2011: The year mermaids swim into movies, books, fashion, and maybe your local swimming pool


With the interest surrounding killer mermaids in the upcoming Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, mermaids are having a bit of a pop culture moment. As far as fantasy creatures go, it’s safe to say that vampires dominated entertainment from 2008 to 2010 (although zombies also made a big impact), but looking forward, there are plenty of fishy-tailed women on the horizon in the next couple years: A live-action Little Mermaid is in the works; a spate of mermaid novels are coming out this year (even Stephenie Meyer is writing about mermaids now!); Mermaids of Hollywood, an app-turned book, will feature celebrities like Ginnifer Goodwin, Anna Faris, and the Kardashians photographed as mermaids by Mark Anderson; and rumors have popped up of a TV show based on the YouTube series The 3 Tails (errr, not sure about this one … maybe TLC could give it a season).

To understand this unusual trend on the rise, I talked to author and expert on all things mermaids Carolyn Turgeon, who released the aptly titled novel Mermaid earlier this month. Her extensive research on the subject became bigger than her novel, turning into the basis of her fascinating, comprehensive blog, I Am A Mermaid. She also plans on writing a nonfiction book about the appeal of mermaids throughout history and the current practice of “mermaiding” — which is basically putting on a tail and swimming around in oceans or local pools (more on that later). Her research has taken her everywhere from Iceland (which is apparently merman central — who knew?) to Warsaw, and she’s spoken to a sirenology expert at Wellesley and even Tim Gunn about mermaids in our culture.

So why all the fascination with mermaids? We are all plenty familiar with the Disney-fied version of the mermaid wanting to be a part of our world, but the real appeal of mermaids in fiction might be a little more adult. Turgeon speculates that our culture is in “kind of a weird time, sexually,” and interest in mermaids may reflect that. “The mermaid is this really weird, beautiful, dangerous, hybrid symbol,” says Turgeon. “On one hand, she’s incredibly sexual with her bare breasts and her long hair, singing to and enchanting sailors. But on the other hand, she’s half fish. She has no genitals, and she’s totally inaccessible because she lives at the bottom of the sea.” It’s analogous to the appeal of the Twilight series, in which Edward and Bella experience all sorts of sexual tension but can’t act on their urges, at least at first, because of the danger and unpredictability of vampires. There’s also the image of the mermaid as the romantic outcast: “Mermaids are the ultimate outsider,” Turgeon explains. That duality of danger and beauty — the mermaid as part lovely ingenue, part fanged, scaly sea-demon — makes for a lot of potential dramatic thrills.

Mermaid obsession definitely isn’t confined to the realm of fiction. While in mythology, mermaids are often portrayed as lonely, somewhat barbaric creatures, people incorporate the fantasy into their real lives because it makes them happy. You might have seen some “real-life” mermaids in The Simple Life 2, when Paris and Nicole visited Weeki Wachee Springs in Florida, where swimming, be-tailed merpeople put on a choreographed show in a giant tank. But “mermaiding” without an audience is a growing pastime and yes, a booming niche business. Hannah Fraser, a pioneering “professional mermaid,” loves the freedom she feels when she puts on her tail and does deep-sea dives alongside Great White sharks. One man in Pittsburgh’s need to mermaid (or merman?) is so great that he takes it to public pools, despite the stares he inevitably gets. There’s even an awards ceremony dedicated to the mythical creature: The first annual World Mermaid Awards — which will also act as a convention — will convene this August in a giant pool at the Mirage in Las Vegas.

And judging from mermaids’ prominence in the Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides‘ marketing campaign, it seems the creatures won’t be swimming away anytime soon in the near future. Though the film has yet to win big at the box office (which it inevitably will… this is Pirates we’re talking about), the industry is already following its lead — just see the several aforementioned mermaid-inspired projects in the works. Turgeon said her agent was shocked when her novel was optioned for film by Sony last month because there are “a ton of mermaid projects in development.” So prepare yourself, everyone: Mermaids might just become the new vampires.

What’s your take, PopWatchers? Are you on board with the influx of mermaids on screen and in books?

Comments (21 total) Add your comment
  • alex

    I LOVED Turgeon’s Mermaid!! She’s a wonderful writer

  • ef

    Hhmm, sounds like an opportunity for a Pirates movie spin-off and new Disney ride!….and nowhere was Starbucks mermaid mentioned- indeed a lonley lady.

