So, I read something interesting the other day that kinda hit me. Take a look:
My … problem with the Disney version of [The Little Mermaid] isn’t that Ariel doesn’t die, or that walking isn’t incredibly painful for her, or anything like that. It’s that it’s that Ariel is set up as being immature and rash, but then gets her happy ending entirely on the sacrifices of others. If she’d been presented with the same choice she was presented with in Anderson’s story, and when she refused to kill the prince she got legs for real and lived happily ever after, that would be fine with me.
But she never commits a selfless act like the mermaid in the original story. Triton sacrifices himself to save her, and then Eric makes what looks like a suicide run to kill Ursula. Even though the whole plot is set into motion by Ariel’s stupid actions, she doesn’t have to learn shit, and she gets a happy ending anyway.
I don’t think the original TLM is much of a cautionary tale (moral: “Don’t sell your soul to the devil,” I guess?), but the message the movie imparts is, “Do whatever you want, and if you fuck up, your loved ones will bend over backwards to fix it without you having to do anything.” That’s my problem with the movie. I just want Ariel to have to take responsibility for her actions.
I thought about this for a while, and I found it to be, at least in part, true. I’ve noticed that the movie does send a bad message if you parse it out: a girl who has just turned sixteen falls terribly in love with a man she’s never met, defies her father (who does indeed have good reasons to distrust the surface dwellers), makes a deal with an undeniably evil witch, all to go and be with this man she’s never met and make sure they fall in love in three days. If a sixteen-year-old did that today in real life, she’d at best end up on “Sixteen and Pregnant.”
Think about this: She gives up her very identity to chase after this man. She gives up her species, she gives up her way of life and her family (and presumably the bulk of her friends, though a few do follow her), she gives up one part of herself that she greatly prized (her voice), and what does she get? Three days to be with a man she’s never met. This is not a message we want to send to our little girls!
And then I thought of another protagonist who doesn’t protag all that much. Maybe you’re familiar with Bella? You know, in this little-read series that starts out with Twilight? Yeah. Her.
Replace Ariel in the rant I’ve quoted above with Bella. Are there many changes? Sure, the situational stuff – there’s no Ursula in Twilight. Now, I’ve read the first book (don’t judge me!). I have no interest in reading the rest, so I’m judging just the first volume. And what does Bella do in that book?
Yeah. I’m stumped.
And what’s the moral? Don’t be creeped out when a boy watches you sleep? If you love someone, there is nothing else? Rainy places make for stupid people? Or is it something similar to the rant above: “Do whatever you want, and if you fuck up, your loved ones will bend over backwards to fix it without you having to do anything”? I don’t know if I give Bella even that much initiative, but she does seem to get rescued an awful lot.
So, what’s the point of all this?
I guess I just look around at my generation and the generation a little younger than me. Maybe it’s that critical eye of someone who “isn’t a stupid teenager anymore,” but that moral sure seems to have sunk into this generation’s brains. I see it in the girls that I council in my day job as a pastor. They went out, got pregnant, and all three of the most recent girls literally shouted at their mothers, “You’re supposed to take care of my baby!” Isn’t that thinking demonstrating the moral in action? Do whatever you want, and your loved ones will fix it for you. Sorry, girls, you sinned, and now one of the consequences of that sin is that you have to either deal with the child yourself or choose to put him or her up for adoption. Yes, you are fully forgiven. That doesn’t mean the consequence goes away.
And I see this moral in what our generation has absorbed, from a fairly innocent Disney movie to a much-maligned teen supernatural romance.
And then I look at two of the books I most recently read, a duology whose main character is seriously messed up. Does the moral fit that story? Well, it certainly matches the main character at the beginning of both volumes, but by the end… she takes an active role in the tale and tries to make it better. She comes to the rescue both times. She is the one who fixes the problems. And isn’t that a better moral?
I think about Rapunzel in Tangled. It’s true that Flynn ends up saving the day, but Rapunzel is willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for him, and attempts to do so. That’s not “someone else will fix it.” That’s “I will do what it takes to serve my loved ones.” Go to Harry Potter. Harry’s willing to sacrifice himself for his friends – and his friends stand with him. Even (gasp!) Hermione.
This is a little rambling, and I apologize. It’s just that the original quote caught my eye and started me thinking. What other movies and popular entertainment espouse that moral, even if it’s hidden? Any thoughts? What are some good ways to combat that moral? Again, any thoughts?
Or am I just randomly musing and none of this means anything anyway?