Technicolour Dreams: Why We Love the Mermaid and Unicorn Trend

I went to a music festival last month with a friend. It was a pretty low-key affair — the first time the event had been held — and altogether we had a wonderful time. There are three things from this exciting weekend that linger heavily in my mind: The inevitably pricey beer, the fever of the music, and all the sparkles. A stall had been set up where festival-goers would have their hair done in mermaid or unicorn styles, meaning gemstones glued to the hairline, a fog of glitter sprayed onto every follicle, and a rainbow of temporary dyes to give the illusion of the sea at dusk or an explosion in a nail polish factory. Those partaking in the make-over could also have elaborate designs of rhinestones and glitter paint adorned across their faces to complete the look. Over the course of two days, I may have breathed in more glitter than anything else. On the second day of the festival, stray gems could be found embedded in the grass.

As someone who is now closer to 30 than 20 and whose dress sense can be best described as ‘perpetually waiting for a tea party’, I’ve been on the fence about this recent trend of technicolour fantasy, echoing back to My Little Pony, Lisa Frank trapper keepers, and just a hint of flower power. It seems to have invaded everything, from make-up and hair to food and fashion. Both trends have already been accused of infantilising their audiences, particularly women, which is an understandable point on some level. Even I can’t stop myself from quietly judging people my age just a little for having unicorn backpacks, before smacking myself down for being a dismissive jerk.

I’ve seen more than one person walk around in public while wearing a unicorn onesie (seemingly without the aid of intoxication), and Instagram seems to have been invaded by a barrage of glitter laden food, including grilled cheese, pancakes and burgers. There’s a lipgloss brand named Unicorn Snot. Vogue did a write-up on Mermaid Toast, and yes, there are dildos with theming to match both. It inspires equal measures of laughter, eye-rolling, and perplexity. Of course it’s weird and kind of stupid, yet I still find myself oddly endeared to the madness once I get over my instinctive rejection.

A lot of this trend’s current popularity can be found in simple numbers. Social media buzz has driven businesses big and small to pander to the fad, partly because of supply and demand but also because such products are perfectly crafted to be liked and shared. Instagram filters already add new hues to reality so why not cut out the middle man with some deep sea turquoise or iridescent glow? Mermaid Toast probably tastes gross, but damn if it doesn’t bring in the Twitter numbers. Starbucks knew this when they made their Unicorn Frappuccino. It barely mattered how the drink tastes, although Stephen Colbert did say it was akin to French-kissing Tinkerbell. It wasn’t a drink so much as it was an Instagram trap, and it worked. The particular aesthetic of that site invites a life of rose-tinted envy, one where the surface level of beauty has been achingly organized to reach maximum influence, even if the reality is more calculating and dour. In that sense, a Unicorn Frappuccino is the ideal beverage for Instagram — just look, don’t drink.

There’s more to the trend than just looking good. Right now, pop culture is pretty grim. Blockbuster films have taken on a permanent palate of de-saturated sadness, all greys and rainfall and concrete smashed with a fist of doom. Dourness has become shorthand for seriousness, and so our perpetually haunted heroes must fight not only the bad guys but the darkness within, signalled by an absolute refusal from cinematographers to acknowledge that other colours exist. Even now with hopeful and bright examples to the contrary making money hand over fist at the box office and inspiring fervent anticipation amongst fans (like the explosion of colour present in the trailers and posters for Thor: Ragnarok), producers still clamour for ‘dark and edgy’. Maybe if Zack Snyder had a unicorn, the DCU would chill out a little.

The unicorn and mermaid trend is one mostly coded as feminine in nature, and women’s pop culture is still something that’s maligned and dismissed by the mainstream even when it makes billions of dollars: The embossed fuchsia covers of romance novels; the scarlet haze of soap operas; the technicolour dazzle of hair and make-up artistry; even the welcoming pastels of baking and cozy culinary experimentation. It’s 2017 and we still have to contend with arguments over the colour pink. When you’re told to not make a fuss and blend in with the crowd lest you embarrass someone, the urge to explode with glitter and metallic is a mighty force. Unruliness in women is something we’re supposed to clamp down — don’t be loud, don’t backchat, don’t make a scene — so what better way to oppose that than being the mermaid of your dreams, dizzying and vibrant and impossible to dismiss?

