Ariel wasn't a patriarchal shill of a character?

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Nech
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Ariel wasn't a patriarchal shill of a character?

Post by Nech » Sun Feb 5, 13:34 2017

So I was always under the impression that Ariel (from Disney's little Mermaid) was always a pretty shallow character. Gave up her life to follow a man (left her family, country, part of her body aka voice, etc.). From my anecdotal experience this was a pretty common thought through my feminist acquaintances/readings over the years. Then I came across/was shown this interpretation post, and to me at least it does seem to hold some validity. What is everyone else's thoughts? Is this viewpoint more trying to cover up for a childhood favourite of a patriarchal film, or does it actually hold some validity as an interpretation on a character and motivations?
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Re: Ariel wasn't a patriarchal shill of a character?

Post by antfancier » Sun Feb 5, 14:27 2017

The interpretation in that post is certainly the way I understood the film when I was a child. I'm not sure if I recall correctly, but doesn't she need to get Eric to fall in love with her so she can get her voice back? I mean, she likes him of course, but if she had her voice maybe she wouldn't have tried so hard? She only grew to love him because she spent time with him (and isn't that the basis of most princess movies? I'm thinking beauty & the beast, Aladdin...). Also, I always thought attempts to stop Ursula were more because she was an evil sea witch rather than that Ariel wanted Eric so bad for herself.

I could be biased though: I studied and worked in archaeology for a while and later I moved to the other side of the world for a guy (joint decision, mind you). Read into that what you will.

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Re: Ariel wasn't a patriarchal shill of a character?

Post by Aum » Sun Feb 5, 16:11 2017

Little Mermaid was one of my fav movies as a child so I won't bash it too much. I've given up my world to chase a man before, more than once. Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn't, and sometimes chasing something/someone you really want can transform your life for the better. I get that the motif of a woman single-pointedly going after prince charming is a bit problematic, but as someone who is a romantic at heart I really related to Ariel.

The Disney version is still better than than the original Christian Anderson version where she gets duped by the sea witch (Ursula) and then turns to sea foam tragically. In that version she doesn't break the spell in time, and the consequence is that she loses her life.
The artist's job is not to succumb to despair, but to find an antidote to the emptiness of existence. -W.A.

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Re: Ariel wasn't a patriarchal shill of a character?

Post by Unvoiced_Apollo » Sun Feb 5, 20:35 2017

I think there are some real issues storywise with regard to Ariel and it shouldn't be ignored.

That said, I do agree with the post on some level. She was an explorer who already had interest in humans. Part of Your World is about how she wanted the chance to be human so she could learn about them (the reprise is where she starts to think about getting with Eric). I love the date sequence in the movie because it shows how her passion & curiosity come out on land.

What should be noted is that Ariel was considered a breakout role from the norm & was praised for being more active than her predecessors. Of course, having so much time analyzing the film reveals all the issues that weren't realized at the time. So while I agree a bit with that post and don't think Ariel is exactly the "patriarchal shill of a character" so many see her has, I definitely recognize the negatives to her as well.

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Re: Ariel wasn't a patriarchal shill of a character?

Post by Nech » Mon Feb 6, 8:53 2017

Unvoiced_Apollo wrote:I think there are some real issues storywise with regard to Ariel and it shouldn't be ignored...I definitely recognize the negatives to her as well.
Got any examples? :D It has been at least a decade since I've seen the movie, and would like to hear from a film analysts point of view!
Where there's smoke, there's fire. Just because you can't see it doesn't mean it doesn't exist. So just shut up, and bring some water.

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Re: Ariel wasn't a patriarchal shill of a character?

Post by Unvoiced_Apollo » Mon Feb 6, 10:30 2017

Nech wrote:
Unvoiced_Apollo wrote:I think there are some real issues storywise with regard to Ariel and it shouldn't be ignored...I definitely recognize the negatives to her as well.
Got any examples? :D It has been at least a decade since I've seen the movie, and would like to hear from a film analysts point of view!
I'm not much of an analyst (I really meant other people analyzing & myself reading such things). Just aware of how back in the day The Little Mermaid was actually celebrated as fairly innovative for a Disney princess. They thought of her as more active but that was due to her being more out in the world compared to her predecessors. If one looks back, she is a still very much a passive character, reacting to her curcumstance rather than actively looking to change it. But because of her exploratory nature, her passive characteristics at the time were missed.

