Ariel from The Little Mermaid
Let's get this one out of the way. You can't deny the woman who spearheaded the Disney Renaissance her moment in the sun. Nor can you deny all the boys who learned at the tender age of eight what a woman is.
She's the quintessential mermaid, the one everyone thinks of when you say the word. The first, best, and greatest. Myriad articles have been written about her, so I won't begin to repeat the all-thing.
The mermaids from Peter Pan
I don't think they even have names, but if you minus "The Little Mermaid" on Google search, this is what comes up. This was about all you could get for mermaids as a a kid, pre-1986. It also cemented some of the modern stereotypes of mermaids: they're vain, beautiful, cowardly, careless, jealous, shallow as the water they swim in. Like strippers. This is because mermaids are a fantasy.
They don't really show up in the book in any capacity. But here, it's a representation of Wendy's Neverland not being the paradise she thought. Also, it gives the parents some T & A to work with.
Madison from Splash
If you need a real-life mermaid, this is it. Darryl Hannah plays a mermaid who somehow manages to get a week's worth of legs, in pursuit of a boy she saved from drowning fifteen years ago. Said boy grows up to be Tom Hanks, who's friends with John Candy. Sounds like a good life for both. And there's a young Jim's Dad (from American Pie) playing the villain.
The movie's supposed to be a romantic-comedy, but I saw some heavy stuff in it, like animal rights, racism, hiding deep-dark secrets in a relationship. The tail was pretty good, especially in the transformation scene in the bathtub when her fluke unfolds. (Why did she want to do that? What purpose did that serve? It's not like taking off your shoes.) But who wouldn't want a sensual, hedonistic woman offering herself to your whim. Again, the mermaid as male fantasy.
That one from Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
This is the most recent representation of mermaids in mainstream culture. And I'm not talking about the one in the main story. The pouty one -- Syrena or whatever name is.
Yeah, that's the one. From all the publicity stills. That's what mermaids should be like. A little unearthly, but ungodly, unconventionally beautiful. The kind of look that makes you want to get closer, and make you not question "hey, where did this girl from? What's she doing in the ocean, floating naked? Isn't average ocean temperature like 45 degrees? Shouldn't she be dying of hypothermia right now? Oh look, boobs!"
This is the classic siren. The kind that hops up on the bow, entices men, and then does very bad things to them.
You can't get much better than the template for the half-fish, half-girl. All of the above derived from this. And luckily, Greek myths are nebulous enough that you can take any aspects of those monsters and apply them. Sirens? Wait, are they birds? Or is that harpies? They both have nice voices. Eh, throw it in there, that's good fantasy. And make 'em pretty too. And give them tridents. And make them supersexual too, like nymphs. Wait, are those for trees? Or are those dryads? Or are nymphs pixies? Eh, whatever.
To the credit of truth, Sirens did start out as bird-women in early Greek (probably due to their nice enchanting voices) but through the apocrypha of handed-down stories, they turned into mermaids. Probably due to the correlation of leading men to their doom and shipwrecks.
Aquamarine from Aquamarine
I didn't see this movie, but I am running out of mermaids. And I did read the entry on wikipedia, so that should count for something. Well, no, it shouldn't.
Aquamarine is a little like Judy Blume mixed with Hans Christian Andersen. The story is about two tween besties who are about to move away from each other. But then they find a mermaid, who needs help falling in love with the lifeguard. Countless sea puns ensue ("shell phone"). This is where Splash went to, and the mermaid effects are still shit. People -- mermaids don't have knees. They don't bend in the middle. The tails curl, like a dolphin or, I don't know... a fish?
Again, I haven't seen it, but this movie looks like a Disney Channel straight-to-video that changed hands mid-production. Or an option that looked set to expire, something for fairy princesses to watch during their sleepover.
Lori Lemaris - Superman's Mermaid
Girlfriend Girl That's a Friend
Superman's sorta girlfriend. What an odd character to include in the mythos, but in the silver age, anything goes. For the most part, Batman had the ridiculous villains, and Superman had the ridiculous plots.
Lori and Clark met in college, when she was undercover as a handicapped girl. She actually knew his secret, and Superman is the one at the disadvantage. She's played a small role in the epic since, but most don't know she exists. Which makes sense. What does a mermaid have to do with Superman? She can't really serve in a romantic rival capacity -- that role is for Lana Lang. Aquaman serves any and all underwater powers (gotta sell his comic book).
Martha from The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening
No, the Zoras don't count as mermaids. They're fish creatures, but they're not mermaids. Mermaids are a buxom female torso on top of a giant fish tail. Anything else would be uncivilized.
Martha takes a role in the trading game. She lives in Martha's Bay (named for her) and offers Link a scale from her tail, in exchange for her lost necklace (in the Japanese version, it's her top.)
This is the penultimate step towards gaining the Magnifying Lens, which is used to solve the maze in the Wind Fish's Egg. None of this ultimately makes much splash in the mythos of Zelda. Mermaids are referenced in other places, but have no real appearances.
But tangential to that, it's worth noting that the Wind Fish's Island is merely a dream, and everyone and thing in it is part of a shared fantasy.
The mermen from Madonna's Cherish music video
Hey, I can be fair to genders. Madonna sure is. She knocked some tropes on their ass with this 1989 number. Wikipedia says that these mermen were meant to be a homoerotic symbol -- a metaphor for oppression or voyeurism.
I don't know about all that, but the mer-baby sure is cute.
Her history is bigger than any Barbie incarnation. She's been a princess, a fairy, and just about anything else a girl can be. She's been a mermaid many times before, mostly as a bath toy, but the "Mermaidia" marketing push gives more presence to the pink tail.
I'm not sure what Mermaidia is all about. I tried to read the wikipedia summary, but I had to stop and gag at a character named "Enchantress" and a merman prince in Crystal Cove. It seems like a jump on the Disney Princess marketing, attempting to encapsulate a bigger part of the product in a subset. There's also Fairytopia, and there'll probably be Unicornitopia coming up. There's also the more recent "A Mermaid Tale" and its sequel.
Mostly the reason I'm including it here is that Barbie is a perfect template for mermaids -- a female icon that exists in the fantasy world.
Umbriel from the Futurama episode "The Deep South"
Yeah, see? I am running out of mermaids. I thought there'd be more. Well, there is more, but they're not widely recognizable in today's world.
If you watch Futurama, and you should, one of its best episodes is "The Deep South", where the crew, after a day of fishing, find the secret underwater kingdom of
Unfortunately, a failing of asking that crucial question:
Which leads to Fry rushing back to the ship before it departs. It's another take on the Splash premise, but it's nice to see a mermaid character that's got more to her personality. Even if it's played for laughs, the "mermaid problem" is about the only thing that keeps the wedge in this fantasy from becoming too unrealistic that it can't enter one's head.
I'll be the first to grant you, my list sucks. There are many pieces of literature, old B & W movies, manga that I'm missing. Simply because I haven't consumed those resources. Most of the time, mermaids are side characters. Kinda men, kinda monsters. Always mysterious, but never leaders. Like Bigfoot or vampires, they remain at the corners of our vision. Flavors of the story that writers don't intend to take the place of the main course. I don't know why -- maybe it's difficult writing a character that can't walk without deus ex machinas or can't talk or can't have a fulfilled romantic relationship with any main character without a great sacrifice.
Search me why they don't. That seems like great storytelling material.