In which our intrepid crew kicks off the podcast with a discussion of what it is that first drew us to the HBOMax series, Our Flag Means Death, and what it is that we hope to do with this podcast!
[00.00.10] Our theme music is “Jolly Roger (Pirate Sea Shanty)” by Pond5 artist craigbotes
[00.01.48] No, really
[00.03.42] In our case, “academic adjacent” means that EJ is a PhD candidate working on their dissertation, Kavita is a recovering academic, and Evan and Lori are both on contingent academic contracts. We all actively write and research.
[00:06:00] Hayles Gledhill, Evan (2019), Deviant subjectivities: monstrosity and kinship in the Gothic imagination. PhD thesis, University of Reading
[00:07:56] THE FOOT TOUCH
[00:09:46] Amanuensis, for those of us who aren’t 18th Century literature scholars
[00:10:37] “We’re werewolves, not swearwolves.”
[00:17:58] Didja miss the Instagram livestream? Here it is!
[00:20:11] Yuri!!! on Ice kiss scene
[00:20:14] Morimoto, Lori (2019) “(Trans)Cultural Legibility and Online Yuri!!! on Ice Fandom,” Mechademia 12.1. 136-159.
[00:21:51] If you haven’t seen it, you’re missing out!
[00:27:36] The Last Bluel
[00:28:29] I mean…
[00:30:14] “Grafton, West Virginia”
[00:31:05] Stede’s outfit is basically an Anzac military uniform c. 1900, give or take
[00:31:14] A fun bit of meta that parses some of Mary’s art: “Mary’s Paintings“
[00:31:22] The Fresnel lens, for those of us who are not amateur lighthouse historians
[00:39:30] “Bowdlerize,” for those of us who may have seen it but never bothered to look it up
[00:40:24] “Quisling,” for those of us not up on our Norwegian WWII-era history
[00:42:24] Benjamin Franklin on abortion, who knew?
Lori: This is The Shipping Forecast where we talk it through
ALL: as a crew.
Lori: We did that so badly.
Kavita: So badly.
Evan: Yeah, that was pretty bad.
EJ: My fault.
Lori: This is The Shipping Forecast, where we talk about all things related to Our Flag Means Death. In our inaugural episode, we begin with just a brief self-introduction, and then we move into a discussion of how it was that we first encountered Our Flag Means Death. Enjoy!
Kavita: I am Kavita Mudan Finn, and I’m an academic, recovering academic, specializing in medieval and early modern literature and also fan studies.
Evan: I’m Evan Hayles Gledhill. I’m a transmasculine enby in London who teaches television sometimes, does user research sometimes, and is basically a professional nerd.
EJ: I’m EJ Nielsen, working on a dissertation right now on fan art. I am non-binary, bisexual, living in the US with ADHD, and probably a few other undiagnosed things, and three cats.
Lori: I’m Lori Morimoto. I’m not Japanese American. That’s my husband. But I am married to him, and I took his name because, I don’t know, it was easier on the paperwork with kids. And I teach at the University of Virginia, who probably does not want to be associated with this. So, there we go.
Kavita: Okay, well, I started watching because EJ texted me at 11:30 at night, one night, and said, ‘oh, my God, you need to watch this show right now’.
Lori: I think that’s because I was DM-ing with EJ saying, ‘have you told Kavita about this yet?’
Kavita: There you go. So, yes, around the grapevine I came to it. And my husband and I started watching it and we were rationing it. That was the original plan, was, okay, we’ll watch one episode a night, and then that way we’ll have it for more than a week. That didn’t work. We ended up binging it. And the best part was, we get to the end of what we thought was episode nine out of ten. And we were like, ‘oh, yeah, sure, there’s going to be another episode. We’ll just finish it tomorrow’. And we come back down and we sit down and we’re all set. We’ve got drinks, we’ve got, like, rum runners. We’re all ready to watch what we think is the finale, and there’s nothing we’re like, wait a second. So that’s how it ends? And that way, we both had to sit down and reprocess exactly what had just happened. So, we are in the middle of a rewatch right now. But, yeah, it is a delightful breath of fresh air. It was exactly what I needed in the depths of February and March of 2022. I just, there are so many things that I find fascinating about it, the way that it plays with genre, the way that it plays with tropes, the fact that it is very much a historical fiction, but it kind of takes this very light-hearted view of historical fiction. And I, in my increasing age, and increasing time spent in academia surrounded by pedants, I really like historical fiction that does not take itself seriously.
Lori: Oh yeah. And I didn’t mention at the beginning, but, yeah, we should probably mention that we’re all academics of one kind or another. We have an interesting relationship to academia, each of us.
EJ: Recovering academics?
