Understanding Ursula

It is no secret that from about 1990-1993, I was completely obsessed with The Little Mermaid.    The movie I adored wasn’t quite the movie Disney actually made, but that’s okay.  I’d be a very different person if I were somebody who was obsessed with the canonical version of the movie.  Married, even.

One day, while relating the fascinating plot of this most fascinating of movies to my Dad, who’d probably heard me do this a thousand times and was getting bored of it, he took out is frustration in a very Dad-typical way: he played devil’s advocate.

“So then Ariel goes to Ursula, the evil sea witch…” enthused little Anaea.

“Wait a minute.  Ursula wasn’t evil,” my dad said.

“Yes she was,” I say, stunned because, sure, I’m telling him the story, but I know he’s seen the movie and heard me do this a thousand times.  Also, I know my Dad is far too young to be senile.  Thus, I am very confused at his failure to remember this vital plot detail.

“Ursula was the victim.”

He then goes on to point out that Ursula was, for no known reason, banished to the ugly bits of the ocean, where she hung out doing her own thing.  Then Ariel went to her, made a deal, reneged when it didn’t go the way she wanted, and killed Ursula.  Ursula had been oppressed, then robbed, then murdered for trying to defend her interests.  I was cheering for the wrong team.

This had a rather profound effect on me.  I probably would have wound up obsessed with villains anyway, but we’ll never know.

I was really proud of myself when I rewatched it on a whim many years later, then went back to Dad with arguments about contracts pertaining to contraband being unenforceable, illegal manipulation of a minor, and both party consent being required for contract modification.  “You’re still upset about that?” my Dad asked.  “That was a long time ago.”

Last Wednesday I watched Dark Knight with some of my friends.  It’s my go-to feel good movie, and also holds the record for the most number of times I’ve seen a movie in the theater.  (Five.  I was having a bad year.  I needed a feel good movie)  We get to the scene where Alfred wisely opines to Bruce, “Some men just want to watch the world burn.”

My friends stared at me rather pointedly.  “Yes,” I said.  “I know exactly how they feel.”

When I get a story handed to me, and the story says, “Here are the good guys and the bad guys.  The good guys do this, the bad guys do that.  End of story,” I don’t just accept that anymore.  In the final assessment, Ursula was wrong, but that wasn’t nearly as clear-cut as it appeared to be.  Good vs evil is, to me, a fundamentally boring story.  Nobody is evil just cuz, and the truly pure, innocent good guys are generally impractical morons.  The dichotomy is pure fantasy, an expression of our desire to have things be simple and get a reassurance that since there are only two sides, and we’re not the bad guys, we must be the good guys.

It’s also really boring.

There’s a theme to this week’s entries, but it hasn’t quite crystallized in my head yet.  This is definitely the starting place, though.  Hopefully I’ll have figured out where I’m going by the time I get there.

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