Pop culture’s recent grimness is nothing compared to the smothering reality of the world at large, an increasing hell-scape of global warming, crumbling democracy, and legitimized bigotry. There’s never been a more pressing need for something hopeful and bright, even if it’s just as a minute form of self-care. Mermaids and unicorns can represent whatever you need them to: Unique strength, irrepressible joy, feminine power, a beacon of optimism in a world of grey. It’s a fairytale aesthetic but it’s not as if fairytales are empty of darkness: It’s just that we’re mostly guaranteed a world where goodness prevails. Mostly. It didn’t work out great for the original Little Mermaid.

It’s no coincidence that this symbol of femininity has also been re-energised as one for LGBTQ+ pride. What rainbow flag couldn’t be improved with the addition of a unicorn? Ariel from The Little Mermaid has long stood as a hero for LGBTQ+ kids who saw themselves in her struggle to live the life she knew she always wanted, a movie that offered a much more optimistic ending than the tragic Hans Christian Andersen story it was based on (one with frequently noted gay subtext). There’s even a wonderful British charity dedicated to supporting gender nonconforming children called Mermaids. Janet Mock wrote about the special meaning the mermaid trend has for trans women and non-binary individuals in Allure:

‘Like mermaids, trans women are viewed as half-women, half-other. Like mermaids, trans women grapple with people’s disturbing curiosity with their genitals. And like mermaids, we are fascinating and beautiful and magical.’

This trend will probably be over by the end of the year, replaced by something else that will leave me ever closer to permanent ‘Old Woman Yells at Cloud’ status (bring on robot realness). There’s enough darkness in our lives to contend with on a daily basis, and frankly, a rainbow dye-job or teal-poached breakfast is the least we can do to ensure some of the light stays in our lives. Besides, unicorns have horns and mermaids have teeth — being sparkly doesn’t mean they won’t fight hard when the time comes.


Review: ‘Thelma’ Offers A Sexy And Bittersweet Tale of Monsters And Lesbian Love

Do you remember your first major crush? Take a second. Remember how your brain went bubbly when you saw them. Recall their scent, their laugh, their smile, and how all of any of this made you skin turn hot, your breath catch in your throat. A crush can make you feel both elation and terrifyingly out of control of your own body. Danish writer/director Joachim Trier explores this crushing conflict in his poetic and haunting supernatural coming-of-age drama Thelma.

Angel-faced ingénue Eili Harboe stars as Thelma, a young woman from a rural Christian background, who is on her own for the first time as she begins college. Her parents call daily, weighing in on everything from what she should eat to what homework she should be working on when. At first, their overzealous supervision seems a relatable—even comical—annoyance. Whose mom hasn’t tried to micromanage their life over the phone? But as Thelma grows close to flirtatious classmate Anja (Kaya Wilkins), her parents’ attention begins to seem sinister.

After meeting Anja, Thelma begins to experience strange seizures that change the world around her, flickering lights and sending birds into a blind frenzy. Though she usually keeps nothing from her parents, Thelma refuses to mention either seizures or Anja to them. Her reasons for the latter are easy to discern. Her bear of a dad is painted as a bible-thumping zealot, yet Trier spares us fire and brimstone speeches about the sins of homosexuality. Instead, he elegantly frames Thelma’s internal conflict in her glance and subtle smile to a gay couple on a night out, and the gold cross that glints around her neck.

He brews the sexual tension between Thelma and Anja with intimate close-ups as the girls joke, drink, then finally fumble into their first kiss. Harbow and Wilkins share such an easy and electric chemistry, you’ll fall too. But thoughts of Anja throw Thelma into tremors, tempting the audience to unravel the mysteries behind what doctors call her «psychogenic non-epileptic seizures.» In chasing down the source of these seizures, Thelma unearths some mind-blowing revelations that will change her world forever.

Though billed as a thriller, Thelma is more slow-burn horror, a monster movie with a wounded but human heart at its core. With two graceful and gutting performances from his leading ladies, Trier crafts a compelling lesbian romance alongside a rich «return of the repressed» horror story. Like Ginger Snaps, Nina Forever or Raw, it’s a misunderstood monster movie about becoming a woman that throbs with compassion yet relishes a splash of well-placed gore. But brace yourself, for Thelma is less crowd pleasing, avoiding comedy, embracing moral ambiguity, and concluding in an ending that dares to leave you guessing.

Following its lauded premiere at TIFF, Thelma hits America first at Fantastic Fest, then at New York Film Festival.


