The Little Badass Mermaid Anthropologist: Why Ariel is Actually Awesome

After telling someone how much Frozen reminded me of the Disney movies I liked as a kid, I decided to watch The Little Mermaid again for the first time in many years. As much as I loved The Little Mermaid and Aladdin when I was younger, I came to retroactively hate the whole Disney Princess thing. I went in expecting that I would hate the music and the love story, and find most of the characters boring, except Ursula the sea witch. One thing I wasn’t expecting from The Little Mermaid? To find the title character herself even remotely interesting, let alone a beacon of competence and badassery in the midst of a literal ocean of incompetent and evil associates.

A Polaroid recordable VHS tape with rainbow stripes.
The cover art practically gives away the entire movie.

While I went into the movie fully prepared to snark, I was drawn into the Magical World of the Ocean almost immediately. After the opening scene gets past some stuff with Prince Eric and his sailors dropping hints about the mythological sea creatures to show up in the next minute, there’s a really nice intro that plunges us down into the ocean to a majestic, mystical score. It’s a wonderful opening that makes me want to go to the library, check out a stack of books on jelly fish, and then geek out on marine life for days and learn about crazy, esoteric creatures that glow in the dark and mate with their own tentacles*.

And then we meet Ariel, who is leaning against the side of the convenience store with the dumpster and the hints of danger, smoking and flipping her Manic Panic Pillarbox Red hair while cutting class with her dumpy, inadequately-eyelinered best friend/ tag-a-long, who is drinking root beer out of what looks like a beer bottle if you cover the label with your hand.

Oh, wait, she’s actually skipping a lame musical rehearsal with her goody-goody sisters to explore a dangerous, shark-infested shipwreck** because she’s Indiana Jones in mermaid form? And then a shark eats the ship and she goes back for her bag?

But I’m pretty sure the friend is the same.

I’ll pause to note that this character introduction is awesome, and the movie is definitely setting me up for disappointment. But this isn’t a scene-by-scene recap, so…

Here are some things that make Ariel more awesome than other Disney princesses:

  1. Ariel is not a princess of some tiny, France-like country. Ariel is a princess of the entire ocean.
  2. Ariel is a mythological creature, and a magical one at that. None of the mermaids have gills–how are they breathing underwater? MAGIC. (Or intense Guybrush Threepwood-level breath-holding skills.)
  3. As mentioned above, Ariel is obviously a Manic Panic customer, one who is somehow able to dye her hair while living underwater.
  4. Ariel is a human geek, in the same way that many of us are Star Trek geeks or typography geeks or what have you. Remember how excited she is about the fork she finds in the abandoned ship? Only someone who truly loves a subject geeks out over minutiae like that.
  5. Ariel is a mermaid anthropologist and archaeologist with an enormous, SECRET underwater museum housing her collection of human cultural artifacts. I mean, I know she gets caught, but she still amasses a sizable collection before that happens. I like to think that, in an alternate timeline, Ariel connects with the mermaid anthropological community at large and lets people in if they present secret golden scallop tokens in their palms. Or maybe not a scallop. Maybe some sort of token that shows their sympathy with the human community above the oceans. Like a golden foot that doesn’t have the right number of toes because they aren’t quite straight on that yet.

Speaking of King Triton…

I think the audience is eventually supposed to decide that Triton’s not so bad because he loves his daughter and wants her to be happy. But this guy’s a bigoted asshole. When he finds his daughter’s museum of human cultural artifacts, he blasts that thing to smithereens because he thinks humans are barbarians.

He’s also an irresponsible monarch, putting an entire ecosystem in danger. He sacrifices himself so that Ariel doesn’t become a seaweed-thing, allowing Ursula control of his trident, and therefore, the entire ocean.

Do you think the sea witch cares about the salt marshes, one of the greatest oxygen producers on earth? She does not! Triton should be thinking of things like this.

Anyway, it’s unfair to group Ariel with the other Disney princesses, because she is SO much cooler. It was with some surprise that I found myself not only enjoying the movie, but starting to realize why my five-year-old self loved the character of Ariel so much: it’s not because she’s a princess and wears assorted dresses and finds true love***. It’s because she’s a spirited badass in the vein of Indiana Jones, and until she fell in love with the prince, I actually loved this character in the present day too.

But then the rest of the movie happens.

Yes, there is actually a Part Two, “The Little Passive Mermaid Lady: Why Ariel is Actually Terrible,” to be posted on June 28, 2019.


*The ocean is filled with crazy stuff, my friend.
**I now realize that the shipwreck is foreshadowing. Thanks, English Degree!
“You’re welcome, Kris! Can we chat about postmodernism later?”
***Or whatever you call it when you marry someone you’ve known for three days. Poor judgment.

More useful online typography tools

These web and typography tools have been useful to me of late:

Type-scale.com allows you generate proportionally-sized headings and body text created using a modular scale. Especially useful paired with fontjoy.com to quickly generate some type pairings, and then turn them into a usable hierarchy.

Poopy.life creates free, temporary WordPress installs to test the aforementioned type pairings in a live web environment. Since I’m voice typing, this originally came out as “live bat environment.” SO MUCH COOLER.

Trumpipsum.net generates Trump-flavored (ew, yikes) placeholder text, for use with the aforementioned type pairings in the live bat environment.

Because bats use their echolocation to find crunchy-tasty letterforms.

More on skipping dessert

No. I don’t want dessert (an open letter).

How to Politely Pass on Dessert

I found both of these articles after I wrote “Are you sure you don’t want any?” Both the author and commenters on “How to Politely Pass on Dessert” are apparently much more considerate than I am–I hadn’t been thinking of this situation as a difficult one, just an annoying one. I expect others to accept a no-frills “no, thank you” as an answer. Not only do I not owe anyone an explanation, I’ve learned that it’s worse to give one–people try to counter your reasons, which is annoying when you have more than one reason, or just want to pass on dessert without telling someone your entire life story, dessert preferences, and digestive health. The article does have some good tips for people who aren’t quite as socially obtuse and uncompromising as I am.

The open letter spoke to me a lot more. I ended up focusing my own piece on the social aspects of one particular question, but a lot of what he wrote echoes parts that I took out of mine. In short: I’m picky about food, and I’m just not going to bother eating something unhealthy if I don’t truly love it.

The joy of Fontjoy

https://fontjoy.com/

Fontjoy is my version of looking at cat pictures online. It uses a neural net to create font pairings.

Listening to… New Order

I’m obsessed with this version of “I Told You So,” and how bleak and inexorable it is.

It’s re-sparked my high school-era obsession with New Order, although without the fixation on minutiae like the fact that the version of “Sub-culture” on Low-life has a hyphen, while the one on Substance doesn’t.

Desky desk plant

Around this time of year, my partner always likes to show off the new plants in his garden on Facebook. Well, here is a desk plant that I have managed to keep alive for four months. I wish someone had told me earlier that you can just water plants when their soil gets dry, and not worry about twice per week or once a day or any other kind of schedule.