The Little Mermaid
This month’s installment of FTW:A is brought to you by the letter D and my sharpened filet knife. Turn up your deep friers, folks. This fish is about to get crispy.
The Story We Know
In the year 1989, Disney brought us a heartwarming tale about a curious young merteen who just wants to be in a world where she belongs. Her older sisters don’t get her and her dad is your typical god always thinking he knows what’s best. She meets a beautiful prince and decides two legs are better than one fin and she will do anything to find her happiness.
This is a Hans Christian Andersen joint. It was originally entitled “Den lille havfrue” because (spoilers), Andersen didn’t speak English. C. A. Reitzel published it and it was first released on the seventh day of April in the year 1837. It wasn’t about giving up everything for the D so much as for the S. We’re talking souls. The eternal kind. Hans’ Little Mermaid wanted to gain entrance into the Kingdom of Eternity.
In this version, the Little Mermaid gets to visit the surface as a rite of passage. (She also gets a bunch of oysters clamped to her fins because royalty hurts no matter what your species.) There’s still a handsome prince celebrating his birthday on a boat and she still saves his life after a storm wrecks his ship, but he never sees her. Instead, the girls from the temple where she dumps him get credited for saving him.
Sad that she doesn’t get the mad props she wants, she goes and has a chat with her Grandmother. From her Grandmother, she learns that humans do not live 300 years like merfolk do and, when they die, they have eternal souls that float up to live in immortality in the kingdom of heaven. On the flipside, merfolk live for 300 years then become seafoam and cease to exist completely. The Little Mermaid doesn’t like that because then she would no longer be able to hear music or see pretty things. Her Grandmother tells her the only way for her to get a soul is to have a human love her more than his mother or father, have all of his thoughts be of love for her, and to have a priest place their right hands together as the human promises to be true to her here and hereafter. Once that happens, part of the human’s soul will glide into her body and she will know eternity.
The Little Mermaid decides that sounds wicked rad.
She goes to the Sea Witch who gives her a draught in exchange for her voice and her tongue. The draught makes it feel like a sword is cutting her in half, but that is apparently a fair trade for legs that give the ability to dance and move like no other human ever could. And, because that isn’t enough, she also has to put up with the fact every step feels like she’s walking on knives. Then, because we can’t forget that this is a story steeped in (probably) Catholic influenced religious rhetoric (women must suffer), there’s one last thing. If the prince doesn’t fall in love love with her, she will die on the night he marries another and become nothing. What is any woman without a man?
The Little Mermaid gets into the Prince’s life and he does grow to love her, but he never sees her as more than a child. Due to his lack of love love, he ends up marrying another princess which condemns our mermaid to a horrible nothingness of nothing.
On the night of the wedding, the Little Mermaid’s five sisters showed up to save the day. They’d traded their hair for a knife from the Sea Witch. All she had to do was take the knife, stab the prince, and let his blood run over her feet. His blood would turn her back into a mermaid and she would continue her life below the sea.
The Little Mermaid, in a showing of great sacrifice that we all must show when we have the misfortune of not being born a perfect male, decides against it and throws herself into the ocean. Instead of becoming sea foam, she becomes air. She meets other “Daughters of the Air” and they tell her that, because of her pain, suffering, and selflessness, she has earned the chance to earn a soul all on her own. All she has to do is serve humankind for 300 years!
(Just in case it escaped you: That’s supposed to be a happy ending.)
Why Modern People Should Never Base Their Lives on This Fairytale
The main lesson our modern audiences will get from this is: It’s OK to give up everything that makes you you for the D. One can argue that’s not true because Ariel doesn’t even know about human reproduction or society or anything so she’s not actually intentionally sending that message.
When we’re 9 years old watching this, we don’t really think of it like that, do we? No. We’re looking at it like we’re a fish person and damn right we want to be the best singer in the world and marry a rich handsome prince! Also, this was written by humans with all their human quirks. They may not have realized what they were saying, but they were spewing it all over that script.