Evan: Academic adjacent?
Lori: Yeah, academic adjacent, that kind of thing. All right, well, thank you, Kavita. So next in the alphabet is Evan Hayles Gledhill, who is coming to us live from London, and, so, we’re very excited about this.
Evan: Via the magic of the Internet.
Lori: The magic of the internet!
Evan: Yeah. As a struggling-to-establish-themselves-in-any-way academic, as it were, who teaches television studies most often, actually, I genuinely can’t remember how I found out about this show. And that’s partly my ADHD talking, and partly the fact that it’s been a really stressful couple of years. Right? We’ve had the pandemic, we’ve had teaching online only. We’ve had furloughs from other jobs. I got a new job in November. It’s all just been really, really busy. And so, at some point in March, I downloaded *coughs* this show that isn’t available in the UK yet. I gained access to this show that isn’t available in the UK yet. And I started watching, and I knew in advance – I do know that I knew – that it was Taika Waititi and Rhys Darby, because I’ve had many Taika-induced personal crises over the years. This isn’t my first. Damn that man. And I started watching it and I realized that the last episode was going to drop on the Friday and my birthday was on the Monday. So, I’d watched a few episodes and I invited my best friend and my mum on my birthday. I was like, right, we’re going to watch some of this, and we’re going to have nice food and cake and we’re going to really enjoy ourselves. And I’m really, really glad that, like Kavita, I couldn’t help binging and finished the show that weekend before I had to watch it again with friends, because obviously the last episode just mentally devastates you. So, I had a weekend of recovery, and then by the time they watched it with me, I was already on – it was rewatch three. Right. And that’s the Monday after the final episode dropped on the Friday.
Because as a TV studies tutor with a background in the Gothic, that’s what my PhD was on – queerness, disability, and the Gothic, and looking at ideas of kinship and looking at ideas of judgment, essentially like, why the Gothic is this space that we escape to – this was such a rich text. It was such a rich text. And it just instantly became my new favorite TV show. So that’s why I’m here, because I just love this world that they’ve created. And of course, it’s got loads and loads of really great British actors in as well. I’ve had a crush on Con O’Neill since, like 1997. So, it’s really nice to see him getting his fandom dues as well. And Samson Kayo, and it’s really nice to see everyone go like, ‘oh, they’re my favorites’. It’s like, yes, the whole of the UK is, yes.
Lori: Absolutely. Well, thank you. So, I’m going to jump over my last name for a minute, which is Morimoto, and go over to EJ Nielsen, who will now let us know how they came to the show.
EJ: Well, I think I first came across it at all on my TL, because obviously people on my TL started going absolutely batshit for it. So, then I started seeing – I think I probably first encountered it as fan art, as images of the characters from the show. And then it became gif-sets and various other things. And then that was supplemented by Lori getting in touch with me and saying, ‘oh my God, you have to watch this immediately’.
Which was interesting because it meant I went in knowing that there was going to be this queerness, like, anticipating that this was going to happen, which is interesting because you don’t see it quite as much in the first few episodes. The first one almost sets you up to be a workplace comedy, a la The Office, but it’s on a pirate ship or something, like it’s doing interesting things with genre, that first episode. Especially everything that happens before Blackbeard. But I knew he was coming. And then, of course, I did end up starting to watch it. And then as it builds, it builds, oh my God, the foot touch! And then as someone who’s been a fan of a number of other forms of media, this is then the warm, comforting feeling of entering a new fandom. And, honestly, watching a fandom grow and develop, and the media develop, and the fic develop, and the memes, and the inside jokes, and the community build around it has also been absolutely beautiful and fascinating to watch, because that’s a lot of what I study. I’m working on a dissertation on fan art right now. So, watching a fandom grow from the ground-up is usually, and certainly is in this case, a lot of fun to watch it happen in real time on social media.
And of course, the show itself is absolutely worthy of that. There are fandoms I’m engaged in that are interesting because the fandom is just so much better than the media text, where the media text apparently just gave an audience just enough to build on, that they then went and build fantastic, wonderful, beautiful things from this thing they found laying around, effectively. But with this one, you actually have a media that’s kind of worthy of the fandom that it’s got, that is worth returning to and looking at again. And my last, very engaged in, that I’m still engaged in, fandom, is Hannibal, which is – they’re very different shows – but they’re similar in odd ways too. So, enjoying all of that. And I like pirates, so.
Evan: But this is also how I met you, EJ. It’s because Lori nagged me in late-night texts into Hannibal The same thing.
Lori: Yes, I did. And I’d do it again, man.
Kavita: This is how we all got into Hannibal.
Lori: Right! Basically, it’s just-
Evan: The evangelist, Lori Morimoto.
