". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Black Sails and Treasure Island + Outlander and Voyager

     . . . . Black Sails (2017) Season Four, final season was very good.  At this moment I'm still wondering this may be the most historically accurate action adventure period presentation dramatized on screen (and read in most historical fiction).  Cuba! Views of its bay and fortalezas and habana vieja that I too have seen and been to! Invasion of Nassau to put down the motley pre-era of Revolution crew of pirates, self-emancipated slaves, free blacks, indentures and the lower classes in general – as the greatest threat to civilization.

The Black Sails writers really read Marcus Rediker it looks like.

A deluxe 1886 edition of Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island included a treasure map.

 This isn't to say that some liberties with historical facts have not been taken -- for instance the Peruvian shipment on the pirated Spanish vessel, Urca de Lima, was made of valuable commodities such as hides and chocolate,  but not that ever more powerful chimera of gold! gold! gold! which is the ever more enthralling, ever more unattainable source of the stories of  Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island and Starz's Black Sails.  But, over all, throughout, Black Sails tacks remarkably close to what historical facts of Nassau's early history we know.

Guess who . . .  he didn't begin like this.

So it matters more for Spain and Britain to cooperate in putting them than the current war between their rulers. Their sheer outrage that anyone not of the ruling classes should attempt to change anything is brilliantly emoted.

These outsiders' ideals of anti-slavery, equality and fairness, have been bubbling along for the previous season, though sometimes submerged either by the imperious demands of survival, which means financing survival, and rivalries and conflicts of interests of all sorts.  In the final season both the ideal, inter-personal conflict and greed are at center of every action.  In the last episodes the audience begins to glimpse through the current action, the characters as we first got to know them in Stevenson's Treasure Island.

Professor Marcus Rediker

After watching the end of the series, I re-read Treasure Island, on Gutenberg since Black Sails is the prequel to the stories of all these characters long and long before Jim Hawkins enters the picture at his mother's inn, the Admiral Benbow, the black spot and all the rest.  Needless to say, in Black Sails, everybody was much much younger and very good looking, which they generally are not in Treasure Island, except perhaps that charming, enticing storyteller we meet as one-legged Long John Silver, with a parrot named Flint (Captain Flint is the central protagonist in Black Sails) -- and many of them had ideals of freedom, liberty and equality, escape from the real evils of the poor and powerless  attempting to create an alternative to Europe's ancien régime.

But in the end, as stolen treasure does, the Urca's fictional gold destroyed them all. And now they're old, so old, if not actually you know,  like Captain Flint, dead. Yet they're still chasing after that damned treasure for which  that hundreds if not thousands have already lost their honor,  blood and lives.

It had been a long time since I'd re-read Treasure Island.  What isn't different though -- and this is brilliant of Black Sails, considering its unique social and political concerns (also so much part of the age), which are seldom if ever found in adventure entertainments --  from the first pages already, the evil miasma of the Urca treasure contagion is in play.  Hawkins, the boy, of course, like we kids who are much of Stevenson's targeted audience, can't see it.  But the boy can see danger, far more quickly than the adults do.

This particularly struck me in terms of Starz's Outlander, both because I just finished re-reading Voyager, the third novel in Diana Gabaldon's historical romance series from which this current season is adapted, and the latest episode takes place at sea, sailing to Jamaica. The ships used in this episode are among those that had been constructed for Black Sails. 
Voyager's action is located in the spread of 1745 - 1765, only a few decades after Black Sails in 1715.  The African slave trade, slavery and indenture slavery were reaching their peak during this entire arc. This is something that the pirates of the era understood thoroughly.  The more oppressed the bottom, i.e. slaves, can be, the more oppressed are every class above them.

Voyager was the book in the series after which I quit, because none of it was working any more. The arbitrary artificiality of the obstacles being put int the way of the twenty years older Claire and Jamie, to have a life without running, and lots and lots of their happy, happy sex is preposterously obvious. This is the point where the series goes off the rails in the books, and probably does on television too.  It's all more likely due to the author's embarrassing caricatures of non-white characters and her ignorance of the cultures in the Caribbean in general.

The author's determination to keep this a romance, is, in the end, makes the effort only about the personal, and by extension to family and clan's well-being, which are still personal concerns.  In Black Sails, romance was not the point.  Sex wasn't even the point., though there was a lot of it, some, unwatchably violent and abusive, detailed and prolonged. Though lesbians were not punished for being lesbian,  gay men had to keep their love a terrible secret, which such demand by society and law at large, has effects on the development of character, thinking and action.

Loyalty and companionship matter of course, but most of all for some, at least, among the Black Sails' crews, there were those who had larger loyalties to ideals of social and political justice, for women and men, for black as well as white. Not only is Black Sails a prequel to Treasure Island, but it's a prequel to revolution, located as it is on the eve of the Era of Revolutions that set the whole world on fire (with help from that anti-revolutionary, Emperor  Napoleon) -- Washington, George Danton, Toussaint L'Ouverture, Símon Bolívar.  But the Outlander books, really about Claire and Jamie's ROMANCE, and  her family and their romance,s as more and younger members of her family arrive in the past from the future, are missing this dimension.

Perhaps that makes the contrast between Starz Outlander and Black Sails all the more stark: Outlander's Voyager turned us cranky and impatient; Black Sails got ever more compelling as the seasons and episodes rolled on.

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