Outlander: Why You Shouldn’t Dwell on Jamie’s Latest Love Scene

The hardcore Jamie-Claire shippers were in for a bit of a shock on Sunday’s Outlander when both members of the heart-stopping couple hooked up with someone else. Claire’s situation is easy to understand; she thinks Jamie dies at the Battle of Culloden and she’s just trying to put some semblance of a life back together for herself and her baby, Brianna. Frank is her first husband, after all, so it’s no surprise she’d try to reconnect with him.

What may have been a surprise for nonbook readers, however, is Jamie being intimate with a woman in the cave where he is hiding outside Lallybroch. But never fear, Jamie-Claire fans! Jamie’s dalliance is straight out of the books, and it doesn’t mean anything to him romantically.

The woman who comes to Jamie in the cave is Mary McNab, played here by Doctor Who alum Emma Campbell-Jones. In the books, Mary is married to Ronald MacNab, an abusive, violent drunk who beats her and their son, Rabbie. Ronald’s mother knows what her son is and asks Jamie to take in Rabbie, her grandson, as a stableboy at Lallybroch, to get him away from his abusive father.

When Ronald refuses, Jamie beats him up until he agrees to let Rabbie come to Lallybroch. It is then later revealed that Ronald becomes so mad at Jamie that he betrays him to the Watch, which is why Jamie is taken to Wentworth Prison. Murtagh later implies that Ronald is killed in a fire as retaliation for betraying Jamie, though he doesn’t admit it outright.

Either way, once Ronald is gone, Mary and Rabbie become permanent residents at Lallybroch, including living there during the time when Jamie hides in the cave. The night before he is going to turn himself in to the English, Mary comes to him (just like on the show) and offers her body to him as a way to keep himself whole.

The TV series handles it much the same way as Voyager. Jamie does not want to lie with another woman, even though Claire has been gone now for seven years. But Mary tells him, «I saw your lady and how it was between the two of you. It’s not in my mind to make you feel you betrayed that. What I want is to share something different, something less mayhap, but something we both need. Something to keep us whole as we move forward in this life.»

It’s really a sweet gesture on her part, not one meant to besmirch the memory of Claire, which is why Jamie takes Mary up on her offer before being carted off to prison. Don’t worry — Mary isn’t about to become a love interest for Jamie. It’s just about two people needing a little human connection.

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Norman Reedus May Keep His Love Life Private, but He Definitely Has a Thing For Pretty Women

Norman Reedus and Diane Kruger have been going strong for quite a while now, but before she came along, Norman was linked to a handful of models. While the Walking Dead actor usually never comments on his love life, he dated former Victoria’s Secret Angel Helena Christensen in 1998 and the two even have a 17-year-old son together. Keep reading to see all the women Norman was linked to before he got together with Diane.

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17 Photos of Johnny Cash and June Carter That Prove Their Love Had Its Own Heartbeat

This month marks 14 years since Johnny Cash’s death, and while the legendary musician was known for his «steady like a train, sharp like a razor» voice, it was his marriage to June Carter that people really fell in love with. Despite going through years of hardships with Johnny’s infidelity during his first marriage to Vivian Liberto and his heavy drug and alcohol abuse, they eventually made things official when they tied the knot in 1968. The two, who had children from previous marriages, had one son together, John, and made music together until June’s passing in May 2003 (John died four months later).

They were known for being fiercely in love, and it’s a partnership that’s both inspiring and timeless. Johnny wrote June a beautiful letter for her 65th birthday in 1994, which was voted by a British poll as the most romantic letter of all time. In it, the singer, also known as the «Man in Black,» wrote, «You still fascinate and inspire me. You influence me for the better. You’re the object of my desire, the #1 Earthly reason for my existence.» Keep reading for some of their sweetest moments together.

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If You’re a Fan of the Tiny-House Trend, You’ll Love Matt Damon’s New Movie

Have you ever wished that Honey, I Shrunk the Kids was a drama instead of a fun, family comedy? Well, you’re in luck. Downsizing stars Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig as a middle-class couple who are offered the opportunity to «downsize» their lives, literally, after the technology to shrink human beings down to a few inches tall is invented. The concept alone is enough to make it one of Fall’s most anticipated new movies, not to mention the all-star cast (which also includes Jason Sudeikis, Christoph Waltz, and Hong Chau). Suffice it to say, the tiny-house trend is shook.

