The Little Mermaid: Behavioral Modification Therapy

This week, we have been charged to take two to three critical actions in our story and make modifications to them. I have identified three main scenarios in Ariel’s storyline:

  1. Her office life, or the scene-setting portion of the plot,
  2. The show with her bandmates, or the central point of conflict and
  3. The “happily ever after”scenario which, in this case, is Ariel’s non-traditional decision to focus on her career.

Scene 1: Office Life

Present day. Ariel is a mid-level executive at an NGO that works in environmental preservation and is particularly concerned with preserving the world’s oceans. She has a crush on one of the dudes that works at a bank across the street. None of Ariel’s friends understand why the hell she’s so smitten with a brodouche. Ariel’s dad doesn’t get the obsession either.

Ariel has a colleague at the NGO who has been bypassed for promotions year after year, even though she has deserved them. She is shaken by the openness of fourth wave feminists, and confused by their many contradictions. She is particularly confused by Ariel who appears to have a very nice life, and wants to compromise her ideologies for the sake of finding a man. Who needs a man that wants you to change? That’s not the right man.

Scene 2: The Show

Ariel is the singer of a band. After E misses one of Ariel’s performances that she really, really wanted him to go to, she cries herself hoarse. At the office the next week, Ursula, the colleague, offers some unsolicited but sound advice: Focus on your career. Be yourself. You will be fine.

Scene 3: Happily Ever After

Ariel introduces Ursula to her ornery widowed father. They get married. Ariel finally has the strong female role model she needs. Ariel ignores E. and saves the world’s oceans. It’s the right choice.

The Little Mermaid & Its Familiar Sidekicks

As we continue to develop our modernized fairytales, we begin to focus on the characters themselves and the forms they will take within the world we begin to create for them. For the purpose of this week’s assignment, I chose to focus on one of V.Propp’s favorite tropes that he identifies in Morphology of a Folktale, Functions Of Dramatis Personae: the sidekicks.

As a reminder from last week’s plot summary:

  • Comic relief -Ariel has a stylist, a hairdresser and a colorist who provide her council. They love her, but they are all a bit irritated by Ariel’s persistent denseness.
  • Plot -Ariel goes on a series of dates with E from the bank. Her hairdresser, stylist and colorist provide her with opposing counsel on each occasion, all suggesting that she adjust some aspect of her personality in order to better please E, who seems to never really take interest in Ariel. After he misses one of her performances that she really, really wanted him to go to, she cries herself hoarse. At the office the next week, Ursula, the second wave colleague, offers some unsolicited but sound advice: Focus on your career. Be yourself. You will be fine. Ariel introduces Ursula to her ornery widowed father. They get married. Ariel finally has the strong female role model she needs. Ariel ignores E. and saves the worlds oceans. It’s the right choice.
Scuttle T. Seagal is Ariel’s colorist. He’s responsible for keeping her hair that perfect shade of red without it becoming brassy. Scuttle is the least exacting of the sidekicks, given his wisdom and general optimism despite having had a difficult life (something he only alludes to in passing).
Sebastian Crabb is Ariel’s hairdresser. He’s quite cocky and sometimes cruel, but he is redeemed by the genuine insights he offers  Ariel whenever she is faced with a problem.
Flo Nder is Ariel’s stylist. He’s a bit quiet and sheepish, but is unquestionably the most loyal of Ariel’s posse.

Part Of Our World: Cinderella/Cendrillion/Aschenputtel/Cenerentola And Other Familiar Faces From Stories We Know And Love

Exercise: Meditate on the importance of Fairy Tales, their cultural significance, and why they’ve been around so long, with particular focus on Cinderella. Select a version of Cinderella and note its differences or similarities to the version with which we are acquainted. What themes correlate and what are different? Why was this version chosen? Finally, create a version of a Fairy Tale of my choice. Make significant changes in time, location and characters. 

Raisel’s Riddle

I chose the Polish Version of Cinderella, also known as Raisel’s Riddle.

Raise ain’t no dummy -and she doesn’t want to be wed to one, either.

Via: Set in a Polish village, Raisel’s Riddle is a Jewish retelling that focuses on a smart, motivated heroine and a hero (the rabbi’s son) who is drawn to wisdom and virtue. 

Raised by her poor but wise grandfather, Raisel grows up a strong, independent girl. After his passing, she finds work in the kitchen of a rabbi. On Purim, she gains three wishes and, after using them wisely, catches the eye of the rabbi’s son. Unlike the classic Cinderella character, Raisel agrees to marry him only if he can answer her clever, thought-provoking riddle. 

Similarities to Cinderella

On the most basic level, the motivation for the plot remains the same. The ultimate goal of our heroine is to gain love. She is orphaned, and a set of unfortunate circumstances befall her. She is guided by the morals instilled upon her by now-deceased relatives; she is rewarded for her virtue by ultimately achieving that goal.

Differences

What drew me to this particular version of Cinderella is that the heroine is given agency of her decision -she is the one holding the keys to the kingdom, in a sense. The second, and most attractive part of this story to me is that Raisel is valued for being intelligent -and she seeks this intelligence in others.

