Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Twilight and Little Mermaid Complex

A pale young man fills the top left of the poster, standing over a brown-haired young woman on the right, with the word "twilight" on the lower right.

Disney's The Little Mermaid came out in theatres when I was 6, and I thought it was the most amazing movie ever. While I waited for what felt like eons for it to be released on video, I insisted my parents rent a cheap, depressing, anime movie (also called The Little Mermaid) over and over again. Sure, it wasn't the same (or close), but it killed my craving just a little bit (those of you who read The Tales of Beedle the Bard to get a weak Harry Potter fix know what I'm talking about). You can picture my joy when the real thing finally came out on video and I could watch it frame by frame, over and over again, to my heart's content.

Imagine my surprise when I found out, years later, that my mom really doesn't like The Little Mermaid. I had always known of her distaste for Bambi--something about absentee dads and sexism and honoring bad role models--but seriously, who could dislike red haired, mellifluous Ariel? Or Sebastian, Flounder and Scuttle, the best sidekicks a girl could ask for? Or the dreamy Prince Eric with his luscious dark hair and light blue eyes?

If I look at Ariel through my mother's eyes, though, I can see why she subtly tried to discourage me from choosing Ariel as a role model.  It's been awhile since I last watched The Little Mermaid, but here is a plot summary: Ariel misses a huge, public family event, embarrassing her father, because she is out doing something dangerous.  King Triton is (rightfully) angry at his daughter's irresponsility, but Ariel throws a childish tantrum and shouts, "I'm 16 years old. I'm not a child anymore!"  She becomes obsessed with a boy who is strictly off-limits, not only because her dad doesn't approve, but also because he's a completely different species.  To be with this boy she's never met, with no regard for how her family might feel if she left them forever, she sells her soul to the devil, tries to get a boy she hardly knows to kiss her, and then, when she can't pay up on her bargain with the sea witch, her dad intervenes and saves her.  To top the whole thing off, Ariel's senselessness is rewarded when her dad basically says she was right all along; she changes species and gets married at a ridiculously young age.  And they lived happily ever after.

I remember what it was like to be a teenager; I remember the new emotions, the pervasive mentality that "no one else has ever felt this way before."  Love was new and all-encompassing, and when breakups inevitably happened it felt like the world was ending, that no one would ever love us again, that no relationship could ever possibly be as good as the one we lost.  Almost to our own surprise, though, we somehow moved on, had other loves, other relationships, and realized, when looking back, that those first relationships were clumsy at best, dysfunctional at worst, and that we were so grateful we had moved on to bigger and better things.

I know many literary snobs, like me, who are embarrassed to admit their guilty pleasure reads.  I read the Twilight series, and despite a bunch of things that drove me crazy about it, I enjoyed it--it was fluffy and fun.  The only thing I couldn't get over, in book two especially, was the complete dysfunction that is the Edward/Bella relationship.  Everything they said and did was so lacking in perspective and dripping with teen angst that I just wanted to slap some sense into them.  Here, in Kelly Clarkson's eloquent song lyrics, is a great typification of many teen relationships, Edward and Bella's included: "Being with you is so dysfunctional/I really shouldn't miss you, but I can't let you go/Cause we belong together now, yeah/Forever united here somehow, yeah/You got a piece of me/And honestly/My life would suck without you."  Touching, right?

Really, Ariel and Bella are the same character: with no thought or regard for anyone but themselves, they pursued relationships that were dysfunctional at best, self-destructive at worst with men who were bad for them.  While they aren't commonly espoused in books/media geared toward young women, here are some things I hope to teach my future daughter and offer as advice to young Bellas and Ariels everywhere:

