Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Beneath the Surface: The Little Mermaid, Disney and Saturday Morning Situationalism

One of the reasons I wanted to start this blog was the knowledge that one day I would have to write this entry. At the same time, this is one of the essays I've been dreading writing the most, because I'm fully aware what I'm going to talk about here is at once an important part of who I am and extremely controversial. Actually, it's not controversial: Almost every critic I've read has found massive fault with The Little Mermaid and nobody is going to step up to the plate to defend Disney's media consolidation practices and draconian approach to intellectual property (at least nobody who is the sort of person who I assume frequents this blog at any rate). I know full well it would be intellectual suicide for me to do so and that's why this entry is going to showcase something of a different format than usual for Soda Pop Art: The point here is not really to talk about the work in question (though I will give it some tacit critique a little later on) but rather is to focus on retelling my personal history with it and try to explain how watching The Little Mermaid had something to do with me ending up philosophizing about it on the Internet 20-25 years after the fact.

I can think of no better example of Soda Pop Art than the Walt Disney Corporation. The characters and works that make up its intellectual property are absolutely ubiquitous all over the world, generations of people have grown up with Disney as a foundational aspect of their childhood and if anything can make a claim for being a modernist tapestry of myths and legends shared in the collective Westernist consciousness it's them. On the other hand, as I mentioned above and as is well known, you're not likely to find a company that is more stringent and protective about its mass-market manufactured magic and dreams. The mere fact they have positioned themselves as a story and idea factory, and become the biggest media giant in the world as a result, should absolutely send anyone of a vaguely Marxist predilection into a frothing tizzy. However, more gallons of ink have been spilled on this topic by critics, media studies scholars, concerned parents and reactionary high school English classes than exist in Warren Spector's Wasteland so I'm positive I have nothing new to add to the discussion about how stupefyingly contradictory and problematic this is.

That said, the sheer size and scope of Disney make it uniquely worthy of study even here: Something I plan to look at, not so much in this post but definitely in the next one, is the fact Disney is large enough to be comprised of a vast array of sub-entities and sub-cultures of creators, and some of them don't seem to be as closely monitored as others (which occasionally yields something highly interesting). While I might be thin on contributions to a discussion of Disney Corporate's ethics, what I can do right now is try to take you, my readers, on a guided tour of my own past interactions with Disney and the Disney machine. I'm owning up to my history to an extent here-This piece is in some sense little more than a long-winded confession to the fact that, no matter how hard I try to be angry, radical and postmodern I probably wouldn't have gotten to quite the same position I'm in now if it weren't at least partially for Disney, the epitome of the establishment, and this property in particular. So fine. I'm a hypocrite; whatever. But if adulthood entails coming to terms with childhood and trying to figure out how it shaped us into the people we became, than so be it: Let's get this exorcism started and try to defend The Little Mermaid.

I'm dating myself by saying The Little Mermaid was one of the first movies I recall being a big enough deal to warrant me going to see it. Although not really, I suppose, given how rarely I went to the movies back then, and indeed how rarely I go to them even today. I freely admit to finding a good 90% of movies stultifyingly dull and insultingly cliche and to not possessing the patience to sit still for two hours minimum passively watching a screen. Either way, The Little Mermaid was properly huge and, still being suitably within the target demographic, my parents were excited I'd get to experience a big Disney event like the kind they remembered from their childhoods. The Disney Renaissance had been going on for a good five years already of course, but to date hadn't produced anything with quite the scope and scale of this movie (more on that later) and certainly nothing of the sort that would have attracted the attention of people like my parents (that didn't stop me from finding it, of course).

