Pirate Majority

I’ve been reading, of late, a bit of the online ramblings of Steve Barnes. Steve is a talented Science Fiction writer who often talks about how the world looks from a black perspective. There’s things that are wrong about the world that are unique to each particular minority’s perspective and there’s things about the world that all minorities hold in common. I’m going to try to talk a little about both.

I do talk to God about it, but she doesn’t always get it. I mean, when it comes to empathy, well, no one’s better at it than she is, but even the best empathy can only take you so far. I tried to get her to look at things from the perspective that she’s her own minority, since she’s the one and only god, but she just pointed out that she’s also the super-majority because every thing and everyone is part of her. For her being one with everything is not just zen, it’s, well, everything.

Probably the thing most unique to the African American perspective is seeing how the remnants of slavery still play out. There’s got to be a thousand little societal tics that come out of our ancestors having the appalling effrontery to actually claim ownership of other human beings and I’m probably blind to most of them. Some of them I can see when they’re pointed out to me, for instance Steve points out how rare it is for a black man to kiss a woman in a movie, but there’s doubtless others that I’m missing and would probably dismiss if they were pointed out. Even if we jump at the opportunities we get to walk a mile in each other’s moccasins, there’s a lot that we miss; the world’s a lot bigger than one mile.

So let’s take one example here and look at it just a little. God and I went out this week and saw the movie “Pirate Radio.” I liked the movie, I liked it a lot, but it’s a mixed bag when looked at through “minority goggles.” There’s one black character. There might be some others in the scenes filled with extras, but if there was I didn’t notice them. And if there was, and I didn’t notice them, well that’s part of what I’m talking about as to having my own blinders. There’s also one gay character, but she’s accepted because she’s just one of the guys. Although, unlike the black character, they make a point of showing that she gets laid. So as I said, there’s one black guy, and because I’ve been reading Steve’s stuff recently it was enough in the front of my mind that I took the time to note how he was treated by the filmmakers.

Mostly he’s a background guy. He’s part of the chorus, as it were, but he’s the part of the chorus that’s right up front when they’re providing comic relief but just blends in when they’re doing something more serious. He’s got a big goofy grin and comes across as a bit of a doofus. He’s just what Steve would have predicted, non-threatening and easily dismissed. When the boatload of women arrives for their biweekly day of debauchery, presumably there’s a date for the black guy. I say presumably because he doesn’t end up in the lounge with the one couple that’s not yet ready for sex and the one new guy that’s fresh out of boarding school and doesn’t know any women. I also say presumably, because I never saw him with whoever came for him, but I assume she was there. Of course, later events suggested that the lesbian hadn’t had a date but didn’t hang out in the lounge, so maybe he didn’t get laid.

If I remember Steve correctly, he suggests that this is due to xenophobia and to men feeling threatened by sexual competition from other ethnicities, especially blacks. Lesbians are okay because men don’t feel threatened by women, at least not until they encounter them in the workplace (which I didn’t get from Steve, just for the record).

What about my own minority then? What did the movie look like from a gay perspective. Well, it was kind of strange. I’ve already mentioned that unlike the vast vast majority of films, there’s a gay character. I think I’ve already gotten across that like the vast vast majority of minority characters in movies, she was relegated to sidekick status, portrayed in a sexually non-competitive way, and was mostly ignored, but she did get some attention, she did get lines, and she did get laid. In short, she was more than set dressing, but not by much. But something else was going on. It was a boat full of straight men, and believe me, they made it clear that these guys were straight, yet they were kissing each other (on the cheeks), hugging each other, and putting arms around each other. The only (mostly) full body nude shots were of guys, played for laughs sure, but none the less… It was, I’d say, subversively gay. It was not quite titillating but it was certainly surreal.

So go see it. See it with an open mind. Revel in the killer classic-rock soundtrack. Let it give you a feel for how revolutionary the music of the sixties really was, in more ways than one. And then take a few moments to reflect on how narrow the demographic portrayed in the movie is; it’s a good chance to practice your own empathy. One black guy, one gay character, women used mostly as props. Is that the message that sixties’ rock sends to you?

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