Lori: I don’t take responsibility for Kavita.
Kavita: That’s true. That was EJ.
Lori: But EJ is my conduit, if you will.
Kavita: I said ‘amanuensis’. There you go.
Lori: See, now you’re using words I don’t know.
Evan: 18th century scholars, represent!
Lori: You can see where the lines are starting to fall. The divisions, if you will, those of us who are mired in just, like, contemporary popular culture and then those of us who are all 18th century.
Evan: And use words like amanuensis
Lori: Yes. All right. So how did I get there? I was actually on HBO plus – no, HBO Max – for something else, as often happens. And I saw that it had started, and I watched the first two episodes, and I was kind of like, ‘yeah, that’s cute’. I didn’t know who Rhys Darby was. No, I mean, I knew who he was. I didn’t know his name. I knew that there was ‘werewolves, not swearwolves’, which was adorable. And that’s really kind of my interest in it, was that I knew that Taika Waititi was involved, and I am a huge fan of What We Do in the Shadows, the film and the television series that Jemaine Clement was deeply involved in. And I’m still a big fan of that. It’s coming out July 12. I cannot wait. And I was also a huge fan of Thor: Ragnarok, to be honest. I thought it was brilliant. And Korg was literally my favorite character, I am not even kidding, because when he talked about the pamphlets, I just lost it. And yeah, I’m kind of also, like, I have this tortured relationship with Taika, wherein he is so pretty and so much, and I am there for it. But I kind of fell off watching it. I watched the first few episodes, and then I sort of fell off, and then people started talking about it before the series had ended. And so I kind of got back on board. I started watching some more, and I’m like, wait a minute, this is getting really good. And I watched it in real time. So, I watched the last two episodes when they dropped, and it was like, ‘Jesus Christ, what is this new, shiny, beautiful, sparkly thing that I have to go online now and find out about?’ And that is about the time that I kind of direct messaged EJ and said, ‘Watch the thing, man. Watch the thing. Is Kavita watching it? Watch the thing.’ And we kind of went from there.
Lori: All right. So, we’ve talked about how we encountered it and a little bit about what it meant to us. But I did want to delve a little bit into that. I mean, obviously it meant enough that we’re like, ‘we should do a podcast.’ ‘Yeah, let’s do a podcast.’ So here we are doing a podcast. And so what is it- actually, let me just ask you, especially since this is sort of episode one, and anybody who’s listening is probably going, ‘what the hell are they going to talk about?’ What are some of the things – without getting into too much detail, because that’s where we get derailed, and save it for another episode – but what are some of the things that you’re really enthusiastic about talking about in relation to this show? Over many podcast episodes, not all today?
Kavita: Genre, historicity, and particularly, just the way that they play with historicity and genre. The way that they take so many elements, so many tropes, and they kind of blend them all together, and it works cohesively somehow.
Evan: The use of the sitcom format, the way they use structure and narrative storytelling. Particularly, I’m just going to keep screaming: ‘episode five, episode five’, as one of… like, it should be taught in schools as this is how you do a sitcom episode. It’s a classic of sitcom format. But at the same time, as Kavita says, it’s historical fiction, it’s a romcom, it’s a workplace comedy. It’s got queerness, disability, representation. It’s engaging with topical ideas of the present era. But at the same time, it doesn’t do that thing that historical drama often does, where it safely locks it away in the past, where, ‘oh, it’s the past. And, therefore, we can say things about race, but that we won’t say now’. Because these guys say it in the interviews, they contextualize constantly. So, it’s incredibly rich because it’s also deliberately, very deliberately, engaged and beautifully put together. It is a beautifully structured text.
EJ: Queerness, gender representation, race, disability, visible and invisible disabilities. The fandom, the way the fandom has grown, and embraced it, and developed. There’s just so much going on. And, as a historical text, it takes a completely different tack towards a lot of these things than is done in similar texts. Right now, you could think of Bridgerton, obviously, the way it engages with things and how different that engagement is. Also, lighthouses. I just really like lighthouses.
Lori: I was going to say, we had, like, an entire pre-recording discussion about the freaking lighthouses, and that has not come up yet.
Evan: Leather Queens. That’s something I really love. And thank you very much for this show on that one.
EJ: Lighthouses, sea monsters.
Lori: Kraken. Tentacles, I mean…
EJ: Seagulls. I saw this gifset of Taika, talking about how he loved Master and Commander as a romantic film. And I was like, finally, I feel so seen, because, that is a beautiful romance film I love, that my dad also loves. And I don’t think he sees it quite the way I see it, although that would be an interesting conversation if he did. I love nautical stuff.
