May 20, 2011

No Indians in On Stranger Tides

The latest Pirates of the Caribbean movies features a search for the Fountain of Youth. Here's the legend of the Fountain:The Fountain of Youth is a legendary spring that reputedly restores the youth of anyone who drinks of its waters. Tales of such a fountain have been recounted across the world for thousands of years, appearing in writings by Herodotus, the Alexander romance, and the stories of Prester John. Stories of a similar waters were also evidently prominent among the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean during the Age of Exploration, who spoke of the restorative powers of the water in the mythical land of Bimini.

The legend became particularly prominent in the 16th century, when it became attached to the Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León, first Governor of Puerto Rico. According to an apocryphal story that features a combination of New World and Eurasian elements, Ponce de León was searching for the Fountain of Youth when he traveled to what is now Florida in 1513. Since then, the fountain has been frequently associated with Florida.
And here's what the movie gives us:

Movie review:  New 'Pirates' has fewer minutes, more Johnny Depp charm

By Chris HewittIn that same vein, where are we? Part of the movie is set in London and part of it is in Spain, but the Fountain of Youth stuff takes everyone to a leafy-green place that looks a lot like "Lost," which looks a lot like "Jurassic Park," which is to say, it's Hawaii. That's fine, I guess, but even within Hawaiiland, we can't tell how one place is connected to another place, so something as simple as a missionary moving from the fountain to a grove of trees where a mermaid is tied up (see, I told you there are too many characters) is a confusing muddle of where-was-he and where-is-he-now.Comment:  So On Stranger Tides takes place in a fantasy land even though the main elements--Blackbeard and the Fountain--are associated with the Caribbean. The movie scrubs the Caribbean out of existence.

Someone who's seen On Stranger Tides assures me it doesn't include Indians. In a sense this is good, since the Pirates movies have only stereotyped Indians. We don't need more cannibals trying to kill and eat the Europeans.

But in another sense it's bad. It removes the Indians and their cultures and histories from our sight. It furthers the notion that the Americas were uninhabited, ready for the Europeans to colonize.

Even worse, the only inhabitants of this pseudo-Caribbean are mermaids. So the fantasy land isn't inhabited by real people, but by fictional creatures. That makes it doubly problematical.

Fairy-tale lands don't have real issues. It doesn't matter if you invade them and destroy their inhabitants. Who's gonna shed a tear for dragons, elves, trolls, mermaids...or Indians?

For more on Pirates of the Caribbean, see Johnny Depp's Track Record and Pelegostos in Pirates.

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