Ariel fetishizes humans. They’re dangerous and taboo. Eric is the hot bad boy from the other side of the tracks. Her sisters don’t understand her. When her father gets upset with her, he erupts into physically destructive violence. She’s got this crab minder that touts the whole, “We’ve got to protect the young merwomen from things they’re too stupid to protect themselves from!” and she’s perfectly set up to have Ursula use her to gain power.
On top of that, everyone with a clue knows that the second you tell your kid they can’t see someone, they’re going to want to see that person more. Teenage hormones are stupid and persistent. She met Prince Eric during a moment of adrenaline so he’s super associated with high feelings. It doesn’t matter to her that his kind eat her fishy neighbors. He’s hot and they had a literally explosive moment together. There are parts of her brain screaming at her to get more of that action and the only adult around who understands that sees her as a quick ticket to being a god.
Under The Sea
This whole song is about not leaving the safety of home in search of what you think of as greener pastures that are really evil frying pan pastures. It completely ignores the fact that one of the first scenes in the movie establishes they have sharks and sharks still seem to be mindless predators. How many merfolk are killed each year by sharks? What about orcas? You wanna sit there and sing about how the evil humans will fricassee you up but meanwhile some merfamily is having a no-casket funeral for their kid whose remains are still being digested inside Bruce two reefs over. Is Triton doing anything about this?
Of course he’s not. He’s not doing anything about this any more than your Grandfather is doing something about the fact he raised two of his sons to beat their kids and disowned another for being gay. But that’s still better than going out with someone different from you, isn’t it? What if those different people give you different ideas like…it’s not okay to abuse people? What if they try to tell you it is okay to be gay and your entire family is actually a bunch of assholes who need to be set on fire?
Perish the thought.
Does that mean you give up everything that makes you you to get out of a bad situation?
No, it doesn’t, but don’t expect this fairytale to tell you that. When Ariel first sits down to dinner with Eric and they announce they’re eating crab, she doesn’t bat an eye. Meanwhile, Sebastian is sitting there and you know he’s wondering if one of those crabs was his cousin. But that doesn’t matter. That’s not her place as a royal from the sea to worry about Sebastian and his people! Her place is to stay quiet and meek and forsake everything because this hot rich guy might be her ticket out of her life. She also probably shouldn’t look too closely at who he actually is. He’s pretty good with that harpoon. What does that mean? Enh, who cares?! He’s gorgeous!
Ariel doesn’t love Eric and don’t let them try to fool you into thinking she does. He also doesn’t love her. She fetishizes humans too much to love one. He’s obsessed with the fact she saved his life. That’s not true love and it’s almost insulting to try to make us think it is. They come from insanely different cultures. That is going to require a learning curve on both sides. True love would be them working through all of that first. I want to see Eric asking her what her father is doing about the orcas slaughtering the seal colonies. Where’s the scene where she asks him what he’s doing about humans who believe soup made from fish parts will grant them magical dick powers?
The reality is she should be miserable and they should be constantly fighting because she doesn’t have any tools to properly handle these kinds of relationships and he’s about as dimensional as a pair of pants. We should be seeing her screaming at him daily that she gave up being a mergoddess for him and all she gets in return is cholera and a fear of death with each kid he forces her to have because he needs some heirs. He should be in this constant state of confusion where he’s terrified Triton is going to sink his entire kingdom out of anger and he’s pissed that he’ll never be able to compare with the fact his father in law is a literal god.
Also, don’t for a moment think Triton gave her legs out of the kindness of his angry god-heart. He’s going to be threatening her to remove them when she doesn’t use her position to make Eric make the humans do something he wants them to do. Eric killed Ursula and bought some good will with that, but it won’t last forever.
Ariel didn’t actually escape her life. She gave up everything like a good little girl should and she’s going to end up suffering for it.
I can only hope a prince from a nice landlocked mountainous area will show up one day and she’ll finally understand what true love actually is and what a person really gives up for it.
(Nothing. The answer is nothing. True love just asks you to maintain it and compromise for it, not sacrifice everything. Anyone who wants you to do that is a piece of shit and should be flushed accordingly. Triton could probably use the friends.)