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Scaled for success: The internationalisation of the mermaid

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Abstract

Emerging from the confluence of Greco-Roman mythology and regional folklore, the mermaid has been an enduring motif in Western culture since the medieval period. It has also been disseminated more widely, initially through Western trade and colonisation and, more recently, through the increasing globalisation of media products and outlets. Scaled for Success offers the first detailed overview of the mermaids dispersal outside Europe. Complementing previous studies of the interrelationship between the mermaid and Mami Wata spirit in West Africa, this volume addresses the mermaids presence in a range of Middle Eastern, Asian, Australian, Latin American and North American contexts. Individual chapters identify the manner in which the mermaid has been variously syncretised and/or resignified in contexts as diverse as Indian public statuary, Thai cinema and Coney Islands annual Mermaid Parade. Rather than lingering as a relic of a bygone age, the mermaid emerges as a versatile, dynamic and, above all, polyvalent figure. Her prominence exemplifies the manner in which contemporary media-lore has extended the currency of established folkloric figures in new and often surprising ways. Analysing aspects of religious symbolism, visual art, literature and contemporary popular culture, this copiously illustrated volume profiles an intriguing and highly diverse phenomenon. Philip Hayward is editor of the journal Shima and holds adjunct professor positions at the University of Technology Sydney and at Southern Cross University. His previous volume, Making a Splash: Mermaids (and Mermen) in 20th and 21st Century Audiovisual Media, was published by John Libbey Publishing/Indiana University Press in 2017.
... This critical attention has been long overdue as mermaids (in particular) have had a continuing presence in Western culture since the late Medieval period and have been strikingly prominent in international popular culture since the 1980s. Recent books have addressed themes such as the representation of mermaids and the production of knowledge in 16th and 17th Century England (Pedersen, 2016), popular cultural "fan phenomena" concerning mermaids (Guitton [ed], 2018) and the history of mermaids' and mermen's representation in Western audiovisual media (Hayward, 2017). A significant body of work is also emerging on the manner in which the mermaid has been adapted into non-western cultures (Fraser, 2017;Hayward [ed], 2018). ...
... With specific regard to the mermaid's representation in western audiovisual media, I have previously drawn on Freudian discourse to argue that the polyvalent sexual-symbolic signification of the mermaid's form and, especially, her tail (the very root of her difference and, thereby power), have ensured her longevity and prominence in popular culture (Hayward, 2017). My book-length study identified that the fish-tailed mermaid is visually and associatively given a variety of phallic powers in Western audio-visual media fictions that make her a type of "supercharged" femme fatale whose charismatic agency frequently "overflows" the various narrative fates assigned to her (ibid: 12-15). ...
... Popular cultural engagements with mer-themes are however highly fluid, and one of the most notable aspects of the latter over the last decade has been a resurgence of mermen in various contexts. This issue of Shima includes two articles on such phenomena that show how the merman is currently being reconsidered in ways that reflect and/or negotiate his phallic lack (Hayward andThorne, 2018 andJilkén, 2018). Hayward and Thorne examine the manner in which the figure of the merman has recently been adopted and promulgated by a group of hirsute and predominantly large bodied males in Newfoundland. ...
... 16 While building on the beauty discourse of To gymno koritsi, and of Greece in the 1980s, Gorgona challenges the Anglo--Saxon blondness and sweetness with which the mermaid had been associated in the commercially successful American film Splash (1984, Ron Howard). Splash influenced film, video and TV production from North America, Europe, and Australia (Hayward, 2017) to India, China, South Korea, and Philippines (Hayward 2018a;2018b;Hayward and Wang, 2018;Keith and Lee, 2018). Splash was released in Greece in September 1984 as I Gorgona ('The Mermaid'). ...
Article
This article examines the first Greek film to give a central role to the concept of the mermaid: Georges Skalenakis’ 1987 direct-to-video feature Gorgona (‘Mermaid’). Although actually concerning an all-human female, Gorgona attaches to her many traits of both the internationally common half-fish/half-woman creature (known in Greek as γοργόνα/gorgona) and the mermaid sister (also known as γοργόνα) in the legend of Alexander the Great. The article identifies the video-film’s allusions to these fishtailed figures and argues that the film produced an updated mermaid image that responded to other national and foreign audiovisual conceptions of the mermaid of the 1980s and enriched the star persona of its female lead, Eleni Filini, with a mythic quality and national symbolism.
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The concept of the aquapelago, an assemblage of terrestrial and aquatic spaces generated by human activities, was first advanced in 2012 and has been subsequently developed with regard to what has been termed the ‘aquapelagic imaginary’ – the figures, symbols, myths and narratives generated by human engagement with such assemblages. Venice, a city premised on the integration of terrestrial and marine elements within an intermediate tidal lagoon, is a paradigmatic aquapelago and its artists have produced a substantial corpus of creative work reflecting various aspects of its Domini da Mar (maritime dominion). This article engages with one aspect of these engagements, the use of sirenas (mermaids), sea serpents, Neptune and associated motifs in visual and narrative culture from the Renaissance to the present. This subject is explored in a reverse chronological order. Commencing with a discussion of two striking contemporary sculptures, the article goes on to analyse modern renditions of Venetian folklore before moving back to explore a variety of Renaissance paintings and sculptures that feature mythic maritime motifs. Having followed this trajectory, the article shifts focus to examine the manner in which the prominence of the winged Lion of Saint Mark in Venetian iconography counteracts the aforementioned aquatic imagery, reflecting different perceptions of Venice as a social locale and as regional and international power at different historical junctures.
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