Carolyn Turgeon thinks so:
Conflicted, frustrated sexualities are integral to both the vampire and the mermaid. But compared with vampires (or zombies too, for that matter), the mermaid makes for a much livelier figure: She’s not dead, for one, plus she has a bright, pretty tail and exists in full sunlight. And she’s female. (Mermen are so rare as to be culturally negligible.) She’s primal and wild, from the deep ocean — she is death and birth and the subconscious and the great mother. And typically she is represented as super hot — think of Daryl Hannah in Splash or pretty much any other mermaid you’ve ever seen — yet she might kill you if you get too close, as with the killer mermaids in Pirates of the Caribbean. Even Disney’s friendly flame-haired Ariel swims around shipwrecks and skeletons at the bottom of the sea.
But the appeal of the mermaid may depend primarily on her flexibility.
Mermaids offer an image of female sexuality that is both potent and nonthreatening to men. As Stephin Merritt recently commented of mermaids, “I think straight men like the idea of women with all the knockers and none of the complicated parts.” Mermaids allow women to tap into something essential and powerful without becoming “unlikable” or unattractive. For women, mermaids offer the freedom of different interpretive options depending on her vicarious needs: Mermaids can be read as sexed or unsexed, vulnerable or terrifying, accessible or forever remote.
Forrest Wickman isn’t buying it:
I can give you one simple reason that mermaids aren’t the new vampires, and never will be: genitals. If you want people to fantasize about you, or about being you, genitals are pretty much a requirement.
Mer-partisans will try to counter this. They’ll claim that the lack of genitals just adds an alluring unattainability. Wasn’t that the point of Twilight, after all? This is factually wrong and woefully misguided. As anyone who knows anything about Stephenie Meyer’s saga will know, the whole driving force behind all the sexual tension in those books and movies is the fact that Bella and Edward are capable of having (spoiler alert) wild, headboard-tearing vampire sex. If there wasn’t that possibility of romance—and with mermaids, to make a long story short, there basically isn’t—there would be no sexual tension. Has there ever been a lasting vampire series that didn’t indulge in a little fang-banging? It’s the sole reason for True Blood’s existence.
Recent Dish coverage of The Little Mermaid here.
(Photo by Kathryn Rotondo)