My family made sure I had all the Little Mermaid merchandise you could imagine (I did always get the sense they sort of enjoyed this whole Disney thing a bit more than I did): I had promo magazines, board games, Colourforms, jigsaw puzzles, spin-off books, books that retold the movie, books with sound effects, soundtracks, VHS tapes comprised of spliced up footage set to the soundtracks, trading cards, little collectable statuettes, Happy Meal toys (those deserve an article all to themselves), soap, soap dishes, combs, brushes and even a doll of Ariel herself that I confess remains one of my most treasured possessions to this day. She's seriously pretty sweet: She came with a bunch of bra and fin ensembles in different patterns and styles, various combs and brushes (presumably to go with your own), a treasure chest you could put things in, action figures of her sea animal friends, and it all fit in a nice plastic case. One really cool feature was you could take her fins off, put her in a tennis uniform and take her up on land if you wanted (I used to steal the clothes off any male dolls I got, give them to Ariel and play with her like she was Madison from Splash. I was very, very lucky to be homeschooled at that age). My Ariel went on all kinds of adventures in my mind, inspired by the film's music and art style and my own deep love of the ocean. Her travels took her to the four corners of her vast and mysterious undersea realm and up on land for undercover stealth missions to the surface world. Fantastic discoveries were made, epic battles fought and majestic, sweeping seascapes were explored.

So naturally, given how much Mermaid swag I had, I must have adored this movie and it surely left a powerful, lasting impression on me. Well Not really. I remember seeing it, I remember being blown away by the animation (The Little Mermaid was the last Disney movie animated entirely the traditional hand-drawn way and it absolutely shows) and I remember really liking the setting and the character of Ariel but the rest of the movie fell flat for me, even at that age. Look, The Little Mermaid is a deeply flawed movie. I'm far from the first person to point this out, I'm sure I'll be far from the last and I'll gladly concede the majority of the criticism that gets leveled at it. Ursula is a train wreck of unfortunate implications (likewise Sebastian isn't exactly a shining bastion of racial diversity), Ariel kickstarted the trend of the Disney Princess character archetype that Animaniacs so venomously and rightfully pilloried as the “'I Want More' Girl” (Fun Fact: The Animaniacs head writer who created and voiced Slappy Squirrel is Sherri Stoner. In the 1980s, she worked for Disney. Ariel is overtly based on her, down to Stoner being the actual reference model used by the animators and concept artists), the script is loaded with plot holes that even (and especially) kids pick up on, and that's not even getting at the fact it started from a less than desirable place to begin with as its source material isn't exactly the most comfortably progressive story ever written. Anderson's original is overtly a Christian parable and it wreaks all kinds of havoc with indigenous and traditional European folk beliefs as a result. There's only so far Disney was able get away from that, or, for that matter, was willing to.

But frankly none of this is particularly relevant because I have no intention of mustering up a redemptive reading of The Little Mermaid. That's not what this post is about. The main point I'm (somewhat counterintuitvely) trying to get at is that despite all its flaws, something about this film stuck with me and has stayed with me all these years later. It's hard to imagine what that would be though, I mean I was having massive problems with this movie even before I became the jaded, cynical bastard I am today: I never liked Flounder, Triton or, really any of the supporting cast save Samuel Wright and Rene Auberjonois, I found the song sequences, with the exception of “Under the Sea”, plodding and unnecessary and with extra-special ire reserved for “Part Of Your World”, which I thought was completely intolerable (I have something of a mental block in regards to musicals and always have-they make me irrationally angry) and as soon as Eric showed up I immediately lost interest. Every single time I tried to watch The Little Mermaid I had the exact same set of reactions. So what about it resonated with me, and why am I wasting my time and everyone else's trying to write about it today?

One thing I know I liked about the movie was the setting, and especially the art design used to depict it. I maintain there's never been a movie, animated or otherwise, that captures the vastness, power and beauty of the open ocean quite the way The Little Mermaid does. The sea feels truly alive here, brooding away as almost a character of its own. The deep, cool hues of the colour scheme, broad canvasing and intentionally wide-angle framing for the cels adds to the cinematic scope of the film; really inviting its audience to look upon the ocean and muse at what might lie fathoms below the waves. It's a sumptuous work of inspired beauty, and something only Disney could pull off: Their fanatical obsession with quality control, brand uniformity and cross-promotion, especially at this point in time, meant every single piece of Little Mermaid merchandise had exactly the same look-and-feel of the movie. I even insisted on keeping the boxes and cardboard inserts my Ariel and her accessories came in because they were so gorgeous to look at and complimented her so perfectly, although I don't know how many of them have survived the passage of time.

