Till Human Voices Wake Us

Portion of “Mermaid” by Edvard Munch (1896) @ Philadelphia Museum of Art

If you’re ever looking to pass the time with a super nerdy debate — and the old standards of politics, sex, and religion just aren’t doing it for you — I highly recommend bringing up The Little Mermaid.

This coming from a girl who absolutely loved the movie when it came out. I used to watch it on repeat in the basement with my first high school boyfriend, so we could sing along and snuggle then sing along some more.

And yes, “Kiss the Girl” was our song.

“Under the Sea” also held a special place in our hearts, and we would crank up the soundtrack in my car so we could sha la la la la la at the top of our lungs and blend in perfectly with Sebastian’s backup singers, and one evening while taking a twisted turn through a multiple merge exit ramp to get from one highway to the next I sha la la la la la’d myself right into a guardrail.

To this day, whenever I hear that song, I mentally change the lyrics to “Under the – WOAH!!”

But I digress.

Fast forward a few years. It’s been awhile since I’ve seen the movie, but I’ve gone through my fair share of women’s studies and sexology and even done some rape counseling. In short, my sexual politics eyes are opened like never before, and I start to notice the problems with fairy tales.

Then, eventually, I rewatch The Little Mermaid.

My first reaction: oof.

Then, ack!

And finally, ugh.

What I once saw as a noble tale of the magic, power, and beauty of true love — now it was as though the curtain had been pulled back on yet another message to young girls to sacrifice for love. Suffer for love. Give away what makes us essentially us because that pales in comparison to what we can get from getting the boy to fall in love with us – that is the true “treasure” to seek.

Yet there is something there, isn’t there — this martyrdom, all of that pain (and there’s way more pain in the original fairy tale, so do read it with caution), her unrelenting desire to experience everything the world has to offer, the dramatic extremes of loving, losing, and choosing. Something inside of us can’t help but eat it all up and lick the plate.

Maybe that’s part of why I was so excited to discover “Mermaid” by the same guy who painted “The Scream”, hanging high above one of the doorways at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. A painter well known for his solitude, sorrow, and questionable sanity. (Or perhaps not questionable at all, since he inscribed “Could only have been painted by a madman” in the clouds of his famous work.) A man who was part of an artistic movement, Symbolism, that aimed to elicit emotional responses from the viewer (the more conflicted the better).

Or perhaps it was simply the fact that it’s a massive, large-scale, trapezoidal depiction of a naked mermaid in the middle of transitioning into human form, made the focal point of that particular gallery by positioning it directly above a gigantic doorway (having been originally commissioned for exactly that purpose by Axel Heiberg, a Norwegian industrialist).

And maybe The Little Mermaid isn’t a terrible, awful, no good, very bad story that oppresses womankind and distorts all that love can be. Perhaps there is truth in its metaphors and insight into human condition through its brutal telling of the inhuman.

Most likely, it’s all of the above, and then some.

Shot on Pixel 6 Pro.

2 thoughts on “Till Human Voices Wake Us

  1. I saw the Little Mermaid statue when I was in Copenhagen back in ’71. So that’s what you were listening to when you hit that guardrail!

    Get Outlook for iOS ________________________________

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: