Archana’s World: The Truth about Conformism

Archanas World: The Truth about Conformism


Some find it easy to confuse Elsa from Frozen and Elphaba from Wicked.

Here’s some quick background if you don’t know the basics of Frozen and Wicked. Set in a fictional kingdom called Arendelle, Frozen is about a queen, Elsa, born with uncontrollable and feared power to control snow and ice; after accidentally revealing her powers to her bigoted people, she flees the kingdom until she gains control of her magic, at which point she returns and the people accept her. Set in Oz, Wicked is about a woman named Elphaba who starts a civil rights movement for a minority which the government has been quietly persecuting. She fails to enact the change she wants.

Many people think Elsa and Elphaba are the exact same characters. They’re misunderstood witches forced into castles due to societal fear of their dangerous innate magical powers. And they both struggle with self-loathing and social awkwardness. And they’re both voiced by Idina Menzel. And they’re both older sisters. And their younger sisters are both nonmagical. And they’re both about twenty years old. And they’re both traditionally villains.  And so on and so forth.

However, the two characters are different in one, crucial way.

At the end of Frozen, Elsa learns to accept her ice powers, which are innate and irrepressible. Her self-acceptance allows her to control her powers; since Elsa is able to control herself, society no longer considers her a threat and happily welcomes her back as Queen. By contrast, at the end of Wicked, Elphaba refuses to abandon her morals (which are for the purposes of the story both iconoclastic and feel-goody) and thus faces execution by an angry mob. Since she must be true to herself, Elphaba bids adieu to her only friend and flees, failing to complete her civil rights movement. In summary, Elsa’s freakishness is innate and uncontrollable, while Elphaba’s is purely voluntary.

Elsa is able to control her inherent difference, so she gets a happy ending. By contrast, Elphaba refuses to curb her voluntary moral dissent, so her fate is tragic. Such a sharp contrast in endings shows that when an individual clashes with social expectations, an intolerant society considers an innate difference more pardonable than a controllable, voluntary difference. There are two reasons for this attitude: a) voluntary differences are easier to destroy since only the mind must be reformed instead of the entire person, and b) the belief that if the dissenter can “correct” the difference, (s)he should do so puts the voluntary protester at higher risk of destruction. Thus Elphaba is destroyed and Elsa is not. The two types of societies illustrate this point: Arendelle is full of simpletons easily forgiving of mild transgressions, while the musical shows an amoral Oz that destroys Elphaba for being willful.

The attitude of only innate differences as pardonable shows up everywhere a society would supposedly otherwise not tolerate dissent. For example, the Civil Rights movement, modern gay rights movement, and Lady Gaga’s hit song Born This Way all use this viewpoint to justify tolerance of individual rights. It may be argued that society has progressed to the point of tolerance for the trait itself regardless of whether or not the trait is voluntarily acquired. However, when people think a disagreeable trait can be changed they tend to view it negatively: consider the correlation between acceptance of gay rights and the idea that sexuality is inherent, or the perception of mental health disorders (e.g. people view diagnosed depression as more acceptable than general unconfirmed malaise, since the former is inherent and the latter is not).

Overall, the origins of a disagreeable trait often determine how a society views the trait. Moral of the story: if you’re going to be a pain in the neck, don’t have any of this moral disagreement stuff. Be something we can’t change.