I've always been fascinated by the ocean: As a kid I spent countless hours obsessively studying oceanography and marine biology. I read every book and watched every documentary I could find, and even had a copy of the actual proposal for one of the later projects utilizing the deep-sea submersible JASON that Doctor Robert Ballard and the team at Woods Hole unbelievably generously provided for me when I went to visit once during a family trip to Cape Cod. For a while I thought I'd grow up to be a deep-sea explorer myself (you can tell by my current career trajectory how well that worked out), and I've maintained a very close bond with the ocean to this day. I became a surfer in part to help nurture the bond I felt I had with it, and that's shaped a great deal of my spiritual and philosophical worldview. It's something I think is unique to sea people and is difficult to explain. My ultimate goal in life is to live on a boat and sail to different ports, exploring and making my own path. I have to wonder how much of that is due to me seeing The Little Mermaid at a relatively young age.

But of course, a movie that is merely breathtakingly gorgeous to look at and nothing else isn't much of a movie.

Another thing I really liked about The Little Mermaid was Ariel herself. Somewhat ironically, this also proved to be the biggest stumbling block getting in the way of me actually enjoying the film. Ariel is, on paper, an incredibly charming character. She's headstrong, independent, very imaginative and likes nothing better than going on adventures to discover new treasures and new lands (Seas? Ocean floors? Continental shelves?). Conceptually, she's 180 degrees away from Disney Princesses of old; passive entities who waited around for things to happen to them as the actual plot went on around them. Ariel is also far more proactive than modern critics giver her credit for: She actively instigates things, takes events into her own hands and moves the story forward on her own. She's an unabashed leading lady, who also manages to reinvent the concept by being a very capable protagonist: This is definitely her story and, like him or not, Eric is her love interest instead of the other way 'round. Voice actor Jodi Benson delivers an immediately likably bubbly, but also heartfelt and endearing performance, which means Ariel pretty much wins you over instantaneously.

But this is the maddening thing: Ariel is a cool character (or a cool concept for a character at the very least) in a truly rubbish story. She takes the plot into her own hands, yes, but every single decision she makes does nothing but build tension and cause conflict. There is a direct, causal relationship between each of Ariel's choices and the plot getting considerably worse for her and everyone else involved. Far from celebrating the independence of its teenage female protagonist, The Little Mermaid is one moralizing speech away from being fundamentally about how teenagers, especially girls, don't know what they're doing, aren't thinking clearly and should listen to authority figures. Yes, Ariel eventually gets what she wants and Triton is made to come to terms with how his overbearing nature drove his daughter away, but it's too little too late to undo the damage wrought by the rest of the plot.

Indeed, Ariel's relationship with her father is one of the movie's most distasteful aspects. I mean I can see what the intention was: Disney tried to do a coming of age story where the teenager comes into her own, becomes her own person and starts her own life (albeit through trial and error) and the parent has to learn to accept that. But it never quite feels convincing enough; at its best it feels more stilted than it needs to be and at its worst it feels like Disney is trying to saddle Ariel with an uncomfortable heap of daddy issues. The story probably would have worked better if Ariel was interacting with her mother instead of her father, but ultimately the whole premise feels like it needed some more time in the oven. If anything, Ariel was almost a stronger character for me when I was trying to piece her together before I'd seen the movie from PR material, merchandise and word-of-mouth in order to create a protagonist for my doll's adventures than she seemed to be in the actual movie all of that came from.