It is not often that we see heroes, in particular female heroes, being rewarded for their intelligence. In fact, it is often quite the opposite. Female Fairy Tale protagonists are often praised for many things -their beauty, their kindness, their ‘gentle souls’, but it is often the clever female that gets demonized. Fairy Tale women are ‘better’ -let’s face it- when they’re just a little bit dumb. They are punished as witches when they are clever.

Raisel is not punished for her intelligence but rewarded. It is a much needed update to a centuries-old tale.

Part Of My World

The principles that attracted me to Raisel’s Riddle are the same that I hoped to emulate when concocting an updated version of The Little Mermaid.

In the best known (or at least Western) version of the tale, Ariel, a young, beautiful, headstrong but kinda dumb mermaid princess falls in love with a handsome, brave, kinda dumb human prince named Eric. In order to find Eric, Ariel literally agrees to undergo what sounds like the most painful whole-body conversion one could experience, all to win over her Man That Can’t Swim. And to pay Ursula, our wicked sorceress (who frankly is just a woman who’s been burned by the system one too many times) for this “kindness” Ariel gives up her “best feature”, her beautiful sing-song voice.

Ariel -young, beautiful, headstrong and kinda dumb.

Challenges aside, our heroine is determined to achieve the ultimate gift -gettin’ Prince Gobldywhosit to fall in love with her by sunset on the third day of their acquaintance which -goals. If she does they can play snarflats and dinglehoppers forever on a boat with a crazy French personal chef.

All French chefs are like this.

Now, there are some proto-feminist undercurrents (hee hee) in the most recent Disney version of The Little Mermaid. Ariel saves Eric when his ship capsizes during a storm. She sings him awake which is also pretty fly. And when she turns back into a mermaid (which -again- why would you ever want to turn OUT of a mermaid) she saves him again because she’s a better swimmer. (All this after he ditches her for evil Vanessa/Ursula the sea witch who is clearly the worst but is very pretty). But ULTIMATELY Ariel still chooses to become a human lady in order to be with Prince Brickbrain happily ever after -god forbid HE change for HER, youknowwhatimean? AND the person that grants Ariel the ability -and lets even say permission, to become a human lady once more? Her father. UGH.

The Little Mermaid, Reimagined

Because this version is so…much, I found myself wanting to satirize the shit out of it in my revision. And what better way to satirize a Fairy Tale than to convert it into a RomCom, the tropiest of tropes. Below, character descriptions and basic setting details.

  • Setting -Present day. Ariel is a mid-level executive at an NGO that works in environmental preservation and is particularly concerned with preserving the world’s oceans. She is distracted from the pressing issues of her career, because BOYS! She just loves boys. She’s also a member of a band and sings on the weekends.
  • Conflict -Ariel has a crush on one of the dudes that works at a bank across the street. Ideologically this poses some conflict.
  • Posse -None of Ariel’s friends -especially her bandmates- understand why the hell she’s so obsessed with a brodouche who is seems to be less than concerned about the negative implications his job/livelihood have on the world. They also suspect he’s a Trump supporter.
  • Father figure -Ariel’s dad is a republican of an older generation. He doesn’t get Ariel’s obsession with this guy either. Ariel’s dad inexplicably has an influence over his daughter’s actions.
  • Female antagonist -Ariel has a colleague at the NGO who has been bypassed for promotions year after year, even though she has deserved them. She is shaken by the openness of fourth wave feminists, and confused by their many contradictions. She is particularly confused by Ariel who appears to have a very nice life, and wants to compromise her ideologies for the sake of finding a man. Who needs a man that wants you to change? That’s not the right man.
  • Comic relief -Ariel has a stylist, a hairdresser and a colorist who provide her council. They love her, but they are all a bit irritated by Ariel’s persistent denseness.
  • Plot -Ariel goes on a series of dates with E from the bank. Her hairdresser, stylist and colorist provide her with opposing counsel on each occasion, all suggesting that she adjust some aspect of her personality in order to better please E, who seems to never really take interest in Ariel. After he misses one of her performances that she really, really wanted him to go to, she cries herself hoarse. At the office the next week, Ursula, the second wave colleague, offers some unsolicited but sound advice: Focus on your career. Be yourself. You will be fine. Ariel introduces Ursula to her ornery widowed father. They get married. Ariel finally has the strong female role model she needs. Ariel ignores E. and saves the worlds oceans. It’s the right choice.

Source materials:

      • Bruno Bettelheim “The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales” Introduction
      • Jack Zipes “Why Fairy Tales Stick: The Evolution and Relevance of a Genre: Chapter 2: The Evolution and Dissemination of the Classical Fairy Tale and 3: Once Upon a Time – The Relevance of Fairy Tales
      • “Cinderella” from “Transformations” by Anne Sexton
      • “The Stepsisters” from “Lies, Knives and Girls in Red Dresses” by Ron Curettage