Evan: That’s the thing, they say we’re not making a romance, it’s a real romance. And the phrase bromance, the phrase bromance totally fucks me off. Because on the one hand, it works in certain situations. Generally, if you’re casting Channing Tatum, you’re going to have a bromance, because it’s going to be about bros. It’s going to be about bro culture and how these guys deal with their masculinity, and, also, having close, meaningful relationships with other men. That’s where, that is the very limited frame of reference in which I will accept the term bromance: when they are literally dealing with bro culture for a reason. Magic Mike XXL is the absolute apotheosis of this genre and is fucking fantastic. Genuinely love that film. It’s very sweet. But in general terms, as EJ just said, what it does is add distance to things that are actually just hitting the beats of a traditional romance. The Master and Commander romance is not a bromance. It’s not dealing with its masculinity stuff of bro-ish cultures. It’s straightforwardly just these beats of these people coming closer. Right?
EJ: And then making beautiful music together in the most literal and non-literal of senses.
Evan: Exactly. So, it does not deserve this bromance thing. And you can go back to all the things that have led up to that point; whether it’s deliberate queerbaiting, whether it’s, like, that weird, uncomfortable ‘we don’t know how to frame male friendships, because we don’t have frames of reference for this thing’ of, like, Tango and Cash, or whatever. Yes, I’m going to reference a lot of action movies. My major hobbies are watching action movies whilst doing cross stitch.
Lori: That’s perfect.
Evan: So, the idea of the bromance gets thrown around at things that are romances way too often, and I was really glad to see them engage with that term and be like, “no, Master and Commander, romance. Take the bro out of it’. Can I just say one thing I really appreciate about this TV show? It’s completely legitimated, my lockdown haircut.
Evan: I have literally got a Stede Bonnet going on here right now.
EJ: I keep thinking I can do a Lucius if I just get the product right.
Lori: Actually, you could do Wee John, too. He’s got fabulous hair.
Evan: Kristian Nairn is just a lovely, lovely man. And the thing about being a middle-aged goth, and therefore unattractive – there was a live stream he was doing with Nathan Foad on Instagram – that’s just intracommunity violence here, Kristian! The middle-aged goth contingent is quite huge in this fandom, and none of us find you unattractive.
Evan: And we do not want to be called unattractive. Thank you so very much.
EJ: Don’t we all qualify as middle- aged goths under some circumstances?
Evan: Essentially. And we are including Blackbeard in that as well, right? Hot middle-aged goths. Definitely a thing.
EJ: Another thing, since we’re bringing up what they said in interviews, of course, is just this idea of ‘being seen’ for a lot of the fans. The idea of ‘we see this as, there’s a queer reading for this’, and we’re not being told we’re wrong, we’re not being told we’re idiots, we’re reading the text wrong, we’re projecting, we’re doing all this stuff. And there’s been some great meta. And I want to actually be able to cite the people that have said that, because it was fantastic. But just talking about not being treated like you were an idiot by seeing the text, by engaging with the text, in this way. And that’s insanely powerful, especially for a lot of people who have been coming through with, queer people, especially, where they’ve been dealing with, just to name some of the big stuff, Sherlock,
Evan *Coughs* Sherlock!
[Crew repeat name and giggle]
EJ: Supernatural, Hannibal, various other things. Various other media where you get told, like, ‘no, you’re not allowed to have queerness here. You’re not allowed to show queerness here.’ Especially we’re in the era of the media blockbuster, and there’s definitely this huge reluctance to show anything queer where, ‘oh, there’s a queer scene in this, well, Disney had to design it so we could cut it out, for the Chinese market’. Disney is going to hint at queerness, but then take it back and make it deniable, and all this stuff. And to have a show that is very unapologetically…
Evan: But then to flip the other side of that, as people say, there’s an awful lot of – now that we can access it through streaming and multi-platforms – there’s a lot of media coming out of China and other countries, where the bromance term gets used. But there are quite clearly intimate relationships between people structuring and underpinning our drama and our dramatic arcs, that can’t be cut out. And just because they can’t be consummated and made evident doesn’t mean that those dramas also are necessarily queerbaiting. We’ve got to put that context back in as well.
EJ: Like, the argument about Yuri!!! on Ice and the kiss.
Lori: I have a paper on that.
Evan: The ultimate academic moment.
Lori: And that’s the crowd we’re talking with here, man. I have a paper on that.
Evan: I’m beginning to think that we’re going to get some beats repeating through here. We’re going to get some of our taglines. ‘I have a paper on that’ might become one of those.
Kavita: Oh, yeah, we all have a paper on that.