The ending, and, if I'm honest, the whole damn love story itself, also drove me completely up the wall: I hated Eric and wished the movie wasn't about Ariel pining after him for almost its entire running time. I thought she was too good for him and he didn't deserve to “win” her (and he does “win” her: Despite the movie ostensibly being about Ariel's choice, there are an uncomfortable number of instances where she has to be rescued by both Eric and her father, one big one being the entire climax). As soon as Eric showed up and I saw where the film was going, I immediately knew I would have had more fun if I'd stayed home, put on my soundtrack tape or a documentary about oceanography and played with my Ariel doll in the living room then I was having sitting through this embarrassing and actually kind of infuriating movie. At that moment The Little Mermaid almost became two things for me: The awesome and beautiful world under the sea that Ariel was exploring in my imagination and the obnoxious, crummy movie of the same name on the screen in front of me that had nothing to do with the Little Mermaid I knew and loved. I'd come to the realisation my stories were infinitely preferable to the one Disney was trying to tell in front of me. That's almost the real legacy of this movie for me: The Little Mermaid was one of the first times I can recall eagerly sitting down to watch something and then, with wide-eyed shock, adamantly refusing to accept what was happening onscreen. For maybe the first time I thought, frustrated and perhaps egotistically, “I could actually do better than this”. It may be one of the primary reasons I'm a writer.

But honestly, this is really all mostly the fault of the original source material, not Ariel herself. In Anderson's original text, the titular mermaid is unquestionably a Christian archetype of a wistful, suffering unenlightened pagan. The Little Mermaid has the double ignominy of being a heathen and a woman, and this is the result. That's the way moralizing fairy tales *were*. To keep the plot of the movie even remotely comparable, Ariel, despite being a character created in the wake of the feminist boom of the 1970s and 1980s for a female-led movie designed for mass market appeal, was always going to have to be restricted in terms of how progressive she could be and would eventually have to end up submissive to something. Could Disney have completely thrown out the whole idea of doing a Little Mermaid adaptation and made Ariel the star of her own unique story and world? Absolutely, and I'd even go so far as to say they were perfectly capable of doing so in 1989. However, the Disney of 1989 would never have made that kind of gamble on a movie like this: They wanted a blockbuster comeback that perfectly symbolized a return to the greatness (or the cheating, distorted memory of perceived greatness, if you prefer; I know I do) of Walt's Disney but updated for modern audiences. That Disney made its name through fairy tale adaptations, so this one had to as well, which means Ariel's own movie prevents her from living up to her potential in order for it to win over lapsed Disneyphiles and nostalgic parents.

Even though Ariel is done in by her own movie, she's not a total waste of a character: Something about her resonated with me, and I'm not the only one she's reached and inspired. Despite the flaws of the movie and the turn against her in more recent years (prompted more than anything else by a sober re-evaluation of what the Disney Renaissance actually comprised), Ariel was very well received by audiences in 1989 who praised her as a great example of a modern heroine. The simple fact is that the majority of problems The Little Mermaid has stem from Disney trying to shoehorn a surprisingly progressive character, and Ariel really is more forward-thinking then people give her credit for, into an environment that by definition absolutely isn't (though Disney's trademark myopic narrative sloppiness deserves a large share of the blame too, but that's perhaps a topic for another time). Her historical importance is muted in retrospect when taken in the context of the cavalcade of copycat leading ladies in copycat Disney blockbusters that followed in the wake of The Little Mermaid (each with increasingly diminishing returns, in my less-than-humble opinion) but that shouldn't take away from the impact of Ariel herself. It's quite telling Pixar essentially appropriated the character, renamed her Merida, made her Scottish instead of a mermaid and told the same story to universal acclaim in 2012's Brave, albeit with some crucial, much-needed script revisions. Freed from the shackles of a Christian parable, Ariel is finally liberated and empowered enough to go out and kick all the ass I knew she could as a kid.

