Disclaimer: more knowledgeable people than I have written about this subject; this is just me musing rantily about a subject which is really close to my heart.
In my younger years much of my political activism was directed towards the unfortunate colonisation of both culture and history of my home country by the North American way.
From protests to demand the closure of Usian Military Bases on our national soil to throwing eggs at the opening of the first of a large fast food chain joints – I was there, in the first row. Eh, I got the scars (courtesy of a not so friendly police force) and the rap sheet to prove it.
At the time the ideological issue was that not only the winners of the Second World War were rewriting history but that globalisation was in fact suspiciously the North Americanisation of the whole world,and the inexorable growth and expansion of capitalism as a way of life.
Admittedly the very strong stand of my militant days has somewhat mellowed – I mean I still won’t eat, or let my kid eat,in the afore hinted at fast food chain but I might not end up incarcerated for trying to get every single joint closed by throwing eggs at it.
I have also grown very fond of some great North American literature, spent some time living in Usian cities and come to appreciate the ideal of liberty at all costs.
And yet, and yet – lately I have started to grow antsy again about the overwhelming influence of mainstream North American culture above the rest of the world. It started with books – of which I read many and in a variety of styles, genres and subgenres. I started noticing what I call the sanitisation of life in the majority of Usian books I was reading:
People don’t swear, they don’t have sex but they fall in love at first sight, they join/start/upend revolutionary movements only to retire at the last minute because ohmygod revolutions are bloody affairs, the villains are always of certain type. POC is always almost a token presence in both literature and film -as are members of the LGBTQ community. The heroine,who is part of the same corporate world who created the problem to start with,runs through the dinosaur infested jungle in a white suit and high heels; not urged by a desire to actually defeat a system she has created, but because she has a personal investment in the rescue. I mean high f*cking heels! I just…
Fortunately there is much going on outside mainstream to include and promote diversity in all aspects of the creative endeavour and life in general – this post is not about that, though I really want to acknowledge how fantastic this is and how much love and respect I have for all involved.
The post is about the opposite of the above.
As my child grows into a young man, and he reads more books and watches more movies, I find myself bristling again against the idea that it is ok for culture and history to become the playground of capitalism where everything is standardised and sanitised. Why do I have to sit here and acquiesce with the rewriting of history, heck the rewriting of mythology,to suit the globalisation of the world. I mean I don’t know how much time have I spent unravelling the narrative “references” he got from the Disney movies his grandmother showed him as a toddler – like no, child, that’s not really what happened with the English invaders and the Native Tribes of North America, or no – Jesus no- Colombo and the Conquistadores were NOT happy go lucky hidalgos who went to South America for kicks – they massacred a Nation, pillaged its natural resources; and no absolutely not Robin Hood was not an actual fox. I mean I know it is my job as a parent and all that but it still drives me insane.
Recently I took said kid to see the film Pan. I am telling you now: save your money, take your kids to see Hotel Transylvania 2 or something, go for pizza, ice cream and a ride in the park. Basically go and do anything that has absolutely nothing to do with watching this latest goddam awful hollywood invention of Peter Pan’s origin.
Before I go any further: I am – mostly – a very reasonable person, I thrive with change, I love re imaginings of classic tales; the sheer potential of stories I have known all my life told differently and in different media just gives me all the thrills.
I also I have absolutely no problem in saying that I read and love YA and Fantasy – from epic to urban -and Science Fiction and Romance – which is sort of besides the point, but I really would like to give you an idea of how happy I am to suspend disbelief and go with the (story) flow. I mean from vampires to werewolves to fairies to kitsune to re-invented fairy tales to contemporary twists on Greek, Roman and Norse gods – i pretty much read it and, to an extent – watch it all.
I am also aware that I should have known that a Hollywood produced “origin story” of a tale that has already been plagiarised in a million bad ways, was going to annoy me – and yet, and yet I was so not prepared for the defcon 10 annoyance level I reached with this movie!
We are all grown ups here so we all know that Peter Pan was at worst a tale about abandoned/dead children and a worst a Victorian reinvention of the myth of Pan – the good old Greek god of the wild – he who was also connected with sex, fertility, general debauchery and rather loose morals, also, strangely enough, the only god in the Greek Pantheon that dies. We also know that Barry wrote the “boy who doesn’t grow up” as heartless and selfish but also subversive of the Victorian idea of what “growing up” meant.