Lori: We all have a paper on that. No, I think one of the things that’s really interesting about the show is that, from a sort of meta perspective, I suppose, is that it’s at the forefront of this sort of sea change in how we conceptualize ideas like queerbaiting, and what they might and might not be. Like, heretofore, we’ve had a sort of fairly stable, kind of, transformative fandom/producer relationship, wherein they throw us half a bone and we create a dog out of it. And that was a really tortured metaphor.
Evan: Nicely cannibalistic imagery there, Lori.
Kavita: That’s wonderful, yes.
Lori: I have been slumming in Hannibal for so long – I don’t call it slumming, but I have been hanging out in Hannibal for so long – but basically, taking our lemons and making lemonade, whatever you want to you know, whatever metaphor works. And now we’re finding shows that really are starting to complicate that. Partly in a transnational context with the Chinese dramas, and I’m thinking specifically of The Untamed, because that’s literally the only one I’ve watched. But I’ve watched it a lot. But I do think that a lot of these new shows are starting to really… trouble isn’t the right word, but … problematize…
Lori: Yeah, complicate is probably the best one. How we have historically understood or how we understand queerbaiting, how we understand, sort of, representation and things like this, in this kind of evolving media environment. I would say that What We do in the Shadows does a very similar sort of thing.
Evan: Not to go all ‘I have a paper on that’…
Lori: Shut up.
Evan: A few years ago, I did write about and present about how, it was at a conference on modern literature, like going forward into the future and 21st century, and I was asking the question, is one of the futures – because obviously multiple things happen at once, and there’s just not one thing going on in publishing and literature and media – but is one thing that we’re going to see, is the future of literature, fanfiction? And I spoke about who gets their fanfiction to be on the screen, on the page, not just on the online platforms like Ao3, but who gets paid for producing fanfiction. Like, Brian Fuller very openly says that Hannibal is his fanfiction. Right. The thing that gets me is that it’s all very men. Men, men, men, men, men. Like, we know that the vast majority of people producing fanfic on the platforms, from self -eporting, from various fan studies, from various interviews, like fan scholars have gone into it. It’s majority women and queer people who are actually writing and creating the fanfic over the last 50 years. Right? The people who get their fan fiction – like Steven Moffat, writes a lot of fucking fanfiction. Right?
Kavita: He does. But his gets legitimated and other people’s don’t.
EJ: I have a book chapter on that.
Evan: He is Doctor Who fanboy. He is Sherlock fanboy.
EJ: Dracula fanboy.
Evan: He is Dracula fanboy. Right. All of this stuff. Whose fanfiction gets promoted. And we’ve got people writing Bond books, we’ve got people writing Agatha Christie novels, we’ve got all this legitimated fanfiction coming out. But it’s mostly men who are profiting off it. And it’s mostly men who are de-queering or queerbaiting or denying possibilities, shutting down those possibilities, that fanfiction opens up and is mainly in the market of opening up these spaces. And it’s just really boring. There we go. That’s my opinion on it. And that’s one of the things about this take on Stede and Blackbeard. I really love that thing that David Jenkins said that, well, there’s no heterosexual explanation for that. I think it might be a direct quote. It might not be. But it’s not boring to return to the past, to recategorize, to reframe, to reintroduce aspects. And they’ve deliberately picked the fun stuff, the stuff from the margins that doesn’t get said all the time.
Kavita: Yeah. That is one of the things that I find most interesting. It’s that they have chosen, they’ve taken this time period, they have taken these characters, and yes, we are all aware that the historical versions of these characters were terrible people. We all know this. And this is something, of course, that the creators, that both Rhys Darby and Taika Waititi, have dealt with in interviews, they have both, I believe, responded to this in various ways. But there’s a lot going on there in terms of people making, in some cases, yes, it is good faith criticism, and in other cases, it’s just, ‘yeah, why are you stanning these two terrible people, who are actually slave traders and whatever’. And it’s like, yes, I understand, historically speaking, they were. But the show is very determinedly both is, and isn’t, historical. In much the same way that, the comparison I keep coming back to is The Great, which annoyingly, I have not actually finished watching. But it takes a very similar view, because Catherine the Great was also a fairly terrible person. But the show makes her sympathetic, and the show makes her sympathetic by massaging the truth. And that’s what all historical fiction does, even something that takes itself as seriously as, for instance, Ridley Scott’s The Last Duel. It’s still massaging the history in its own way. And the difference is how seriously is it taking itself, and what kind of narrative distance is it creating.
EJ: I mean, all historical fiction.
