09 January 2008

... And That is Why I Have Issues with Ariel

** Scrolling through my unposted blog entries today, I found this. I wrote this over the summer, in the context of a SoulPerSuit study we were doing on the book of Esther. Charity and I had also been briefly discussing The Little Mermaid. (I used to love that movie. My father disagrees with my opinions about the flick to this day, so decide for yourself if it's a movie with an agenda.) The following is my own reflection on what stirred in my heart as a teen.**

Esther, Erin, and Ariel. Three teenage girls.

Like most teens, they want to be accepted. They want happiness. They want a certain amount of independence, a certain amount of adulthood., a certain amount of credence. Like most teens, they sometimes make choices that are less-than-wise.
Some might even call these choices "foolish."

Esther, a teenager living in 470-something BC, is an orphan raised by her cousin, Mordecai. She is subject to his authority, living in his household, eating his food, benefiting from his protection and provision. Esther honors Mordecai. She listens to his words, she follows his advice, she honors his father-ship in her life. She obeys him.

Now, Mordecai surely makes faulty decisions. Sometimes his advice is lacking. Sometimes he doesn't listen well and sometimes he speaks a little harshly. His human eyes can't see the end game. His human mind can't completely grasp the wisdom of Yahweh. But he loves his adopted daughter and every word of wisdom he issues in her direction comes from that heart of love.

Ariel is a teenager growing up on the bottom of the sea. She's a mermaid. The daughter of the king. Ariel is the youngest of many sisters. (7, 10, 12? I forget. Let's just say there are a lot.) But all her older sisters are... well... old. And boring. And they always obey King Triton. The goody-goodies. Did I mention that they were boring?
Ariel is adventurous. She wants more than a boring existence as a princess. She wants to be where the people are, wants to see them dancing and walking around on those "feet-things." Wants to know about fire and why it burns. Isn't that noble?

Triton loves his daughter. He wants to see her grow and blossom into the mermaid she is meant to be. He wants to provide for her, to protect her from the dangers of the world, which includes the dangers of entanglement with humans. He may be a little gruff, may hand down a few too many ultimatums, might lack a few listening skills, but his words issued in Ariel's direction come from a heart of love.

Ariel is independent though. She is open-minded and free-thinking. And she is "in love". (Which makes all the difference in the world when you're deciding whether or not to obey your parents, don't you agree?) Since Triton just doesn't understand her, he is obviously not worthy of the honor of obedience. So Ariel chooses to do her own thing. Because only she can know what's best for her.

Erin is growing up in a Christian home filled with love, discipleship and laughter. The eldest daughter in a family of six, she is the first to cross the threshold of many of life's doorways. Her parents are feeling their way through the teenage years right alongside her. (Having no previous experience, what else can they do?) But they temper this feeling-their-way-in-the-dark parenting with Biblical principles and with loving authority. Yes, they make faulty decisions. They sometimes decree unilateral family rules out of convenience rather than individualized discipline. They'll even admit that sometimes they parent with a desire for their own comfort rather than a desire to be conformed to the image of Christ. They are flawed parents. But they love their daughter and every word of wisdom that issues from them in her direction comes from their hearts of love.

Erin knows this. But sometimes she doesn't feel like obeying. And sometimes she doesn't feel like honoring. So she just doesn't.

You see, Erin is a Christian teenager with flimsy convictions. She values her independence. She thinks she knows what is best for her. Her parents don't. God doesn't. (Well, ok, in theory God knows what's best, but seriously, what's the big deal with a little divergence from the plan every now and then?) Erin can handle herself. She is wise beyond her years, she is slightly smug and slightly arrogant. But you'd never know it to look at her. In fact, she doesn't really even know this about herself either.

Until she becomes a mother.
I see my teenage years from a whole new perspective now.
I watch the Little Mermaid through the eyes of a loving parent who wants the best for her three daughters.
I read the story of Esther in a different light.
Now that I've become a mother.

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Blogger Christianne said...

Mmmm, Erin. I didn't see that twist coming. Perhaps I should have, but I didn't.

