Monday, May 31, 2010

A Feminist Reading of 'The Little Mermaid'

Because my favorite radio station was having a 'Revenge of the 80s Weekend', and because they do that about twice a month (rendering my absolutely sick of the 80s), I was listening to my iPod in the car the other day. It was a mix of random songs I had chosen for their ability to be welcome to my ears almost 100% of the time. And so of course, there are more than a few Disney songs on there.

'Poor Unfortunate Souls' is the one which happened to come on, and in the middle of my emotional rendition of Ursula's soul-selling pitch, the Sarah Lawrence in my started thinking. Here are a few lyrics that particularly caught my ear, where Ursula tries to convince Ariel that selling her voice for a pair of legs is 'a trifle':

The men up there don't like a lot of blabber
They think a girl who gossips is a bore!
Yet on land it's much prefered for ladies not to say a word
And after all dear, what is idle babble for?
Come on, they're not all that impressed with conversation
True gentlemen avoid it when they can
But they dote and swoon and fawn
On a lady who's withdrawn
It's she who holds her tongue who get's a man

It almost sounds like a Dorothy Parker poem. And then when Ursula shouts through Ariel's staring at Eric, 'It won't cost much, just your voice!' I can't help thinking how that could have easily been applied to a housewife in 'Mad Men'. Get married and become just like everyone else. It won't cost much, just your voice.

I can't decide if this is meant to be ironic or not. Was Howard Ashman trying to make a statement, or is Ursula's argument ultimately proven right without a trace of irony? Disney isn't known for the most positive messages for young girls, and considering that Ursula also helped a young mer-woman who was 'longing to be thinner', it's hard to know whether the song perpetuates standards or pokes fun at them. After all, Ariel does end up marrying Eric and, despite having supposedly regained her voice, doesn't do a lot of talking, other than thanking Daddy for her new legs.

I'm starting to think I'm more on Ursula's side than I should be. I'm beginning to imagine a history between herself and Triton which involves him using her badly and her scorn turning her to witchcraft. This is what happens when you listen to or watch Disney without turning off your pesky 21st-century brain. I still love it, though. Actually, this makes me love it more!

1 comment:

  1. Great Post, glad to see more people thinking about the meanings behind the messages,
    thought you might like my Mermaid Queen machinima film set on the virtual Isle of Iona
    Bright Blessings ~