She goes from wanting to learn about humans to wanting to bone one simply because of how he looks. However, she never really takes initiative to make either happen. She only goes to Ursula because she is reacting to her father's actions. And when she's on land without voice, she still really learns nothing about Eric nor does he learn about her (and how could he?).

I have a tendency to compare her to Rapunzel. Both want to see a world they have never been a part of and neither have the experience to do so. The difference is, once Rapunzel's "prince" shows up, her goal doesn't change. She does take the initiative and extor...er...recruits him into helping her achieve her goal. The romance is at first secondary and a natural evolution within the story (as natural as a Disney romance can be anyhow). She and Flynn actually talk and converse. By the time the Kingdom Dance comes up, which I compare to the TLM date montage, there is an established connection and forshadowing to the romance.

So where TLM runs afoul is her switch from explorer to boy chaser. It's one of the same issues people have with Beauty & the Beast, in which Belle sings about wanting adventure than settles down with a prince before having any adventures beyond going to find her dad. There's also the issue in the movie where it doesn't effectively show Ariel learning her lesson. Simply a quick apology, but once again a reaction to everything going on rather than a true epiphany urging her to action.

So yes, a lot of negatives. But I think Ariel was an honest attempt at being a more active female character. The failings are more likely due to Disney returning to its traditition of adapting fairy tales, the majority of which the originals are not exactly progressive. What people forget is the 80's were a dark time for Disney animation in terns of feature films and they needed something big. The Little Mermaid was a return to their roots but they updated the princess enough to match the times and as a result the company had a huge Renaissance. As I said, I recognize the flaws but I think that has more to do with adsptation rather than patriarchal shilling.

On a bit of a tangent, I like how they have kept evolving the genre even today. The princesses are much more active and they've improved each time or provided an unexpected take on the genre. I think Moana is their near perfect modern take, which is interesting to see since it was directed by the same two who directed TLM.

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Re: Ariel wasn't a patriarchal shill of a character?

Post by Sonic# » Fri Feb 10, 14:36 2017

I'd draw a distinction between two questions:
1. Whether Ariel is a shallow character;
2. Whether and how the film balances romance with self-development.
For instance, I'd say Pride and Prejudice imagines the happiness of Elizabeth to lie in having a particular kind of companionate marriage for love - she needs a man for love and not just convenience. Yet that doesn't make Elizabeth a shallow character. She has many more interests and concerns going on than Mr. Darcy - the well-being of her sisters, her friend Charlotte, her father. She has plenty of curiosity and wit.

To 2, between antfancier and that post it sees like Ariel's anthropological interest is thoroughly circumscribed by her place in a Disney princess plot. Her interests seem designed to set up a chance encounter with Eric (from shipwrecks to, literally, a shipwreck-in-progress with Eric), and her desire to become human by the end is converted into becoming human with him and for him. Furthermore, the first personal conflict in the film, and the last to be resolved, is Triton's disapproval of Ariel's choice. He's always seemed to me like as much a villain as Ursula. He, too, conflates Ariel's interest in humans with her interest in Eric: he destroys her grotto of human items ("anthropological") because he learned she'd rescued Eric ("romantic").

I see a contradiction in how people talk about her, including in this thread. She's "exploratory" and seems to take the initiative in seeking out Ursula and in wandering near the surface; at the same time she's "reacting" to her father in visiting Ursula and "passive" otherwise. I think these contradictions show the range of interpreting her as a character: a lot of it depends on whether we assume she's a rich character who can be both anthropological and infatuated at the same time, or whether we assume she's a captive character dragged into a rom-com plot. I tend to think the former; she's clearly interested in Eric, but I don't see this as evidence that she's lost her anthropological interest. She can do both at once, and for that alone I wouldn't call her shallow.

For my part, I think it's vitally important that she is infatuated with him first. This seems to reverse the male-gaze issues typical with many other princesses, where princesses first become the objects of affection for princes who see them. Ariel sees Eric even before it becomes necessary to rescue him. And she does so out of a clear choice on her part: she seems delighted with the sailors dancing, and with the dog dancing too, but the scene focuses longer on she seeing Eric afterward, with at least three cutaways between her eyes and him.

(Aside: whatever else the merits or demerits of this video, even the artist makes Ariel see Eric first)

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