Thankfully the movie itself was not my final encounter with The Little Mermaid. Being far too huge a property to simply let die out, Disney made sure to milk it for everything it was worth over the next four or five years. There were still the home video release, theatrical re-releases and special limited edition collectors' chase versions of the dolls and accessories. Most importantly, as far as I was concerned, was a Little Mermaid Saturday Morning Cartoon Show that premiered in September of 1992. I have a very special relationship with Saturday Morning TV, as I think many of us did, and this is just about the perfect time to tell my particular tale. It would have been a safe bet that if I was watching television in the 80s and early 90s, the programme that was on would have been either a documentary, Star Trek: The Next Generation or a Saturday Morning Cartoon Show. I was lucky enough to come of age in something of a Golden Age for the genre; arguably the last one before cable and satellite effectively killed it off. Disney's own Adventures of the Gummi Bears from 1985 really got people to take notice of the format for the first time in awhile, although Mark Evanier's Mighty Mouse and Dungeons and Dragons adaptations were also quite influential (indeed Gummi Bears is a fun case of double Soda Pop Art: A cartoon show, and a good one at that, based on a brand of candy). Following soon afterward was a veritable cascade of spiritual successors, most famously the Carl Barks-inspired DuckTales, but also The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers, TaleSpin, Darkwing Duck and, eventually, The Little Mermaid and Marsupilami.

What made Gummi Bears and its successors, which collectively became known as The Disney Afternoon after the programming block that consolidated and repackaged them in the early 1990s, so successful was once again Disney's meticulous attention to detail and quality control. Then-CEO Michael Eisner felt Disney's brand had been badly cheapened over the decades since Walt himself had died and was determined to reverse that trend, starting by taking a new foothold in Saturdays. Eisner decreed the new Saturday Morning cartoons were to be taken extremely seriously and treated no differently from any other marquee Disney release. As a result, the Disney Afternoon was somewhat unprecedented, taking a format traditionally thought of as a dumping-ground for cheap and mindless children's programming (or at best very well done toy commercials) and bringing it a newfound respect through shows that boasted strong production values and tight writing that told fun, exciting and smart adventure stories (and, of course, the more-than-occasional heavy-handed moral. Can't be too edgy on a Disney show after all).

The interesting other side of this is that, despite all the credit the film The Little Mermaid gets for ushering in the so-called Disney Renaissance (and the larger era that's now called the Renaissance Age of Animation) by re-establishing Disney's stranglehold on blockbuster family animated musicals, it's really The Disney Afternoon that's ultimately responsible for reviving the mouse house and the larger animation industry. This also explains why the other Disney Renaissance-era movies pale in comparison to The Little Mermaid for me, even granting all that holds it back: During this period I feel Disney was regularly and demonstrably stronger at Saturday Morning Cartoon Shows then they were at the movies they're actually most famous for putting out. From my experience at least, I can barely sit through any of Disney's movies, but I have fondness and respect for pretty much anything on The Disney Afternoon (although I freely admit a lot of that might be due to my natural aversion to musicals in general). From 1985 to 1995, it was TV, not in theatres, where Disney was at its most confidant, creative and experimental.

Naturally, I was quite intrigued by the concept of The Little Mermaid on Saturday mornings, and in point of fact I did enjoy The Little Mermaid more as a series than I did as a movie. It looks far cheaper and more scaled down than the film of course (the colours are far simpler and more muted, for example), but that's to be expected. The big draw for me was that the series promised a bit more of what I wanted from a story ostensibly about Ariel: The show is supposedly a prequel to the movie, chronicling her life under the sea and following her on her various adventures. That was already a huge improvement as far as I was concerned, and the predictable absence of any love stories pretty much guaranteed I'd at least get through a full episode without getting angry and shutting it off (after all, if the movie is still fated to happen sometime in her future, to preserve the fairy-tale structure Ariel can't have any love other than Eric. Well, of course she could, but that's getting more complex and mature than I think Disney was shooting for here).