Kavita: As all historical fiction. As I’ve written – and historical fiction has been my thing since I was a kid, so I could talk about this for hours – but there’s a difference between striving for authenticity, ‘authenticity’ in scare quotes versus emotional affective authenticity with your audience. And I feel like Our Flag Means Death goes for the latter rather than the former. Because the former – sometimes … I felt a little bit like that when I was watching The Last Duel, is that it was really going for the former – it was really trying to kind of situate itself in a very particular place in time. And in some cases, it absolutely succeeded. And then in other cases, I was like, no, turn off the fucking blue filter, for God’s sake. We know we’re in the 14th century, you don’t need to beat us over the head with it. Also, there was no blue filter in the 14th century.
Lori: It was all blue. I was all blue!
Kavita: It was not.
EJ: It’s also that hilarious – I’m personally a little bit fascinated by, we all have these points at which we will no longer accept getting something wrong. And it’s completely different for everyone. And it’s completely arbitrary and I love it. The people that are like, ‘I can accept this completely ridiculous supernatural thing, but not this other thing that wasn’t invented until 20 years after this plot point’.
Kavita: Oh, yeah,
EJ: All of us have those things where it’s like, ‘oh, no, this is the issue. Not this.’
Kavita: Me, yelling at the Game of Thrones fandom for many years, ‘you can accept dragons, but not Black people, right?’
EJ: Or zombies, but not – I can accept a Walking Dead where I’m like zombies, okay – why are all the women still shaving their armpits, post-apocalyptic?
Kavita: Why are all their eyebrows perfect?
EJ: That’s why I learned eyebrow threading. I’ve learned eyebrow threading, so in the event of an apocalypse, I will be the most useful member of any group, because I will be able to thread the women’s eyebrows. I’ve also learned pin curls for the same reason, so they can continue to have those little, like, beach waves. I know flint knapping, and could probably put together a printing press too, but let’s… media has taught me that my most useful post-apocalyptic skills will be eyebrow threading and pin curls. It’s my survival plan.
Evan: Good to know. Thanks, EJ. I’m on the wrong continent, but I will keep that in mind.
Lori: It’s going to be hard to get to you, yeah. But we’ll … get a boat!
EJ: Hannibal has taught me you can just get a boat and go for it.
Lori: No kidding. Just sail across the Atlantic. But this is, okay.
Kavita: Hannibal geography is not earth geography.
Lori: But that’s the beauty of it. So, I have this husband, and he is – speaking of the former and the latter – he is very much in the former category with everything, literally, he watches. Like, I just had Back to the Future on yesterday because it was playing on TBS, and they get to the guitar scene. He goes, ‘did you spot the anachronistic thing?’ I’m like, ‘no’, because that’s not why I’m watching it. He goes, ‘yeah, the guitar is like three years ahead of its time’. So, we’re watching Hannibal together and the first few episodes, he’s like, ‘that would never happen. That would never happen. That would never happen.’ And I’m finally like, ‘look, the whole thing is literally done in a completely unrealistic frame’. And, all you have to think of, besides the very interesting geography from Wolf Trap, Virginia-
Evan: The beach in West Virginia.
Lori: No, that’s exactly it! And this is always what I tell my students, too. I’m like the beaches of freaking West Virginia. West Virginia is landlocked! And Bryan Fuller one time said, well, there’s a lake, and I’m like, it’s not that fucking big. This was like the ocean, right? The cliffs of West Virginia, Virginia beaches. That’s all you need to know about Hannibal. But that’s the same thing that I think Our Flag Means Death is doing, only in a much more comedic kind of vein, where it’s basically, fuck reality. As Kavita was saying, it’s emotionally real. It’s affectively real. But any other thing, it’s basically sort of spitting in the face of authenticity and reality and saying, fuck that. With Stede’s costume when he’s on the treasure hunt, which is so precious.
Kavita: It is!
Lori: That is 100% not 18 – or 1717, right?
Kavita: No! I love that Mary invents all of the major 20th century art styles .
EJ: And as a lighthouse historian, as an amateur lighthouse historian, can I just tell you about – I won’t, but I could tell you about the history of the Fresnel lens. And absolutely nothing to do with lighthouses in this show is in any way accurate. And it’s funny because here’s this primary metaphor that the show is using for something that is completely anachronistic in terms of what lighthouses actually looked like and were and did at that point in history.
Evan: And this is kind of the point, isn’t it? What is the purpose of setting something in the past, of recreating a past, a version of the past. Right? Because, there’s so many different reasons to do it. As Kavita was saying, what is this narrative for? Why are we revisiting Catherine the Great? Why are we telling these stories? Right? What is it that we get out of it? And you get those people who strive for an authentic portrayal, and it’s almost like they want to be definitive about history, you know, and they want to lock it down, preserve it in amber, and say, ‘this was history’. Which is so Western and so white and so-
Lori: And so patriarchal.
Kavita: False narrative of progress.
