Will S. finds an article claiming that Disney princess movies have been softening up children for gay marriage with their “impossible desire” plotlines. If species is a bigger deal than sex, and Ariel and Belle can fall in love with men of other species, then surely it wouldn’t be far-fetched for them to marry each other instead, right? The Atlantic article quotes cite lots of examples, none of which would seem to have anything to do with homosexuality to anyone not already obsessed with the topic. (If socially forbidden love is always implicitly gay, then a whole genre going back to the Middle Ages stands condemned.) I stand by my position that Disney has done a pretty good job of preserving gendered archetypes in the face of feminist pressure, and warming children to the idea of monarchy to boot. But there are bigger issues at stake here.
Of course, interspecies romance has always been with us. If you are a hero, you must expect that sooner or later, a fairy, wood nymph, mermaid, Martian princess, Olympian goddess, or elf maiden is going to fall in love with you. Should this happen to you in real life, you don’t have to marry the girl, but for heaven’s sake have care for her feelings and don’t act shocked or disgusted. Should you encounter it in fiction, don’t be scandalized. The author is most likely not trying to win you over to a gay or gender-bending agenda. And even if he is, you still needn’t worry, because his tools betray him. Maybe Hans Christian Anderson wrote The Little Mermaid as part of a secret hundred-year plot to normalize sodomy. I doubt it, but it wouldn’t matter if he did. Hollywood being what it is, no doubt most of the teams who worked on the Disney movies that have appeared in my lifetime have “gotten with the program” on the gay agenda. That also doesn’t matter, because what makes The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and other stories with similar premises work dramatically is the intuition that sex is actually more fundamental than species. To use them to deconstruct “gender” is to destroy them.
To explain this, I turn to a true expert on interspecies romance: Captain James T. Kirk.
Star Trek: Metamorphosis
In the original series episode Metamorphosis, a shuttlecraft in deep space containing Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and Federation Commissioner Nancy Hedford is diverted by a mysterious gaseous entity onto a small, uncharted planet. On the planet is a man, Zefram Cochrane, the inventor of the warp drive, who has himself been held on the planet for a century and a half by an intelligent glowing cloud of gas he calls “the Companion”. The Companion has stopped Cochrane’s aging and maintained him, but it will not allow him to leave. Cochrane had learned to communicate telepathically with the Companion, and expressed his great loneliness, hoping to convince it to let him go. Instead, it has fetched the shuttlecraft crew to give him company.
The team sets to work trying to escape. Attempts to overpower the Companion are unsuccessful, so they decide to communicate with it. Kirk and crew are equipped with a “universal translator”, a devise for deciphering alien speech. They explain to Cochrane that it works by identifying certain universal concepts employed by all rational creatures (like Kant’s categories of pure reason, I suppose, but with more content, as we shall see). From the observed sequence of concepts, a grammar can be inferred, and full translation made.
Modified to register the electrical activity in the Companion, Kirk is able to speak with the gas creature, with its words generating a female voice through the translator’s speaker. After their first conversation, during which the Companion resolves to keep caring for Cochrane (“the man”) where he is, Cochrane asks why they gave their universal translator a female voice. “We didn’t,” Kirk replies. “The ideas of male and female are universal constants.” The Companion is a woman, and she is in love with Zefram Chochran. Cochran is horrified.
The episode ends, as many such interspecies romances do, with the Companion trading her natural gaseous immortality for existence as a human woman, the shuttlecraft crew freed, and Zefram Cochran choosing to remain with his new love. What’s really interesting about all this is the claim that male and female are universal rational ideas, bigger actually than animal nature. Human nature simply participates in this Yin-Yang dyadic structure within the structure of rationality itself. And this universality is what makes romance possible between intelligent members of different species.
The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast
Science fiction likes to push ideas to the limit, and to be honest I’m not sure that I grasp what it means that Zefram Cochran’s cloud monster is a girl cloud monster. Disney makes it easier on us; little children never have any trouble determining Ariel’s sex. Even more than an average romance, an interspecies romance needs a feminine woman and a masculine man. This is, I think, why Beauty and the Beast doesn’t “work” as well as The Little Mermaid. Beauty and the Beast has good things going for it, but it doesn’t succeed as a romance. When Belle tells the Beast she loves him at the end, she might very well have been referring to agapic benevolence or respect. I’m afraid the writers were sabotaged by an distaste toward masculinity, their opinion of which is shown in the character of Gaston. The Beast starts out–promisingly–as a brooding and menacing presence, but Belle’s job is to tame him so that he ends up meek and gentle. Prince Eric, on the other hand, is never tamed. His job is to kill the giant sea witch, save the princess, and win the respect of her father. And it’s very clear that Ariel is in love with him, as in infatuated. Unsurprisingly, this tends to be the movie that boys like better. I also think that girls of all ages tend to like the men in stories a bit undomesticated.
More importantly, one sees the peril in tampering with the gender stereotyping in this type of story. That’s why I designate it friendly territory. Not that the people who produce it are our friends, but that the game is rigged so that the price of indulging their hostile ideology is dramatic failure.