Before I continue reminiscing, it's worth noting one oddity that crops up as a result of the decision to make the series a prequel is what happened when Disney went and made a sequel and prequel movie to The Little Mermaid a decade later (and given how I felt about the original movie, I'll bet you can figure out what my thoughts on those are). The prequel film overtly contradicts the series and, because of how Disney treats its Saturday Morning Cartoon Shows, decanonizes it. Disney might not even still be around, or at least not in the position it is today, were it not for The Disney Afternoon, but no matter how important and influential they might have been on their legacy, Disney will always consider their cartoon shows second-class citizens and not worthy of the same respect their movies get. For example, the Little Mermaid series has never seen a single home video release in 20 years while the movie has an almost incalculable number of them, and the other Disney Afternoon shows were lucky if they got a bare-bones out-of-order DVD release. Secondly, this technically means the TV show takes place in an alternate universe, which is just fine by me as it separates it even further from the movie.

(Weirdly, I am led to believe in some territories the show was known as The New Adventures of The Little Mermaid, which bizarrely implies it's a sequel to the movie. When taken in the context of the events of the series, this of course means Disney proudly and spectacularly retconned their own blockbuster movie with a Saturday Morning Cartoon Show in some regions, which is both analytically handy and delightfully hilarious).

One major change in the translation from megafilm to cartoon show was, both interestingly and predictably, making Ariel far more empowered. The show goes out of its way to show Ariel has a myriad of other interests aside from stalking human princes and a pleasing majority of the episodes deal in one sense or another with her exploring different parts of the undersea world and the adventures she goes on whilst doing so (she still frequently has to worry about reprisal from her father but, you know, baby steps). Near the end of the show's run she even gets to wield the Trident and becomes a Sea Witch herself. This of course raises the question of why she couldn't just deal with Ursula herself in the movie, but if this is an alternate universe, who cares? Ariel's still no Sam Kepler (but then again, who is?) but honestly, in spite of what Animaniacs said, there are worse female role models targeted towards children you could find.

The expansion of Ariel's character is symptomatic of the show's overall more bold and experimental feel when compared to its parent movie: Now only connected to the Anderson tale in the loosest possible way and the only real dictum given to the show's creators from Disney Corporate being what could be summed up as “do a thing for Saturday mornings starring Ariel to remind kids the brand still exists” meant the series gained a kind of freedom to explore and forge a unique identity the movie lacked (this odd love-hate, push-pull relationship that Disney has with its Saturday Morning lineup and how that contrasts with the obsessive preening it affords its so-called “Animated Canon” is worthy of further study and has consequences which we should examine, but next time). The series alternated from pratfall comedy bits, usually involving Sebastian, his Crab Scouts (like Snoopy's Beagle Scouts but, you know, crabs. And weird) or the token merman Urchin (who was created so straight male viewers had a reason to watch the show and who is exactly as you would expect a character with that pedigree and named Urchin to be) to big action stories where Ariel does battle with sea monsters, whalers, and the red tide, some solid environmental parables and even a few quite decent character studies for the genre.

That said there are still quite a few irritatingly didactic moments which *really* drag the show down and Ariel's relationship with her father still borders on the seriously problematic (though nothing is quite as shocking as the prequel movie's assertion Ariel is Triton's favourite daughter and he is overprotective of her because she most reminds him of her deceased mother, which shoots right passed “troubling” and lands square in the vicinity of “unbelievably creepy”). On the whole, it tends to be more juvenile then it really needs to be, and frustratingly more so then the similar Aladdin TV series. While I did enjoy it far more than the movie as I mentioned above, there were still enough moments that made me stare at it in disbelief thinking “why?” that kept me from 100% falling in love with it. I still preferred my own Ariel stories on the whole, but at least this show had some redeeming and praiseworthy qualities to it that allowed its formula and structure to work a bit better than those of its sibling's were able to, and I'd recommend it if you're interested in seeing a little bit more of what The Little Mermaid *could* have been, although I'd completely understand if you'd rather go and watch Brave again instead.