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  • Alyssa

    Screw Sparkling Vampires. Now that my beloved Harry Potter is ending this is fabulous news. I am a self-proclaimed MERMAID FREAK. I have been waiting for the day when mermaids rule pop culture, or at least are very popular. I have ” Splash” ” Aquamarine” ” Fishtales” All 3 Disney Little Mermaids, and my room is filled to the brink with Ariel and mermaid stuff. I have to thank Ariel since I was old enough to speak I have loved her and she is what go me to love mermaids.

    • Brandon

      oh Dear. While I personally find your interests to be quirky and endearing, the EW message boards are a dangerous and hateful place for real honesty

    • Alyssa

      Gee…Thanks, there was a little sarcasm in there. And Im plenty old enough to handle it. Plus I dont care.

      • Megan

        Brandon was not trying to belittle you, Alyssa. He was sincere…the internet in general tends to look down on sincerity and genuine joy at a hobby/pop culture like etc. You have to be cynical, dark, gloomy and oh-so-cool.

      • Alyssa

        Im not that kind of person, and I wont be just to fit in sorry. Go jump on someone else.

      • Brandon

        wow. Glad I bothered. In my experience, people on these message boards mock, ridicule, and belittle anyone that’s genuine and passionate about something. Your initial post made you seem like a sweet person and I felt bad that people were going to tear you down. How interesting that you ended up being the troll here (AKA message board hater)

      • Alyssa

        can you two just leave me alone. There was no need for you to comment in the first place. I have been on many blogs. Im not stupid. Geez where are the moderators when you need them. If you have had problems -sorry. Im not a troll, I know how these things work. I never asked for advice.

      • K

        LOL. This thread is hilarious to me. A cute message about loving mermaids is followed by a well-intentioned warning about the kinds of cynical people who will attack people who openly express things like their love of mermaids…only to end up attacked himself by the original poster in a nice example of shooting the messenger. Then when another well-intentioned person tried to step in and explain the good intentions of the first person…another attack! Alyssa sounds like me when I was a teenager, snapping at my mom that I already KNEW what she was telling me, even when she just had my best interests at heart. The misplaced anger and teenage-style “I’m not a CHILD any more” vibe was totally amusing.

    • Liz Lemon

      I love Mermaids too. You don’t see enough of them in pop culture, so they’re not a mythical creature that’s been overdone yet. I look forward to seeing what POTC 4 does with them.

      • Alyssa

        yeah…I agree.

  • Alyssa

    OH yeah…Not sure I like the idea of SMeyer writing about mermaids. IMO she is kind of bland. Or at least that is why I dont like Twilight. Never kept my interest. That and a million other reasons.

  • Lee

    Cool! It’s great to see some female-centric characters take center stage. There was also a really great YA novel published recently, “Siren” that’s about mermaids.

  • Laura

    I have always liked Mermaids since I was little. It’s always good and bad when something you like becomes popular.

  • Laura

    Also for anyone interested in POTC mermaids of any kind, they should check out book 2 of the junior Jack Sparrow novelizations, “The Siren Song”.

  • Shelly

    You should read “The Mermaid Princess” Vol I of the Mermaid Chronicles by Kris Rivers. It’s currently available at Amazon.com for your kindle and will soon be available in paperback. It is an excellent tale of good and evil for all ages.

  • Caroline

    I myself am a professional mermaid in South Carolina (known as the Lake Murray Mermaid) and I must say that I have some mixed feelings about this surge of mermaids. One the plus side, it’ll be great for my business and on a far more important note, it’ll be a way to raise awareness about our oceans. Also, I think it’ll help ‘true mermaids’ like myself come out of their shell (so to speak), put on their tail and start helping us other merfolk with raising awareness. On the downside, I’m afraid it’ll turn into a fad and people won’t actually care about the message we mermaids are trying to send. All in all, I’m interested to see how this all unfurls.

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  • Auralie

    Yes M’AM, I vivid remember waintng to be a mermaid ..I had the hair (down to my bottom and super wavy/curly). I thought I was IT when my cousin and I were at my grandparents’ pool too!I don’t think it was about love with me though; it was the element of fantasy/mythical creatures. I didn’t want to fall in love or steal some guy’s heart; I wanted to be able to swim away and see the world, to meet all kinds of new creatures and KNOW that my mother was wrong in telling me there was no such thing as so-and-so heheheheeAh, but alas, here I sit in my office ..working! Although, I think I have met some awesome creatures though

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