6 Examples of the Emperors New Clothes
John Spacey, February 06, 2022
The Emperor's New Clothes is a parable or folk tale wherein an Emperor is tricked into purchasing clothes that do not exist by nefarious salesmen and parades before his court and people wearing nothing at all. The court and people initially believe that the Emperor is wearing an ornate garment until a small child points the truth out and the entire illusion comes crashing down. The modern version is based on a book of children's fairy tales published by Hans Christian Andersen in 1837. However, versions of the story appear in a medieval Spanish publication in 1335 and an Indian compilation of fables in 1052. It is likely that these stories are based on a common source, likely of ancient origin, that is now lost. The following are common interpretations of the Emperor's New Clothes.
VanityThe Emperor's New Clothes mocks vanity whereby the Emperor is sold a high status item based on nothing more than an idea. This is analogous to modern luxury brands where materials and workmanship are sometimes similar to cheaper items but the luxury versions have intangible social status.
GroupthinkGroupthink is an overreliance on social cues and pressure over evidence whereby you believe things because you feel the crowd believes. The crowd believes the Emperor is wearing ornate clothing because the Emperor has social status such that he exerts social influence on his court. This snowballs whereby the court believes and the idea gains social momentum.
Pluralistic IgnorancePluralistic ignorance is a situation where everyone in a group privately believe something is wrong but go along with it anyway because they think the other members of the group support it. In the case of the Emperor's New Clothes, the crowd may doubt their own mind when faced with apparent social acceptance of the situation.
Learned HelplessnessIn the Hans Christian Andersen version of the story, a small child is the only one who can see the Emperor is wearing no clothes. This is an example of learned helplessness, whereby the adults around the Emperor have adopted rigid knowledge such as recognition of social structures that have made them inflexible and disconnected from reality.
DenialIn the story, the crowd and Emperor eventually realize that the Emperor is wearing no clothes but they continue on as if nothing is wrong. In fact, the Emperor proudly continues with his parade. This is an example of denial whereby people refuse to face an inconvenient truth even where they know it to be true.
Social ConstructsPostmodernists view culture such as clothing and fashion as social constructs. According to this view, the Emperor's New Clothes are just as valid as any other clothes that may happen to have some physical presence. In other words, postmodernists reject the idea of objective universal truths whereby we are free to invent reality and try to enforce this reality in our dealings with society. According to this view, the Emperor is indeed wearing clothing that is simply socially constructed.
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