UMass Boston's independent, student-run newspaper

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The American Dream as a Fairy Tale


“Disney makes sure we know fairy tales,” comments Kathleen Bitetti, curator/arts professional in alternative art spaces and an art activist in the Boston area for over 13 years. Her current art project, “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf” is on display in the McCormack Harbor Art Gallery to coincide with Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October. Last Wednesday, Bitetti was at UMB to give a talk about her project and art in great detail.

American culture has become Disneyfied, she says. The typical story of a prince charming waiting to sweep a princess off her feet is merely a fairly tale and victims of domestic violence awake to this painful reality. Her work in the exhibit expresses the themes of fairy tales in correlation to domestic violence.

“All that glitters is not gold,” says Bitetti. Two of her pieces, a bed of nails and a bed of coals, reveal a dim side of fairy tales. The bed of nails is equipped with a pillow that reads, “Someday my prince will come.” She explains, “Fairy tales are extremely cleaned up.”

The installation Shelter III draws from some of her earlier works with new added elements. Shelter depicted a bedroom in a battered women’s shelter that is occupied by a mother and her young daughter. The space is filled with objects such as a white picket fence, suitcases filled with Disney fairy tales, a bed made with blankets from Bitetti’s childhood, and a small pink suitcase filled with inspirational children’s books, like Shel Silverstein’s, The Missing Piece Meets the Big O and Norma Klein’s Girls Can Be Anything.

Pickets is the first work on which Bitetti used her now-signature stencils. Tattered pieces of a white picket fence are covered with stenciled facts such as, “Nearly 20% of all children in the U.S. live below the poverty level” and “Every 18 seconds a man batters a woman in her own home.” As a white picket fence is often a symbol of the American dream, Bitetti’s work reveals what can happen behind the white picket fence, incidents not written into fairy tales. The work draws on the first incarnation of Shelter, and displays a framed quote that reads, “When I Grow Up, A Rich Man Will Marry Me and Take care of Me.”

Next to Pickets is a large pink suitcase filled with typical Disney storybook titles, like Cinderella and Snow White. The suitcase is overflowing with objects familiar to children who grow up in America. It is clear to Bitetti that adult women (and men for that matter) are still impacted by the “princess and prince charming happily ever after myth,” they are literally sold on it when they are children.

Journeying beyond this suitcase is a small child’s bed made with Bitetti’s childhood blankets, beside which is a smaller pink suitcase entitled, “Not all Princesses are Waiting to be Saved.” This contains Silverstein’s and Klein’s books and is part of PrincessProject.com, which asks, “What are you being sold?”

PrincessProject.com strives to investigate the seemingly invisible class structure and society’s conflicting and unspoken rules/roles for women by using a familiar childhood ideal-the princess.

For the last ten years Bitetti has created conceptually based sociopolitical objects and installations that deconstruct the American dream, fairy tales, gender roles/gender assignment, the fragility of family dynamics, and domestic violence. Bitetti comments, “UMass Boston is a damn good school. The faculty are not only teaching, they are doing amazing work.”

In addition to her work addressing domestic and gender issues in the Harbor Art Gallery at UMB, Bitetti has an exhibit at Emmanuel College featuring House, a large scale paper house made of restraining orders, and Golden Handcuffs, a work that investigates domestic violence in middle class and wealthy communities. For more information visit or call 617-464-3559.