Sunday, May 27, 2007

Public Sphere on a Dead Man's Chest: Politics of the Pirates of the Carribean

Maybe Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End is not transcendent political theater, but when I saw it today, I couldn't help but think that it carries a message (intended or not) to today's political climate.

On face value, the politics are simple. An evil corrupt and powerful official is trying to brutally and ruthlessly kill the heroes. The heroes (this is an American film) represent freedom, the oppressed, liberty, etc. etc. This is a perfectly traditional dramatic conflict, although today, it is a little bit subversive. Compare Pirates to the upcoming The Kingdom . The Kingdom seems from the trailer to be an example of a different kind of traditional American film story. Virtuous G-men go into somewhere dangerous to clean out the evil-doers. In these years when dissent from the Government line is considered disloyalty and nearly sedition, telling a story about smelly and drunken but virtuous outsiders resisting and overcoming an evil authority is downright radical.

And the plot thickens. Who is the villain? Not just "The British", a favorite punching bag for American anti-authority films, but an unholy usurpation of British state power by a for profit corporation! (A rejected name for the film was, I've heard, Halliburton on the High Seas )

There are all sorts of things to look at. For example, it seems to me that the pirates could be a kind of middle class. They'd done some pretty terrible things (including enslaving the spirit of the oppressed - Calypso), and no one doubts their devotion to limited self interest.

Also, does Davy Jones have a place in this discussion? Or does his role not extend into the political battle that is happening in the movie?

And the final moral? The pirates unite in the end, but what really saves the day is the heroism of the two cleanest and whitest pirates, Elizabeth and Will. Can the downtrodden never create free social and political space for themselves without defectors from the elite class?

Set sail for liberty. Har, har har. *groan*

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