I know that King Triton did what he did out of love for Ariel, but didn't the movie also give the impression that he was just dang scared of something different entering into the picture? Scared of what he didn't know? Can't fault him, really, for that . . . but still. My free-thinking, open side would be so frustrated with this.

6:36 PM  
Blogger Erin said...

I agree with you, Christianne. Triton was scared of the unknown. Of "THEM".

It colored most of his role in the movie and makes us more sympathetic to Ariel. We root for who we're supposed to be rooting for- Ariel and her one true love. (And it always gets me that this "one true love", Prince Eric, doesn't even know Ariel exists when she chooses to give it all up for him!
I point out the faulty logic on that one to my kids. (Which is my duty as their mother.)

Triton's role offers two (maybe more) equally valid interpretations:
- a character so close-minded he is not willing to see that something human might actually be good and kind. Human means different, but not necessarily bad.
(This is the primary way I viewed his character as a teen. I still see it and appreciate that the guy needs to chill a little bit in the "humans are evil" department.)
- a character who's limited experience in an area of life (humans) has given him enough evidence to determine that it's not something with which he wants his young daughter getting entangled. (This is what bubbles to the surface when I see the movie now that I'm the parent. I recall how prone I was to choosing my own path, regardless of the concern of my parents. I see how prone my own children are to the same thing.)

The closest analogy I can think of off the top of my head (so pummel me if you must) is hanging around at a strip club. Sure, there are nice people there. People that might become genuine friends. Might be that they even serve good food too. But does it mean that it's a good place to be? *Is there somewhere better to be, perhaps?)

Now that I'm a parent, I know I do a lot of parenting out of my consternation over the unknown. But I'm not convinced this necessarily makes me close-minded or boorish. I think I know enough about a strip club to know that I wouldn't want my kid hanging around one. (Ok, ok, pummel me and then offer me a better illustration!)

In my own case, as a teenager, many times I considered my parents to be close-minded and boorish simply because I didn't like what they were saying; what they were asking or requiring of me. It felt limited and stifling. They wanted me to do something I didn't want to do. Or asked me to stop doing something I really thought was awesome.

My free-thinking, open side would be so frustrated with this. Me too. I still am. Ariel obviously was. Is there something else she could have done to engage her dad on this issue other than disobey him? I wonder what Esther would have done?
What could Triton have done differently as he interacted with Ariel? What would Mordecai have done?

10:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, I had never really thought about The Little Mermaid from a parent's perspective (having all boys does that to you; we watch more Star Wars than Disney) It is amazing how as teenagers my husband and I were both considered "mature" and "good kids" but looking back, we were silly, immature and a little on the wild side.
I think sometimes looking back at how we viewed things (like Triton being SOO overprotective) and the way we feel differently about it now (why would Ariel be so willing to leave her family?) is helpful for our own parenting. If we forget what it is like to be the one wanting to set out an adventure we might put up road blocks that end up seperating us from our children's affection. Your blogs are very inspiring to me Keep up the good work!!!

11:18 PM  
Blogger Erin said...

Hi Anonymous. Thanks so much for joining in my conversation. I can hardly believe that I'm spending so much time analyzing a cartoon movie!

Your words on being mindful of the adventurousness of youth are quite appropriate. And such a good reminder for me as I can be a real wet blanket sometimes. Stifling my kids is not what I'm setting out to do. Protect and provide for them, yes. Stifle, no.

I remember my dad driving me to spend the weekend visiting my "one true love" while he was at college once. At the time, I assumed Dad was just trying to grab a little time with his teenager before she flew the coop. Now I'm a little wiser about the ways of the world and can see how my Dad came along to encourage me in my adventures in young love, but also to undergird and oversee me with his presence. A good balance. Thanks Dad.

Oh, and my "one true love" and I broke up eventually. ... Funny, the twists and turns on life's road.

11:46 PM  
Blogger Abby said...

Only if your "one true love" slays the evil octopus witch to rescue you can you be secure in such "love". In your case, Dad did a good job of reflecting the same protection God was showing you in your relationship with your "one true love".

