The Little Mermaid Problem - Dominant Society and Disability

In the Little Mermaid, a fairy tale popularized by Hans Christian Anderson and later Disney-fied, princess Ariel falls in love with a prince Eric who survives a shipwreck.  It is a twist from Greek mermaids who would lure sailors to the rocks, or not.  Ariel trades her voice to a sea witch, Ursula in exchange for legs so she can be with Prince Eric. When Ariel and Eric reunite, they cannot communicate as Ariel traded away her voice.  To foil the plot, the sea witch returns using Ariel’s voice seduces Eric.  Eric falls in love with Ursula.

In the original, to regain her voice Ariel must kill Eric.  Ariel dies alone on a rock watching Ursula and Eric sail away in their wedding ship. 

In the Disney movie a fight between Ariel and Ursula breaks an amulet breaks restoring Ariel’s voice.  She and Eric live happily ever, on land.  He accepts her family and is delighted to be marrying a mermaid who has legs. 

In neither story does Prince Eric figure out how to communicate with Ariel.  She’s trying but her efforts are too chaotic for him to understand.  He writes her off as an oddity collected on a voyage.  When speaking Ursula appears, he is quick to move on.  

Society puts the onus on the one with the difference to adapt to an able-bodied world. Your body is the strongest political statement you make, and you make every day, whether or not you want to.  The body is political.  The diversity of bodies is too diverse and chaotic to standardize, yet we do. 

The diversity of intelligence is vast.  Standardization and reductionism place humans as special and the pinnacle of evolutionary success.  Science tells us humans are the most advanced living animal.  The apex predator, top of the food chain.  All other species were viewed as unthinking beings whose behaviours are driven by instinct.  Only humans were capable of thought and emotion because of our special Broca and Wernicke’s areas and highly developed frontal cortex.  With that animal behaviorism studies are excluded from psychology.

The same thing happened between medicine and veterinary studies.  That is quickly changing with advances in virology.  Turns out that viruses can jump from species to species.  An idea that had been rejected for years by human sciences.  It is better to conjecture, MS is caused by sunshine exposure, than accept that humans are species.  MS is a variant of canine distemper.  In Canada, we continue to fund sunshine research. Germany is developing a vaccine against MS.

Science and society are Eric. Expecting the other to conform to their mindset.  A standard model of typical ways of moving, perceiving, and making sense of the world.  Most of it is based on hypothesis, like viruses are species specific.   It bothers science to admit that humans are word-based apes.  Birds sing, dogs bark, lions roar, and humans speak.  Eric cannot imagine what it is to be other than himself.  Society and power reinforce his normalcy.  Therefore, the problem is Ariel’s.  She is a broken speaking ape.   

In the Little Mermaid, Eric is not the main character, yet he holds the greatest power. As the male ruler he is the epitome of maleness and normalcy.  Eric choses to dispose of the voiceless Ariel rather than letting curiosity and compassion to build a common ground where communication can occur.  Ariel must change for him in order to be accepted. Twice in Walt Disney’s world. 

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