I read somewhere that “when it comes to your average adaptation, changes are inevitable – particularly when you are working in different formats – books to film or tv or the theatre”. And I was ready for the changes – really I was; I was also mentally prepared for the hollywood varnish coat – but by gods this was just an incredibly well made piece of rubbish.
Where do I even start ? I am overwhelmed by the sheer bad that this whole thing was.
Do I start from the enslaved thousands of children and men singing Smells Like Teen Spirit for the entertainment of Black Beard – yep you read that right, that’s Nirvana anti adult anti system anthem; I mean the fuckin irony almost killed me. Also is that song out of copyright or has Courtney Love completely lost the plot? (sorry different rant).
Also why Black Beard? A caricature of a pirate who enslaves men and children – yep not even a dicky bird of a woman in this enslaved crew to mine pixium (or some other ridiculous name for pixie dust). I mean what was wrong with Pixie Dust being of the faeries that hollywood had to make it into an extractable mineral? I mean, seriously WTF?
Or, or – and at this point I am spluttering with rage – what about Peter? J.M.Barry hints – not even that subtly – that Peter is an abandoned kid, a forgotten kid – heck the whole of Barry’s tale centers on Peter getting a “mother” with Wendy Darling because neither him or the Lost Boys remember what having a mum is like. In the film, this Peter’s mother who has done the dirty with the Prince of the fairies- is forced to leave him in the worst fucking orphanage in the history of victorian orphanages run by sadistic Irish nuns (which I mean mostly they are but stereotyping much?) in London.
Stolen from his bed by slave driving pirates (whose costumes were amazing) he is brought by flying ship into Neverland (second star to the right and all that) which is like a giant dystopian looking mining pit but also the verdant, dreamy place of Barry’s imagination.
Maybe I am just too old, maybe my elementary school teacher was too literal in her teachings but fucking hell what?
Also, Tiger Lily! Native Princess; even Barry describes her as Native (possibly using every single possible stereotype of the “noble savage” at his disposal but still native) but, hollywood? No, nope. White with funky tribal type makeup to sort of signify she is wild and warrior like, at the helm of a non white tribe. A tribe that when shot dead by pirates explodes into puffs of colours.
I mean read that sentence again – I didn’t make it up. So you have benevolent warrior white princess whose subjects are not white and a sanitised pirate led massacre where the people who get killed explode into puffs of colour.
Or maybe Hook.. Ah Captain Hook, the quintessential villain, metaphor of adulthood escaping time which inevitably follows him in the shape of a very tenacious crocodile. Not at all. In this movie Hook is Peter’s reluctant adult “friend” (which already is wrong on just about three hundred levels) who uses Peter to get out of Black Beard’s mines, betrays him in time of need, comes back when all the natives have already turned to innocuous clouds of happy colours….
Well you see my point – I think. White washing, the complete reversal of every subversive point in Peter Pan the story – never mind the myth; the denial in a way of Neverland as a place of imagination and creativity – blimey but every single accent was also wrong? I mean Barry’s Peter Pan is just about as British as they come – what’s with the overall Usian accents?
What is going to happen next? I do fervently hope that this never ever ever get’s a sequel. I mean it was almost as bad as The Last Airbender film (gasp!)Where would they even take it from here? Peter Pan grows up, conforms and embraces the whole white (north) american dream? Gets a job in the Central Bank? Hook and Tiger Lily marry and settle down in some little village, the natives all conform to the mighty power of the capitalist necessity of selling the land and the mining rights?
What was the point of this blockbuster? What is the point of these multimillion dollar productions and scores of mainstream narratives? It seems to me that the only reason for such drivel – aside from of course making money- is to continue to perpetuate a specific way of life where leaders are white and the lead are non white and their work, lives, deaths really don’t matter because hey they become puffs of bright colours. How much more are we going to accept ? How much longer are we going to settle and swallow the opportunistic rewriting of both history and entire cultures?
I wish I had a mighty conclusion to my own rant, one full of hope and positive fighting words – I don’t. What I really wish is for every parent, every one really, to tell their children that mainstream hollywood is not history, heck it is not even culture – well maybe it is, but not the only culture by miles. Instead I am ranty and rage-y.
Right so, I am off to “untell” this origin story and explain Pan – the actual original one to the kid.