Evan: And it’s so Whiggish. We have done these things and we have moved away from this. But then you get these people who want to recreate specific moments from history for often aesthetic reasons, like the whole Barry Lyndon, I’m going to film entirely by candlelight, or in the buildings, and all that kind of stuff, that you get about the technical, beautiful recreation of a past. Sorry, Kavita.
Kavita: No, I just said Wolf Hall, they did that. And also, what’s his name? Robert Eggers is constantly doing.
EJ: Yeah. When he filmed The Lighthouse with a very particular aspect ratio and then things like that. That film did not have enough lighthouses. I really wanted more lighthouse from that film than it had.
Kavita: But you did have Willem Dafoe having a very passionate romance with a lighthouse.
EJ: Yes, but more lighthouse.
Kavita: The lighthouse did not get enough personality.
Lori: But that’s the thing, as Evan was saying, that’s the point. That’s one of the beautiful things. And this is something that… I think – I showed the episode five to my Hannibal class towards the end of the term, partly because I had really run out of things to say. We had pretty much wrapped it up and it was a first prep and all of these things. But anyway, but I said, no, this is relevant to what we’ve been talking about, so, we’re going to watch this episode. And I did get one of my students to watch the rest of the show, they told me, so I was very excited. But one of the things that they drew attention to in our discussion was that in some ways, it really is a very similar show, especially at the level of just not giving a fuck about authenticity. And because of that drive – authenticity is used, in the United States it is the siren call of the Right. This is what the founding fathers meant. It’s like A, bullshit, but B…
Evan: You can’t criticize gun rights unless you understand exactly the difference between an AR-15 and whatever other bullshit gun …
EJ: or the AR-15 stands for this and not this, you fools.
Lori: Right. And we’re always sort of going back to, this kind of amber encrusted, never-changing sense of the past, is used against us again and again and again.
EJ: Because authenticity means truth, that’s their shorthand. Authenticity means truth. If they’re authentic about this stuff, then whatever they’re saying about it is true,
Lori: And that doesn’t absolve issues of representation and things like this. And yes, they were very terrible men. But yeah, the point is not that. The point is that we’re taking this and saying, fuck those guys. I own your story now. So what am I going to do?
Kavita: It is a kind of counter-storytelling in its own way. It is not doing exactly the same thing as other forms of counter-storytelling, but it is in the sense that it is taking the ‘received past’, which is different from the ‘actual past’. There are all of these different gradations. You have what actually happened, which we can never access. There is no way for us to do that, short of running across the Doctor with the TARDIS. So you have the actual past, then you have the received past-
Evan: And then you have quantum entanglement, because you’ve gone back there and done something … so you can’t still-
Kavita: So you can’t! Yes, it all gets very messy very quickly. No, this is very serious, important conversation: do not time travel and mess up the past. This is advice from all of us and we know. So, yes, you have the actual past. You have the received past, which is a very, very different thing. Because as my field of medieval studies is grappling with over and over and over again, because people refuse to listen, the fact is that the received past is often wrong, and the received past is very much based on when it was written down. And if you are a white British man writing something in the 18th century, about the 14th century, you are going to have a very different view from, say, me writing in the 21st century, about the 14th century. And what people have had to acknowledge, particularly in the past 15 to 20 years, is that a lot of our assumptions about things that happened before the Victorian period, have been deeply, deeply influenced by the Victorian period. And what we have to do is go beyond that and unpick all of those interpretive changes.
EJ: Just like in the show in terms of this re-historicization, there’s also just this – to build on what you said – people looking at the past and saying, like, ‘people have deliberately edited out the queerness, they’ve deliberately edited out the diversity’. They’ve edited these things out to make the past look straighter and whiter than it was. And to go back and say it wasn’t just white people back then doing this stuff, it was not just straight people, that there have always been… I mean, obviously the particular interpretations and showing of queerness on this show are, they’re of a different time. But, it’s so frustrating to be told constantly, like, you can’t read queerness into the past. Bitch, yes, I can. But also, it was queer. We’re not making stuff up here. It was there. All of this stuff has been there. The queerness and trans-ness, and disability, and just again, not being white.
Kavita: You’re not reading it into the text if it’s already there.
EJ: That’s been written out of the text. And to put it back in the text, that’s just as legitimate, if not more legitimate, than all the people that spent all that time erasing anything that wasn’t this one particular narrative strain, heavily influenced through the Victorian lenses.
Kavita: I’m reminded of Victorian editions of dirty Latin poetry that kept the dirty bits in Latin.
