Bad Role Model In Disney
Is The Little Mermaid a Bad Role Model?
Singing Caribbean crabs named Sebastian, a fish named Flounder as a best friend, and most important, a little princess mermaid called Ariel, these are the images that come to the mind of the millions of people who have enjoyed Disney’s movie entitled The Little Mermaid. I myself have watched this movie with delightful glee repetitively as a child. Again and again the tape of the little mermaid has played until the VCR complained loudly from the abuse, as the video has and continues to do so with an uncountable amount of children across the world. Warm and fuzzy feelings are all that most people now associate with this movie. So when Susan White asserts that Disney’s version of Hans Christian Anderson’s story The Little Mermaid actually perpetuates a negative stereotype of a woman to its viewers she must make a quite an argument to convince any loving fan.
In the article Split Skins, Female Agency and Bodily Mutilation in The Little Mermaid Susan White doesn’t just make the claim that Disney’s The Little Mermaid stereotypes women negatively, she actually assumes the reader knows this (although throughout her article she goes to prove this point also). Her mission of her article is to explain "...just what the female spectator may get out of stories that, like Disney’s The Little Mermaid, seems in part designed to reinforce negative stereotype about women and girls."(White, 317). What is good about her thesis is that it was clear and concise and she stated it twice, making her argument clear to her audience and also giving a clue as to who her audience is supposed to be.
The author assumes her audience to be a well-educated one based upon her scholarly tone and the high class of her words. She also expects them to have knowledge of the western cultural standards; particularly about women, politics, and psychology. Her audiences’ background in basic psychology is important because the proof of her argument is based mostly on psychological theories such as Freud’s psychoanalysis, structuralism and semiotics. Since the content of the texts is about the viewing of women in a cartoon move the article also appeals to women’s rights activists, students (college level and up), and other film critics. Because the article was published in 1993 in and anthology of film criticism called Film Theory Goes to the Movies, many of the original audience probably were readers interested in film.
The author is a professor of English whose primary research is in film criticism. So her knowledge does happen to lie in the field she is writing about. But film criticism is just personal opinions from people who have seen a lot of cinematography. So the authors’ credibility for this article must come from more than just her education background in order for her argument to sway the reader, it must rely on pathos and logos.
In order to draw the reader in to her article she creates a startling and intriguing title by using the words "Bodily Mutilation" and the little mermaid in the same line. This sparks the readers’ curiosity for a closer look. She then starts the text by quoting lines from Aristotle and from the original Hans Christian Anderson story of The Little Mermaid, both are very demeaning toward women, which sparks the readers emotion of anger and more curiosity. Then, in the authors introductory paragraphs, she writes "The critical methodology derives from many sources, including Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis...along with semiotics (the study of sign systems), structuralism and Marxism, psychoanalysis is an invaluable aid in understanding just what a film may be "working through"..."(White, 317), giving very good background into which logical research sources she uses to form her conclusions and briefly tells the reader her use of logos in the text.
Her layout of the text, the way she orders her text, is well thought out in its logic. After her introduction in which she explains her methodology and states her thesis twice in different ways, the author then goes back in the past to the origination of the mythology of the mermaid. She explains the symbolism of the mermaid and shows how the symbols has changed from the beginning to the present, "The Homeric Siren, whose enchanting voice led men to their watery graves..."(White,318). Through Susan’s depictions of mermaid history that starts off with a siren it explains how the mermaid has always been thought of as a sex object.
From the mythology the author then floats into the history of the mermaids cinematography. Susan cites film from the first mermaid on film all the way the movie The Little Mermaid, to build on their symbolism. This also is all leading to her argument and shows the extensive research she has put into this subject, another plus for her logic. Furthermore in her examining of other mermaid on film Susan White actually performs mini Psychoanalysis’s of these movies to show how their symbolism in film is of venerability and of painful growth that women go through in puberty. In fact, the authors’ research in film has gone sot far that she includes a music video Madonna made called "Cherish" and plays, both featuring mermaids.
In the heart of Susan’s essay is when she starts to get into the actual story of the little mermaid. She starts by compare/contrasting the Hans Christian Anderson story with the Disney version. The author summarizes the two stories starting the Anderson version, which is logical since it came first. Then Susan delves into the Disney version, and it is at this point where here passionate dislike of the Disney version begins to shine through, along with her use of pathos persuasion techniques. Where previously in the text she has and analytical and objective tone which backed up her logical appeal, suddenly it seems she lashes out full of emotion. With a feminist bias she practically rages against Disney’s version of the story stating, "The films depiction of the little mermaid as little more that a happy housewife in the making"(White, 320). But when thinking about whom her readers are this makes sense. The author is now trying to gain the approval through pathos of the passionate women’s rights activists in her audience, and since film students and regular students tend to be more liberal than most readers it works for them too. Likewise, placing the more passionate parts of the appeal in the middle of the text instead of at the beginning she does not immediately scare off the more conservative of her readers.
After the author compare/contrast section of her article she brings her essay down to analyzing Disneys version of The Little Mermaid in full. She goes on to compare it to research done on western society and other western films that are not mermaid based but are image orientated. This again shows how well Susan is studied on the subject herself. However, this section is also loaded with emotional appeal and thus has logical fallacies in it. One of these fallacies was using loaded language designed to evoke negative feelings against Disneys The Little Mermaid. Susan purposefully chooses to call the mermaids father " violently jealous" (White, 320). I have seen this movie myself many time and never once thought of the father as "violently jealous". What the author is referring to it the father over-protectiveness of his youngest daughter, who states in the move that he does not want his daughter caught in some "fish-eaters hook". He of course is referring to humans who eat fish and since mermaids are half fish I believe he is justifiably concerned. Susan also used the Ad populum fallacy quite a few times throughout her test, writing phrases such as " Critics are right to be dismayed..."(White, 321), this uses the ‘everybody thinks as I think’ approach without stating who everybody is. Although this ad populum fallacy causes her to lose some credibility logically, I believe she does more than make up for it through all the extensive research she has shown the reader she has performed. She has cited tons of sources throughout her text and also in the end of her article she ha bibliography fifty-four books and articles long. When looking further at the bibliography it is realized that this does not include the extensive number of films she cites along the way.
As Susan Whites’ text draws to a close she has analyzed the story of The Little Mermaid inside and out. The author now gives her two thesis’s in the beginning two answers toward the end, both similar, clear, and concise. Her conclusion is that although the Disney story shows negative stereotype towards women it also shows a prolonged period of a girls life where they are allowed to explore the infinite options they have in life before they have to conform to what they have chosen. A simple answer which took fifty-four articles and texts, an untold amount of movie watching, and hours upon hours of psychoanalysis to come to.
Susan Whites analysis of Disneys The Little Mermaid is more than thorough and complete, it is researched so well it is almost to the point of obsession. She makes not only logical good points, but passionately argues her case of unfair stereotyping of women to her audience. Although I may not agree with all of her points, my counter argument would just be one persons mar opinion against her arsenal of history, books, film, and psychologists.