Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.)

Degree Granting Department

Humanities and Cultural Studies

Major Professor

Brook Sadler, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Daniel Belgrad, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Andrew Berish, Ph.D.


camp, comportment phenomenology, feminist theories, kitsch, mermaid, objectification


Scholars have asserted that the visual representation of womanhood responds to a cultural context, which often adheres to patriarchy and the satisfaction of the male gaze. The mediated depiction of the mermaid through time is polysemous and therefore deserves a thorough examination substantiated by robust theories. As a gendered feminine figure that complies with the patriarchal pressure of subjugation to gratify male desire, the mermaid can, however, elude the socially constructed dichotomy of genders, contributing to her agency and queerness. By investigating the Florida roadside attraction of Weeki Wachee Springs’ mermaid shows and other mediated visual depictions of the sea creature, I contend that the sexualization of the mermaid and, simultaneously, the empowerment of an alluring genitalia-less feminine body participate in reinforcing the ambiguity of the mythological figure. Weeki Wachee Springs underwater theater started its operation in the post-World War II socio-economic and cultural context and has offered a unique and rich perspective on the mermaid’s narrative and the evolution of its role. Feminist theories highlight the subjugation of the female body to satisfy the male gaze when analyzing socially constructed feminine-coded body postures and choreographies of the Weeki Wachee’s shows, which support the claim of gender identity as performative. Through its hybridized body and the presence of a fishtail, the mermaid is sexless, which blurs gender dichotomy classification and suggests the possibility of gender non-normativity. In addition to examining the resurgence and mediated reappropriation of the mermaid’s representation and its aesthetic value through camp style and the popularization of kitsch and nostalgia, I affirm that the mermaid has gained significant agency in participating in the contemporary empowerment of young girls through the practice of “mermaiding,” and has served as a powerful advocate for environmental conservation. This project has the ambition to complicate the existing literature on the mermaid’s body and to underline the evolution of its cultural significance from the 1950s until today. The implicit and explicit connotation of the mermaid is not monosemous; therefore, it is essential to fathom and discern the polymorphous signifiers the sea creature suggests, which give women alternative options to traditional gender roles.