Sesame Street, Bears, The Mahabharata, and Ideology

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Kyle Ashley is a junior from Highlands Ranch, Colorado. Majoring in Religious Studies, his main interests include music, games, sports, and their respective subcultures.

Ever wonder why there are so many different versions of the same story? For example, in the version of Goldilocks and The Three Bears that was told to me by my grandmother, Goldilocks is, for all intents and purposes, a home invader, a home invader that steals Baby Bear’s porridge, breaks Baby Bear’s chair, and sleeps in Baby Bear’s bed. But in the Sesame Street version that I watched as a child, Goldilocks and Baby Bear are friends in the middle of a fight, apparently. And instead of chasing her out of their house, the Bear family bring in Goldilocks for a big ol’ bear hug (her replacement, the Big Bad Wolf, proves to be less than ideal). What’s going on here?

To better understand why the Sesame Street version is different than my grandmother’s, I’ll turn my attention to The Mahabharata. Specifically, I’m analyzing the endings of two different versions of The Mahabharata. In doing so, perhaps I can find a possible reason to why Goldilocks and the Three Bears, as well as all your favorite childhood stories, have multitudes of versions.

I’ll begin with Draupadi: The Fire-Born Princess, a graphic novel retelling of The Mahabharata, by Saraswati Nagpal. Like most versions of The Mahabharata, Draupadi: The Fire-Born Princess is about the struggle for the rule of the Kuru Kingdom between two factions, the Pandavas and Kauravas, where the Pandavas represent good and the Kauravas evil. After the Pandavas, Draupadi, and their allies defeat the Kauravas, the Pandavas and Draupadi renounce their belongings and climb towards heaven; this is no different in Draupadi. However, most versions of The Mahabharata detail the death (and subsequent stay in hell) of Draupadi and all the Pandavas except Yudhishthira, who completes the journey to heaven. In Draupadi: The Fire-Born Princess, the story ends with the death of Draupadi, who is then not sent to hell but ascends to heaven to be with her lifelong friend, Krishna. Yet again, we see a discrepancy between two different versions of the same story, but what do we make of this? Are these differences even that big of a deal?

Well, if we look at these stories as consisting of certain ideologies, this tweaking of the story also changes the ideologies of the story. So in the case of Draupadi: The Fire-Born Princess, it seems that Nagpal doesn’t omit the Pandavas’ trip to hell for any arbitrary reason, but perhaps because her interests conflict directly with this part of The Mahabharata. The Pandavas don’t go to hell, in part, because Nagpal doesn’t believe they should go to hell. The result is the construction of a narrative that leaves quite a different impression than the other versions of The Mahabharata, the Pandavas’ flaws are minimized, and as a result, I interpret Nagpal’s Pandavas to be better people than the Pandavas found elsewhere.

So if I take this back to Sesame Street, the differences with Goldilocks and the Three Bears occur because the different authors have different ideological objectives in telling the versions of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. While I take my grandmother’s version of the story to be a morality tale about why we shouldn’t wander away from home, the Sesame Street version doesn’t leave me with the same impression. After all, Goldilocks isn’t chased off in this version; instead, she is welcomed by the Bear family. The Sesame Street version seems to be interested in teaching kids to be compassionate and how to reconcile with friends.

So why are there many different versions of the same story? These differences occur not out of random chance or failure of memory, but because the authors behind the different versions have different interests and different objectives in telling their versions of the story. So while these differences may sometimes appear to be small, they often reveal quite large differences in underlying ideology.