Saturday, April 12, 2008

Secrets of the Starbucks Mermaid

I swear I’m not fixating on mythological creatures, previous posts being evidence to the contrary. That being said, this post chiefly concerns mermaids and coffee.

During my aimless Wikipedia browsing, I stumbled upon the page for a concept known as “The Mermaid Problem,” which is basically an examination of the paradox of mermaids being sexually attractive but sexually unviable by virtue of the apparent lack of genitalia. Take a look: Those girls are mackerel from the waist down. It's a problem that Fry encountered with no small amount of distress in the "Lost City of Atlanta" episode of Futurama. Wikipedia poses a few solutions, however, among them the notion that some mermaids were depicted having a split or split-able tail that would theoretically allow for lovemaking and subsequent creation of babies that were one-quarter fish.

As this insightful article discusses, mermaids make for some fun speculation, as far as symbols go. They are simultaneously sexpots and permavirgns — a dualism that should bring to mind the Madonna-whore complex associated with Christianity’s supreme mystical female, Mary. (The article also astutely mentions that “Star of the Sea” is one of Mary’s many names despite the fact that the woman wasn’t exactly a beach bum during her time on earth.) After all, the very name of these often naked female creatures can be literally read as “sea-maiden.” All this happens to be encapsulated nicely in the Starbucks logo, which, in its original form, also happens to be a good visual example of what these imminently sexable split-tailed mermaids look like.

Here’s the Starbucks logo as it looks now:

And here it is before the mermaid mascot was cropped.

And here’s what she looked like in her initial incarnation, before Starbucks higher-ups decided she might look a little too provocative.

And this fourth image — a purported 15th-century drawing of a figure known as the “baubo siren” inspired the original logo.

Talk about a familiar company logo that’s showing more than you thought.

Similar to how the Disney’s The Little Mermaid — mermaid text with which most Americans are now familiar — managed to hide any hint of the dangerous sexuality associated with this mythological creature, so too has the Starbucks mermaid been gradually de-sexed. It’s still there, if ever so slightly: on either side of her head in the current logo, you can still see the halves of her split tail held to the sides of her head. You wouldn’t know what you’re looking at, necessarily, unless somebody explained it, but it does hint at concealed sexuality. And for God’s sake, don’t think that pose isn’t supposed to be overtly sexual. Were Miss Starbucks a full-on woman and not a half-woman, her pose would be downright pornographic.

Thought I don’t recall ever seeing this figure before I started looking into material for this post, the split-tailed mermaid is not an infrequent subject in art from various periods, the following samples being proof.

In my opinion, this revelation is easily twice as shocking as the hidden phallus on the old VHS cover for The Little Mermaid. May you never look at the Starbucks logo the same way again.

EDIT: In case you’re curious — and the remarkable influx of traffic I’ve gotten from people Googling “baubo siren” would lead me to believe that some of you are, in fact, curious — I have newer mermaid-related and baubo-related posts.


  1. A few observations:

    Note that as we get closer to Starbuck's mermaid she gets less sexual.

    Perhaps they should have different versions depending upon whether you get decaf or not?

    “Star of the Sea” is one of Mary’s many names despite the fact that the woman wasn’t exactly a beach bum

    She might have hung out at the Sea of Galilee, you know.

  2. Responses (or, if you will, mer-sponses):

    1) Clearly, she’s shy.

    2) I think they should design special heat-sensitive coffee cup sleeves that gradually fade into something more provocative as your drink warms them.

    3) I admit I didn’t think about the Sea of Galilee, nor did I realize how close it was to Nazareth. And though I’m amused by the thought of Mary in a powder blue bikini, starring in a late B.C. version of a beach party movie, I also would bet that “star of the sea” didn’t originate as a result of a connection to any actual body of water. I’m only basing my this on other people’s theories, of course, but the name “Mary” seems to be a fairly tricky one, at least in terms of etymology. In short, no one seems to be completely sure what it means. I’d initially thought it was Egyptian — “Mary” is the same name as “Miriam” in Hebrew, and siblings Moses, Miriam and Aaron all seem to have Egyptian names — but this Catholic Encyclopedia article deems that theory barely probable at best.

    What would seem to be more correct is that “Mary” resulted from a combination of the Hebrew words mar (meaning “bitter,” like our word myrrh) and yam (“drop of the sea”). What that drop is, exactly, isn’t clear to me. A pearl? A drop of water? A small body of water? In any case, “star of the sea” would seem to result from the similarity of a translation of yam as “stilla,” which is correct. A trend among uneducated Latin speakers resulted in many an “i” being substituted with an “e,” and “stilla” became “stella.” Thus, “star of the sea.” Then again, the article deems even this possibility as “philologically inadmissible.”

    …So maybe it just means “starfish”?

  3. 1. I don't know how I missed this post, but I do have some interesting information for you. I know it's really sad I don't remember the name of the island (it could have been Cyprus, but I'm not positive), but when I was in Europe 5 years ago, I saw the double tailed mermaid all over this particular island and it is associated with the perfume that is made there at an old monastery. I've looked all over the internet and couldn't figure out where it's from. Somewhere, I have a picture of her painted on a wall near the lift from the harbor. Anyway the whole time I was there I was thinking about how much Starbucks ripped off this cool image and about how much more badass she looked in the paints.

    2. For more information as to why Mary is seen as both a virgin and a harlot look up the Kabbalistic sefirot of Binah to which both Mary Magdalene and the Virgin Mary are associated with (of course nether as a harlot). This sefirot represents the Heavenly Mother or the female derivation of Keter. She is all loving and is therefore identified with the Whore of Babylon (hence why the Christian God will take anyone "just as you are") but she is also seen as the Virgin Mother. Also as an interesting note to Mary being related to the name Miriam: Mary (Jesus' mom) was also known as Miriam's Well.