I was doing some filming at a queer cabaret in Cambridge the other day. Despite what I’ve said previously about such safe spaces feeling profoundly un-safe for socially-awkward little me, this particular evening was pretty damn awesome; we raised hundreds of pounds for an LGBTQ library in the city in honour of a recently deceased member of the community, and lots of people have demanded DVDs, so my filming may help them raise even more money. Get in!
Even better, I ended up having an exceptionally stimulating conversation with CN – a musician who also had a vast amount of knowledge concerning queer themes in folklore. In addition to providing me with a stonkingly good reading list (I’m planning on reading Kissing the Witch at the first possible opportunity), they revealed to me the apparently well-known fact that The Little Mermaid was written as a love letter by Hans Christian Anderson to his best friend Edvard Collin – the whole mermaid-WLTM-sexy-human-prince-thing is actually a metaphor for Anderson’s impossible, unreciprocated love for Collin. The original final passage – which expresses the Little Mermaid’s wish to be reunited with her prince in heaven – was a direct insertion of Anderson’s own sentiments.
This reminded me of something I hadn’t thought about in years – a blast from the past, if you will.
Disney is infamous for being terribly gay-phobic. Wanting to avoid pissing off the One-Million-Moms lobby in the U.S. (which is far smaller than a million, and mostly contains angry middle-aged men, rather than mothers), Disney has made all its films gay free. For all those who think that it’s “unsuitable” to include gay themes in something aimed at children – well, you’ll see.
When I first watched Disney’s version of The Little Mermaid, I must’ve been about four. We never had many videos when I was growing up, so I watched the spots off this one. Despite Disney’s policy of never venturing into Prince and Prince territory, The Little Mermaid, has a fair bit of gay stuff included. Ursula (the be-tentacled sea witch whose campy craft fascinated me so much at a tender age) was apparently modeled after the infamous drag-empress Divine. Triton’s parental disgust at Ariel’s desire to be human is familiar to many gay youth these days – whose parents are often at least upset by the revelation that their kids aren’t quite what they expected. However, something nobody else seems to have pointed out is a tiny detail from during Ursula’s song “Poor Unfortunate Souls.”
During this scene, Ursula conjures up a series of magical holograms to help tell her story. At one point, she reveals a thin, weedy-looking merman and a dumpy depressed-looking mermaid. Ursula sings:
…This one longing to be thinner
This one wants to get the girl…
At least, that’s what the words are meant to be. When I watched the film, I misheard what Ursula was singing (I had trouble with correctly identifying words in song when I was younger) as:
…This one longing to be thinner
This one wants to get them girl…
This, combined with the lack of visible a human midriff on the fat mermaid in the manner of her more svelte sisters, made me assume that the she was in actual fact a fat merman. I assumed that Ursula had transformed this dumpy bloke into a beautiful woman; that the two unfortunates were actually friends, transformed into lovers by the sea witch’s magic, in order to satisfy both of their deepest desires. I had no idea of queer themes – but I nonetheless arrived at them independently of any express guidance.
So regardless of Disney’s policy regarding queer themes in their creative product – queer kids will be watching regardless. Chaste romance – an integral part of the Disney vision – can involve partners of any gender; homoerotic pairings are no more (or less) intrinsically sexual than heteroerotic ones. And even if only heteroerotic themes are included, as my experience proves, kids will see what they will into what they watch.