Probably the best, most clever and most heartfelt episode in the series was “Metal Fish”, where Ariel, off exploring one day, discovers a strange metallic creature she can't make heads or fishtails of (sorry). It turns out to be a submarine piloted by a traveller from the human realm who has dreamed of exploring the world beneath the sea. The sub is damaged and leaking, however, so Ariel tries to get King Triton to help repair it. Triton is very skeptical and distrusting of humans though and is reluctant to help, so Ariel and her friends must help convince him to have a change of heart. What really clinches the episode is when the traveller is revealed to be, astonishingly, Hans Christian Anderson himself. After she rescues him and returns him to the surface, as she's bidding him goodbye Ariel adopts the pose of the Little Mermaid statue in Copenhagen harbour, thus inspiring Hans to write his famous fairy tale. It's a delightful metafictional embellishment of a charming episode that honestly would probably have made a better movie then the one Disney actually produced.

But as fun as “Metal Fish” is, it also lays bare the uncomfortable truths underlying Disney's The Little Mermaid and really, all Soda Pop Art like it. Is Ariel's farewell to Hans merely a subtle hat-tip from the show's creators to their source material, or is there another, more insidious reading of that scene possible? Ariel, Disney's character, has inspired Hans Christian Anderson to write the fairy tale upon which their property is based. Is this Disney making a claim that they now own The Little Mermaid and everything about it, or at the very least have put out the definitive version of the story? I enjoyed this show and its hero as a kid a lot and it probably had some measurable impact on the person I became, including my writings (like, say, this one). Although I have an instinctual revulsion to the movie now (but who am I kidding, I'll be first in line for the Blu-ray Diamond Edition) I can still go back and watch parts of the show if I'm feeling nostalgic for Ariel, but, you know, it is what it is. Where does that leave me? I think the answer to this is that ultimately I liked the *idea* of The Little Mermaid; the concept or *potential* of a character like Ariel-That's what really resonated with me and inspired me, far more than any book, movie or TV show with those names I saw.

I think that's as good a metaphor as any for the way I create and interact with media: Even though I can on occasion, I don't typically get emotionally involved with stories or characters-I dissect them: I pick them apart, break them down and try to get them to work better and more efficiently than they did before by putting them back together with bits rearranged, removed or grafted onto them, especially if I had quibbles the first time 'round. I'm not a poet, I'm a narrative engineer. I do bricolage storytelling. My inspirations are not books or movies per se, but images, sounds, smells, happenings, atmosphere, imagination, ludicrous amounts of theory and fieldwork, keyboards and dolls of mermaid warrior princesses with fully stocked wardrobes. What this means, I think, is that I once again end up at detournement as one of my guiding creative forces. I suppose you could say I have Michael Eisner's fanatical ambition for corporate glory to thank for that, but authority is also what provides the creative spark for the best works of subcultural art. The truly progressive are never complacent, aware as they are we are a flawed, imperfect species and we could always strive to do better by ourselves and by others. The Little Mermaid is a flawed, imperfect movie and an even more flawed, imperfect franchise, and Disney's corporate ethics are, as always, extremely troubling. But, given the enormous reach afforded by being this kind of entity, Ariel has the potential to do good if we let her, and on a global scale. Personally, I'm inclined to let her: Not all characters and stories have that opportunity and it's better she have it I suppose then a lesser, more retrograde property. Maybe give Ariel another chance someday. She might just win you over too, or she might not. Or perhaps, just perhaps, you'll discover her hidden depths.


Since Disney seems hell-bent on never letting a home video release of the Little Mermaid TV show see the light of day, I do not feel bad whatsoever about linking to where you can find it online. The complete series has been archived on YouTube here, if my ramblings have somehow managed to pique your curiosity.

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