Downsizing hits theaters on Dec. 25.

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25 People Whose Love For Hocus Pocus Burns Brighter Than the Black Flame Candle

There’s a reason hordes of fans freak out every Fall when Hocus Pocus comes onto their screens for 13 Nights of Halloween — it’s iconic. The ’90s Disney movie encompasses everything good about spooky seasonal entertainment, from catchy music and eye-catching costumes to quotable lines and crush-worthy dudes. (Don’t pretend that you didn’t have a crush on Thackery Binx!) It’s a little bit scary, a little bit funny, and entirely lovable.

If you’re having trouble remembering exactly why Hocus Pocus is included in every decent Halloween movie marathon, allow Twitter to remind you. By the end of this list, your love for the nostalgic movie will burn brighter than the black flame candle!

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Peter Hermann and Mariska Hargitay’s Love Is Too Pure For This World

If you looked up «relationship goals» in the dictionary, chances are you would probably find Peter Hermann and Mariska Hargitay. The couple, who first met on the set of Law & Order: SVU, tied the knot in 2004 and have been giving us precious glimpses of their love life ever since. Aside from giving each other heart eyes on the red carpet, Mariska is constantly posting photos of their sweet bond on social media. From their world travels to their game-day selfies, you will no doubt swoon over their picture-perfect marriage.

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Amy Sedaris Talked To Jennifer Aniston About De-Ghosting Her Houses And Her Love Of Wellness Shit 


Harper’s Bazaar got Amy Sedaris to interview Jennifer Aniston for the October issue, and it was a ride through her Greek heritage, ghosts and her half-baked GOOP ambition. It’s actually more Amy talking, which Jen did not seem to mind since, well, it’s Amy fuckin’ Sedaris.

The whole interview is a hot mess, and I love it – particularly Amy complimenting Jen’s wedding in a manner most people would take as an insult when she said everyone was dressed like woodland creatures. No, no, Amy. Those weren’t woodland creatures so much as it was probably just Courtney Cox celebrating her newfound filler-free life!

Amy then talks to Jen about her love of renovating homes, but rather than ask her snooze questions about tiles and paint colors, she asked about her home de-spooking process. Y’know…rid a house of ghosts (or just the lingering stench of whatever B-list actor lived in the home before her). Jen said she does that before moving into any home:

“It’s funny you ask. One of the first houses I rented was in Laurel Canyon, and things would literally fall off the shelves, the televisions and stereo system would all of a sudden blast, and the coffeemaker would start making coffee. My roommate at the time, who talked to dead people, if that doesn’t sound too crazy, did a little ceremony, and that freaked me out. I was new to Los Angeles and the spirit, past lives, New Age thing. And now every house I go to, I have a healer or a medium come through. This makes me sound like an absolute insane human being.”

Don’t be embarrassed, Jen. You’re not doing anything a Real Housewife of Wherever hasn’t done before. Actually, maybe you should keep that one to yourself. I’m sure that ghost was just Angelina Jolie’s old Goth self casting a hex on Jen once she realized those “Team Aniston” shirts were outselling “Team Jolie” 2:1.

Jen also admitted that if you go to her house, her kitchen counter probably looks like your mawmaw’s, but hers isn’t clogged with old people pills and a discarded Life Alert. Her pill boxes are filled with all the vitamins she and Justin take so they never get an AARP membership in the mail and look like they should still be invited to the Teen Choice Awards. Gwyneth Paltrow might have competition, as Jen said her dream is to open her own wellness center:

“My dream is to open a wellness center. I have a fantasy where you have this beautiful space with facialists, rotating workouts, meditation classes, and a café with recipes that are healthier versions of delicious foods so you’re not deprived.”

But what about the vagina steaming station?! It seems like every Hollywood huss these days is getting into a lifestyle brand of snake oil, so prep yourself for Jen’s next round of Aveeno commercials about how her Walgreens serum also has magical powers to tighten your hush and somehow take fifteen years off your face.

Pic: Mariano Vivanco/Harper’s Bazaar


TIFF Review: Louis C.K. Courts Controversy with His Woody Allen Inspired ‘I Love You, Daddy’

No point in burying the lede: Louis C.K.’s new movie I Love You, Daddy is about his relationship with Woody Allen. It’s not exactly subtle — the character of Leslie Goodwin (John Malkovich) is a neurotic, hypochondriac filmmaker, well past retirement age, who is introduced via this exchange of dialogue:

«I’ve wanted to meet him my whole life.»

