her word, fights for those who do not have a voice or protection, speaks out against the status quo and is popularly elected as Sheriff.

In contemporary American politics, we see the characters of Regina and Emma.  Regina is controlled by only one person in town: Mr. Gold, the rich owner of most town property and formerly Rumpelstiltskin.  Likewise in modern America, politicians are controlled not by their constituents but by their wealthy donors and benefactors.

The current evil in American politics is that corporations, like the NRA, Big Oil companies or Wall Street, can control politicians and prevent the passage of legislation that the people want and need.  Emma is a populist warrior, much like Elizabeth Warren, who has stood up to huge Wall Street firms and banks to ensure the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.  Even though Regina and Emma are bitter rivals, they often join together to protect Henry, their shared interest.

Maternal love is the force that rises above all others. They are willing to compromise because of the son they both love. It is refreshing to see these two main political opponents portrayed by women, and their roles as mothers are central to the message of the show to American politicians. Today Democrats and Republicans refuse to compromise for the sake of their one shared interest—the American people.

Politicians from different ends of the spectrum need to prioritize their country above their party and unite for the good of the United States. Even though I disagree with just about everything Mitch McConnell and John Boehner say, I still respect their views and admit that some of their proposals are good.

It is despicable for Rush Limbaugh to want President Obama to fail; sure, Obama and Limbaugh are from different parties, but at the end of the day, we are all Americans and all want this country to succeed. I recognize that people I don’t agree with still love this country; we just disagree about how to solve problems. Our Congressional leaders, politicians and media need to remember this simple but crucial fact.

As the 2012 election continues to escalate, all politicians and candidates for public office need to tune into ABC on Sundays at 8 p.m. for a lesson in how to return American politics to its intended state: a government that represents all people equally, places public service above partisanship and takes political power away from corporate executives, lobbyists and super PACs and restores it to the people.  Maybe then we the people of the United States might live happily ever after.