And maybe if the movie had come out when you were younger and it had actually influenced your developmental attitude toward your parents Dad would feel differently about it. I was young enough when it came out, but I apparently missed the boat on the "teenage rebellion" thing and the "love conquers all" thing and was totally sucked into the "a-a-AAAA, a-a-AAAA, a-a-AAAA-a-a-a-a-AAA-a-a-AAAAAAAAA" thing and learning how to swim like a mermaid.

I think I relate more to Cinderella's relationship with her family. (just kidding)

10:02 AM  
Anonymous heather a. goodman said...

This is a great analysis, Erin (and I think it's good that you spend so much time analyzing a movie--even, or maybe especially, if it's cartoon).
I've seen teenagers disregard the advice (and rules) of parents and pay for it for a good bit of their adult life.

12:06 PM  
Blogger Erin said...

My "one true love" never slayed an evil purple octopus witch, so I guess it was doomed from the start.

The music... yeah, I still like the music. Lots of good tunes in this murky little movie.

I totally get you about the Cinderella family. You can forget your birthday present this year.

Do you speak from experience?

5:53 PM  
Blogger gramarty said...

Since the only older female role (not a sister) is the part of you-know-who, does that make me an evil purple octopus witch? I sure hope not 'cause I just don't see me as an "Ursula"!

You do realize, don't you, that if it had been up to me you'd never have seen ANY movies, had ANY "one true loves" or gotten married. If you don't believe me, just ask Ben when he was 15. He certainly knew he'd gotten the short end of the stick when family placements were handed out.

I, for one, am pretty glad I went through a few revisions.

I will now go and revise my birthday list.

12:46 AM  
Blogger Roberta said...

I just really like the way your wheels turn and the way you express yourself. Your so cool! :)
Enough flattery..albeit sincere.
I agree. In a nutshell~ Ariel is feminist for the ladies and sexy for the guys in my opinion (humble of course). And I DO think it's sad the way "Disney Princesses" are touted so prominently to our little girls...speaking from having little girls who are start-struck when they see them on everything from fishing poles to underwear. All ourward appearance and not for character. Have I gone off subject?
"And it always gets me that this "one true love", Prince Eric, doesn't even know Ariel exists when she chooses to give it all up for him!
I point out the faulty logic on that one to my kids. (Which is my duty as their mother.)"

Yes, my husband encourages our daughters (and sons) not to choose a mate with with heart or feelings...but to use their minds and wisdom...not that you can't still have that lovey feeling, just that their will be a foundation of truth.

5:07 PM  
Blogger L.L. Barkat said...

I never liked that film. But then I didn't see it until I was a parent to two little girls. Well, my reasons are obvious then, yes?

8:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Erin -- I am just getting over here to see your wonderful thoughts on Ariel. I saw the movie in college and watched it every day straight for 30 days with another friend who loved it. As a teenager who was looking for my one true love, there could be nothing better. As a 37-year-old single woman, my perspective on fairy tales has changed. I'm not bitter or cynical; I just think the narratives of living happily ever after have a much larger context than romance, wealth, and physical beauty. Our only true happily ever after comes in the ever after.

Great analysis, Erin!

8:35 AM  
Blogger Erin said...

Oh Charity, you bring up a great point. Fairy tales sometimes seem to me to be the greatest marketing scheme known to woman. We read them as young girls and then graduate into romance novels, soap operas and Hollywood movies as adults.

I've heard this fairy tale/romance novel phenomenon compared to what pornography does to men.
Which is another sermon for another day.

Several instances in my young life are marked by my belief that a fairy tale life could, and was meant to be, mine. But here is what I have learned in regards to my fairy tale life:
-My "one true love" became my one true love the moment I said, "I Do." And it's because I said I'd forsake all others. That phrase "one true love" really depends on me, NOT HIM. I choose my husband to be my one and only. I reserve my felicity and purity and honor for him- I'm true to him. And my love for him is sacrificial, deferential and once again, honoring.
-As for "happily ever after", seems that Christ followers are the only one guaranteed a happily ever after, doesn't it? Maybe we ought to change it to "joyfully ever after", given that some of this "ever after" is not as easy and carefree as "happy" might imply.

I like that...

"And they lived joyfully ever after."

10:23 AM  
Blogger L.L. Barkat said...

Erin... just love your comment to Charity.

6:06 PM  

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