«Isn’t he a child molester?»

That first line is spoken by Glenn Topher (C.K.), a successful television comedy writer; later, when he’s about to go on an arranged lunch with his artistic hero, a collaborator insists, «You gotta ask him if he touched that kid,» to which he responds, «I could maybe work with the best writer/director ever, and you want me to ask about a fucked-up rumor? He was never even charged with that!» Just a reminder: Louis C.K. co-starred in Blue Jasmine, the Woody Allen film most recently in theaters when the allegations that Allen had sexually abused his (then seven-year-old) daughter Dylan in 1992 resurfaced. The inspiration for the character couldn’t be clearer if he’d just gone ahead and slapped Woody’s name on him.

And his character, like so many Allen admirers, begins the film by patiently explaining the separation of art from artist, and dismissing the «rumors» of his pedophilia. But the central conflict of I Love You Daddy makes the clichéd hypothetical concrete: if he’s so harmless, would you trust him with your daughter? In Glenn’s case, that’s China (Chloë Grace Moretz), who is 17 years old — the same age as Tracy, the Mariel Hemingway character romanced by Allen’s much-older television writer in Allen’s 1979 film Manhattan. I Love You Daddy is brazenly shot in the exact same style as Manhattan, a sophisticated and luminous black-and-white New York City romantic comedy, scored with lush orchestral music.

However, I Love You Daddy isn’t just two hours of Louie grappling with Woody; it’s a film that merges the autobiography of Louie with the absurdism of his first feature Tomorrow Night, mostly in his semi-uncomfortable interactions with China early on, a dynamic borne out of his wealth and her ability to play him like a violin. She pretty much gets whatever she asks for — until she asks to start dating and traveling with Leslie.

«He’s an old fuck with a shady past, and she’s a kid,» Glenn insists, and Leslie doesn’t say or do much to dispute those points, which, for Glenn, is the most unnerving part. Or maybe it’s the way those who know the filmmaker make excuses — like Grace, the movie star Glenn’s started dating, who cheerfully shrugs, «He’s an old perv.» (She’s played by Rose Byrne, in a strand that never quite gels, and her accent comes and goes rather distractingly.) Later, when he and Grace (and China and Leslie) have become more serious, Grace challenges him, insisting that age is arbitrary compared to experience, and bounces his own weaknesses back at him, specifically rumors of his own infidelities. He replies with a half-assed «You can think what you want, people say what they want, they think they know,» while insisting he’s learned that «you cannot judge anyone else’s private life» — and then realizes the trap he’s fallen into. «This is DIFFERENT,» he immediately protests, a funny line in a scene where you’re all but gasping for one. That scene is so loaded it’s downright unsettling, particularly considering C.K’s own accusations of sexual misconduct. He doesn’t duck out of this conversation — he sits in it, and keeps us there too.

That scene, and — contrary to what you might’ve read out of TIFF thus far — the movie that surrounds it, is neither attack nor apologia, though its very act of existing, of saying the things it says out loud and looking and sounding the way it does, makes it much more the former. But as fans discover every time they’re challenged to cloud their perceptions with information about terrible behavior, these things are complicated. In I Love You Daddy, C.K. has made a film that grapples with those complications, and offers no easy answers, much as he did when addressing, without skeleton keys and platitudes, the stickiness of politics, gender, and race on Louie and Horace and Pete. He’s dipped into intensely personal territory before (and for that matter, so has Allen, in films like Husbands and Wives and Deconstructing Harry). Louie was often a show where its creator Worked Shit Out, on the page and on the screen, to engaging, thought-provoking, and humorous effect.

Sadly, he never quite achieves that delicate balancing act with I Love You Daddy, and the explanation, simply, is that he’s playing with dynamite here. This is a fascinating piece of work, and compelling autobiography/personal essay, but it never quite comes together as drama; the parallels and subtext end up filling all its silences, in a manner that’s just untenable in a feature comedy. There are moments that play, in and of themselves, but the uneasiness of the material ends up overwhelming him, resulting in less a motion picture than a 123-minute think-piece generation machine.

Jason Bailey is film editor at Flavorwire. His most recent book is Richard Pryor: American Id. Follow him on Twitter.


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