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Ivy League a cappella group cuts ‘Little Mermaid’ from repertoire amid concerns over consent

December 4, 2018 at 1:19 PM

A Princeton University a cappella choir started to hum.

A soloist then emerged from the all-male ensemble wearing white tuxedo jackets and black bow ties and burst into song: “There you see her, sitting there across the way. She don’t got a lot to say, but there’s something about her. And you don’t know why, but you’re dying to try — you want to kiss the girl.”

The memorable melody of “Kiss the Girl” from “The Little Mermaid” — and the Princeton Tigertones’s rendition of it — has created a backlash and prompted the a cappella group to remove the Disney tune from its musical repertoire. At issue, it seems, is not only a concern that the lyrics disregard the notion of informed consent but also that the performance plays into it — pulling a man and a woman from the audience, having them dance onstage and, at the end, telling the two to kiss.

In one video from 2013, a female participant pointed to her cheek when she and her male counterpart were told by a singer to “kiss each other.”

Following a scathing op-ed in the Daily Princetonian, the Tigertones said last week they will stop performing the song, which the group has been singing for years, at least “until we can arrive at a way to perform it that is comfortable and enjoyable for every member of our audience.” Wesley Brown, president of the Tigertones, wrote in a letter to the editor: “Our group is always striving to impart joy and positivity through our music, and we take very seriously any indication that we fall short of this goal.”

Related: Disney princess Kristen Bell has some real concerns about ‘Snow White’ and consent

The decision came after a student wrote an op-ed in the school newspaper, calling it “more misogynistic and dismissive of consent than cute."

“By performing the song multiple times each semester,” Noa Wollstein wrote, “the Tigertones elevate it to an offensive and violating ritual.”

In the 1989 Disney film, Sebastian, an anthropomorphic crab, sang the song to the prince, Eric, encouraging him to make his move on the mermaid. At the time, Ariel was under an evil spell — she had given up her voice to become a human but, within days, she would turn back into a mermaid unless the prince kissed her. Some have expressed concern that he would attempt to kiss her without her consent, while others have questioned whether a voiceless Ariel would have been able to give him permission.

So the crab sang:

Yes, you want her

Look at her, you know you do

It’s possible she wants you too

There is one way to ask her

It don’t take a word

Not a single word

Go on and kiss the girl

The Tigertones, founded in 1946, did not say exactly how long the a cappella group had been performing that particular song or whether it had received criticism for it in the past.

Videos on the Tigertones’s YouTube channel show the singers performing the ballad — selecting a man and a woman from the audience to illustrate it.

Wollstein said the song has made some people uncomfortable.

“I have seen a queer student brought on stage have to uncomfortably push away her forced male companion,” she wrote in the opinion piece. “I have heard of unwilling girls being subjected to their first kisses. I have watched mothers, who have come to see their child’s performance, be pulled up to the stage only to have tension generated between them and the kid they came to support.

“There is no way to guarantee that the random people picked from the audience are members of a happy couple who both want to act out a very public expression of affection.”

Brown, the president of the Tigertones, said in the letter to the editor that in recent years, the group has tried to make sure that participation is “more voluntary and consensual.”

“These steps have clearly not succeeded in guaranteeing total comfort for both participants or in obtaining continual consent,” he wrote, explaining why the song has been removed from the set list. “Performances of this song have made participants uncomfortable and offended audience members, an outcome which is antithetical to our group’s mission and one that we deeply regret.”

Brown did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the issue.

As sexual assault survivors continue to share their stories, sparking a worldwide #MeToo reckoning, scholars, activists and parents have made similar arguments about kissing scenes in other Disney movies, including “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” In that film, the prince kisses Snow White without her consent — while she is unconscious.

Actress Kristen Bell told Parents magazine in October that she has talked her two young daughters about that scenario, asking, “Don’t you think that it’s weird that the prince kisses Snow White without her permission? Because you cannot kiss someone if they’re sleeping!”

The same month, actress Keira Knightley said on “The Ellen Show” that she will not allow her 3-year-old daughter to watch “Cinderella” and other Disney movies.

She also brought up “The Little Mermaid.”

“This is the one that I’m quite annoyed about, because I really like the film, but ‘Little Mermaid,’ " the actress said. “I mean, the songs are great, but do not give your voice up for a man. Hello.”

Read more:

Why Disney princesses and ‘princess culture’ are bad for girls

Learning to accept my daughter’s obsession with Disney princesses

5 ways parents can help kids understand consent and prevent sexual assault


Lindsey Bever is a general assignment reporter for The Washington Post, covering national news with an emphasis on health. She was previously a reporter at the Dallas Morning News.

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