Whose Mermaid is it?

Not My Mermaid– or everyone’s mermaid.

Evidently there is a huge backlash taking place on the internet right now. #notmyariel has been trending.

Really? So people who have not even “met” this new Ariel are already dishing out the hatred– because of her skin color? Personally, I can find a lot better reasons to dislike the disneyfying of a powerful classic tale! — I say this both as someone who has studied folk tales and literature.

This is where two of my hats come out, raring for a fight:) I was both a lit major and an anthropology minor. So when it comes to cultural norms and literature– this is my arena!

One of the courses I took was on King Arthur– everyone’s favorite romantic figure. Everyone loves Arthur. Wants to be Arthur! (well, probably everyone, except for Arthur– because it pretty much sucked to be Arthur, if you really think about it. He was torn between an arranged marriage and his wife, and his best friend and the best knight of the realm– torn between the personal life and the need to keep a fragile fledgling kingdom together. Spoiler- it didn’t end well:)

Now- what most people don’t know is that all of our Arthurian stories are based on a much-later version of Arthur. What we know of Arthur is based on Elizabethan tales, where the concept of romance and courtly love were all the rage. They were telling an older story and changing it to reflect their own needs and interests. For the record, the oldest versions of Arthur (whether or not he actually existed) emphasize his role as a leader and a warrior. Not a whole lot is wasted on the romantic shenanigans.

Why? Because that was a reflection of the era, a reflection of the writer’s world– more than Arthur’s world.

SO, what does this have to do with the little mermaid? Well, look back at the original versions of her story.

From wikipedia

She will constantly feel as if she is walking on sharp knives, and her feet will bleed terribly….
she throws the knife and herself off the ship into the water just as dawn breaks. Her body dissolves into foam, but instead of ceasing to exist, she feels the warm sun and discovers that she has turned into a luminous and ethereal earthbound spirit, a daughter of the air. As the Little Mermaid ascends into the atmosphere, she is greeted by other daughters who tell her she has become like them because she strove with all her heart to obtain an immortal soul. Because of her selflessness, she is given the chance to earn her own soul by doing good deeds for mankind for 300 years, and will one day rise up into the Kingdom of God.

So, it is pretty clear that this is not a “happily ever after” romantic tale. It is about the human condition, striving, the punishment for (?)… and the rewards of a pure heart (?)…

What is the moral of the modern story? I honestly couldn’t say. But- how we tell that tale, will help to shape our world, just a tiny bit, because stories are important. They reflect our world back to ourselves for us. We tell stories to ourselves, for ourselves ABOUT ourselves. So- the pressing question must become: How do we define who “we” is?
We are perpetually re-inventing stories to reflect the changing social world around us. Hence all of the horrible remade movies with each new movie-going generation!

It is time that we understand that the world is not all-white. So long as we keep portraying it as white-only on our televisions and movie screens and in our books, we will perpetuate the deeply held misconceptions about who we are.

In the end, in some ways the color of Ariel’s skin is far less crucial than what this version of the retelling will reflect back to all of us. It’s time to look in the mirror and see not only ourselves, but the entire world that exists beyond our reflections.

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