  • There comes a point when a girl should just cut her losses and move on--there are plenty of fish (or mermen) in the sea.
  • Breaking up is hard, and it's perfectly normal to be sad about it for awhile.  But if you become a walking zombie for six months, you need to get some serious perspective and maybe a handful of Prozac.
  • If your parents have legitimate concerns about the guy you're dating, you should listen--they may be able to see things you're blind to (like that he has legs and you don't). Unless they're crazy (and sometimes even then), they really do have your best interests at heart.
  • Parents also tend to have more perspective than you do--learn from their wisdom.
  • There is no such thing as a "one and only."  I promise.
  • If you're thinking about breaking up but don't want to end the relationship because you're afraid you'll never find anything as good, stop worrying.  Ten to one you'll find something not only just as good, but even better.
  • Before you make any crazy decisions, stop and think about how they will affect those who love you.
  • Just because Ariel and Bella appeared to be "right all along" at the end of their stories, don't be fooled: real life isn't so forgiving.
  • And finally, if you fall in love with someone from a different, predatory species, you should probably reconsider your options.


  1. I am so glad we are friends. I agree with everything you said.

    In fairness, I really loved the Twilight books the first time I read them. I read all of them. It was only during the second reading that I picked up on all the dysfunction in Edward and Bella's relationship. I continue to be horrified that people are looking to that relationship as a model.

    The thing that really did it for me was in the third book, when they say something about how Jacob is natural like the sun, but Edward was like Bella's drug. And she still marries him! Seriously?! Drugs are bad! Just say NO!

  2. AGREED! Also, you should try "Ariel Beginnings" I'm not much for sequels, but felt this was more toddler appropriate.. the only thing I didn't like was she promised her friends she wouldn't tell her dad something... between that and my problems (as a mom) with the original, I felt it was a great improvement.

    I have promised myself not to take the Twilight plunge.. I'm not much for fluff reading, but when I tell people I won't read them, they look at ME like I'm the alien.. I'm not the one driving my goth teenager to walmart at midnight so we can BOTH buy our personal copies of the movie. I have no room to talk though - I went through my N'SYNC phase as a teen.

  3. Found you on Segullah and had to

    So glad I did because this is PERFECT. Perfectly describes how I feel about Twilight and things like it. I read the books, too, and enjoyed the story (for the most part -- except I wanted to do some slapping, too!) It really does concern me though how these stories set unrealistic expectations of what a healthy, functioning relationship is -- for even adults! said it perfectly. LOVE it.

  4. OK, here's some craziness for you...

    I too found you on Segullah and loved your post, and loved this one even more! You crack me up! And besides, any anti-Twilight fan is makes me happy.

    But the really crazy part is that I was looking through your older posts and saw a picture of your sister Sara. She was in my ward this last year, and I love her to death! Now I know why I like your blog so much - Otts are just wonderful!

    Hope that isn't too creepy for ya. Thanks for writing!

  5. @Tasha...I echo your sentiment on anti-Twilight-ers, haha! And I LOVE how teeny-tiny the Mormon community is!

  6. LOVE this Lindsay!!! I had to read it to Riley. :) Such a great comparison of the two...I agree with it all. Loved your Segullah post too! Your writing is pretty much amazing.

  7. I have been awaiting this post a long time. Thank you, dear sister, for being so brilliant. You make me smile.

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  9. This post is incredibly stellar. LOVED it.

    My parents took a second honeymoon and left us with some family friends...who took us to see The Little Mermaid. My mother was not impressed...for all the reasons you mentioned - as if wearing clamshells as everyday wear wasn't cause enough, huh? I thought the Momsa was over-censoring at the time, but I'm happy if my daughters never learn the movie exists.

    A lot of your bullets were rad, but the final one is killing me. Great, great post.

    Stopping by from down-under, via mmb.

  10. 1. I sent both of my parents to your post to read it because I loved it so much. They came. They read. They loved.

    2. "Admiringly jealous?" Well, you've got me on where I live and my beautiful girls, they ARE both great...but other than that - nah! /waving hand.

  11. Amen! I hate Twilight and wish more people had your perspective. LOVE the Little Mermaid but for all said reasons, am trying to encourage my little girl to like Belle. She's sweet, kind, honors her dad and falls in love with a beast because of his kind heart. Oh, and she reads great books that aren't about vampires. Hooray! Come visit me sometime!

  12. fabulously insightful. Yeah, the morals in kid movies are usually a little... off. well said. love you, you're the best!