Friday, August 11, 2006

Airplanes and a Breadfruit Ship

The major airports of the civilized world were “roiled” yesterday by the prospect of barbarian attacks, as the newspaper headlines put it – roiled that is, since the mainstream media still seem reluctant to use the judgment-laden barbarian. I have to like a verb that usually only shows up in headlines. Here in my quiet little office I spoke with someone affected by the roiling, a woman I’d called in the morning to interview for an article completely unrelated to airline security.

Sometimes people never call back, but she did call me late in the afternoon. She explained that she’d been in the air, flying into Washington DC that morning, and her arrival was delayed—either in the air or on the ground or both, she wasn’t specific. In any case, the delays must have been part of the roiling.

Lately I’ve been reading The Bounty by Caroline Alexander, “the true story of the mutiny on the Bounty.” Alexander is probably better known for her recent telling of Shackleton’s incredible story in The Endurance, but I haven’t read that yet. Bounty is a fine book, full of interesting detail. I’ve known for quite a while that Lt. Bligh (he wasn’t actually a captain until later) wasn’t really the martinet that Charles Laughton played so memorably, certainly no worse than many ship commanders of the time, and yet when I picture Bligh, I think of Laughton. And Mister Christian is of course is Clark Gable. Such is the potency of a good movie.

Interestingly, no one can say why the mutineers did what they did, though the book suggests that Christian suffered from an unexpected bout of paranoia, while some of the others were all too eager to get back to Tahiti. Such uncertainty doesn’t play well in a movie, so Christian has to strike a blow (dramatically) against an inhumane captain. Moreover, the movie(s) didn’t blacken Bligh’s name without precedent, since the families of some of the mutineers took pains to do so in the years after the incident.

All of which might bring up the way movies typically distort history, but that doesn’t concern me all that much. The world is big enough for historic narrative based on documents and other evidence, and narrative myth spawned by history.

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