Astronomers and Pirates

In an effort not to travel, the internet offers a great resource while it’s still free. If you don’t want to wander from home, it brings movies you might’ve missed right to your domicile. This year has been so busy that we’d missed completely Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. I know, as the Pirate movies spin on and on they become more special effects extravaganzas with insipid, if complex, plots. Still, we’ve been watching from the beginning, so last night we decided to see it through. The movies are fun, if less well written than they were at the beginning (and the movie began without a script). There are moments worth attention, however.

The story follows Carina Smyth as she attempts to discover her father through following his diary. This, of course, brings her path across that of Captain Jack Sparrow. Smyth is an astronomer and horologist. Because she’s female and this is the eighteenth century, she’s labeled a witch. Both the proximate and ultimate cause of the accusation is her gender. Although she proves to be the real hero of the film, the men can’t help thinking she’s a witch although she’s using science to find answers. In fact, if a male astronomer did the same things she did, there’d be no story here. This is a post-Galileo world. It’s also post-Salem. We don’t watch these films for history, of course, but it is true that although the witchcraft trials ended at the turn of that century, the accusations continued for some time after. The woman of science is a threat to the male establishment. She alone, however, discerns the truth.

Swashbuckler cinema was a male invention. Still, even in the twenty-first century too much of it comes at the expense of women. Jack Sparrow’s famous compass, for example, is passed on to him aboard a ship called the “Wicked Wench.” Surely this is meant to be funny, but at whose expense? The other women in the movie hardly come off better. Shansa actually is a witch, working for the establishment. Beatrice Kelly, in Jack Sparrow’s noose wedding, is portrayed as an undesirable bride, purely for laughs. Disney is famous for its princesses, but also for its wicked women. Even the strong female characters such as Mulan, Moana, and Anna find themselves being helped to success by male characters. Obviously the genders do interact in real life, and as recent history has shown us, men will demonize women if it helps them get ahead. You might think a movie of anti-heroes, however, would show the most intelligent character receiving a bit more respect. Especially since she’s a woman in a pirate’s world.

Down the Garden Trail

According to NBC, a new “Christian” alternative to Boy Scouts USA is being launched in (over)reaction to the vote to allow gay teens to “join” the organization. Calling themselves “Trail Life USA,” this redeemed-only organization is supposed to be “safer” than other scouting options. This issue, of course, is all about perception. There have been gay Boy Scouts from the beginning and there will be gay Trail Life members. People are people, and just by saying that a sexual orientation is excluded does not mean that it will be, or ever can be (nor should be). “This is not another church program,” John Stemberger, one of the founders, is quoted as saying. “This is going to be a masculine outdoor program to raise young men.” The subtext is sluggish with irony. I am reminded of the scene in Disney’s Mulan where Yao, Ling, and Chien-Po are about to climb the pillars to the emperor’s palace in drag and the song “Be a man,” starts its reprise. Masculine outdoor program indeed.

Photo by Bruce Anderson, Wikipedia Commons

Photo by Bruce Anderson, Wikipedia Commons

The idea of separating youth from the realities of the world to keep them safe is like taking them into the woods without telling them there may be bears. Those of us who’ve spent nights in the woods know that hating bears is a ridiculous posture to take. Bears, even when gnawing on your arm, don’t hate you. They simply exist. It is the balance of nature. Studies of nature have time and again revealed that homosexuality is far from unnatural. Several species practice various homosexual behaviors and I am certain that the more we observe nature the more we will find ourselves mirrored in it. Nature can be quite encompassing in that way.

Christianity also has a long history of being at a kind of equilibrium with homosexuality. The all-male priesthood of the Middle Ages could hardly be classified as all self-denying heterosexuals. Even some televangelists of the most Protestant stripe have confessed to gay encounters and episodes. New uniforms and solemn promises will not change the way a person is born. Of course, if the child is Jewish or Hindu or Muslim, he will need to abide by a statement of Christian belief. What of Mormons or Seventh Day Adventists? Thankfully lines drawn in the sand are easily washed away. Exclusion may have been the trope of the Christian past, but as Boy Scouts boldly go where every man should’ve gone before, Trail Life, it seems, may have been appropriately named. It’s life John, but not as we know it.