EJ: Yeah. Or those people in the past, where we have people who were assigned female at birth, who at some point chose to live a very male life, went out of their way to live a male life and act as a male in all ways and changed their name, changed whatever, that was their lived experience. And then [we] get told like, ‘oh, you can’t read queerness onto that. You can’t read, trans people didn’t exist before I got offended by them last week’. That’s mapping your weird normative things. It’s like no gender and queerness and all this stuff have always been a fluid category across time. We’ve always had different ideas of what those things mean, what they are, how they work. So, to say your ahistorical reading of this text is more legitimate than my ahistorical reading of this text? How dare you, sir? How dare you?
Evan: And this is what really bothers me, is the fact that we literally have a word for this now, right? We have Bowdlerize. Right. I’m sure people have heard that term even if they don’t know where it comes from. Right? To Bowdlerize something means to remove the bits that offend you. And it comes from a bloke called Thomas Bowdler who’ve published The Family Shakespeare. Right. And Kavita is nodding because Medieval Studies and Shakespeare, I know that they know this. He literally took out the bits that he thought that people shouldn’t be reading if they were women and children, basically. So, the fact that people go, ‘oh, but we can’t put stuff back in’. But we all know stuff got taken out. We’ve literally got these people immortalized in our culture, who took the shit out. Right? Thomas Bowdler was a dude who took stuff out. We’ve got a name for it. It’s the same thing with quisling. Right. We call people a quisling, it comes from a guy who did the thing. Right? That was his name.
Lori: What’s the thing, because I totally don’t know.
EJ: He was the Prime Minister during World War II who collaborated with the Nazis.
Evan: He was a collaborator. Yes. To become a quisling is to cross over and lick the boots of the people who are oppressing you, basically.
EJ: Right. It’s like gerrymandering in the US, which is an ongoing issue, is named after a former vice President of the US named Elbridge Gerry. Fuck that guy.
Kavita: Fuck that guy.
Evan: We know that these people did these things, and their names are inscribed in our histories, in our language. We use these terms quite freely. Now, I’m not sure how many people know Bowdlerize, but it’s a fairly common term. And we forget who these people were. And we then delegitimize, right?
EJ: Especially in the case of saying, of saying that queerness isn’t valid. Of saying that all this stuff isn’t valid because it’s new, because it’s recent, because it’s whatever. It’s like, no, you just edited all the stuff out.
Kavita: It’s not new. It’s always been there.
EJ: Yeah, try telling people that most cowboys were not white in the US, with our ridiculous Western image of the cowboy, and how we have used that to justify Manifest Destiny and other stuff. We see that in science fiction now. We see that in people freaking out over Star Wars and Star Trek, and various other fantasy things, where it’s like, you can imagine all this crazy fantasy stuff, but not people of color. And part of the issue is that we’ve done such a good job of erasing all of that stuff from history that we don’t have that in the zeitgeist for a lot of people. I mean, obviously it’s a super-giant, big, complicated issue, but a big part of it is once you erase people of color from the past, it’s a lot easier to erase them from the future, and from anything the fuck else, too, and we did it with queer people.
Kavita: That’s the goal!
EJ: Once you start saying this is new, this is illegitimate, this is not something… the argument that the Founding Fathers wouldn’t have considered queer rights, because they didn’t know queer people. Or they wouldn’t have been okay with abortion. They had abortion. Ben Franklin wrote about abortion.
Evan: I am so sick of hearing the phrase like, ‘oh, people of their time’. And I’m like, were the people who were enslaved, not people of their time? Because I’m pretty sure they had some thoughts on the matter-
Evan: -which may have been lost to history because they were not allowed to write things down, literally not allowed to learn to write.
EJ: Yeah, I’m pretty sure the enslaved people were maybe not so much on board with slavery.
Kavita: Just a bit.
Evan: Who knew it was wrong? We didn’t know it was wrong.
Kavita: No, everyone knew it was wrong. They just chose to do it anyway.
EJ: It’s like those people that always imagine, the weird white people I see on Twitter that always imagine themselves as like, ‘oh, I would have been a nice slaveholder’. And I’m like, okay, if you imagine the past and you immediately go to how you would have been on the top of it, that tells me you imagine that you would have only been on the top of the food chain in the past.
Evan: Yeah. There were people called mud-eaters in the south for a reason, like the poor white trash people – we have always been here. We have always been here. And. Yeah. The way they set up the past. And this is the thing about period drama as well, right? We focus on the people we’ve got the information about, the people who were taught to read and write. And so, we have Jane Austen adaptations. We have Bridgerton, we have ‘let’s look at how nice it was’. We don’t have people who are literally catching pigeons in the street to eat. That is not an experience that we depict in our beautiful recreations of the past.
Kavita: Not typically, no.
Evan: When we recreate the past, we want silks, and we want damask, and we want candlelight. And that’s one of the things to bring it finally back to OFMD as well. Right. Like, we have Oluwande rolling his eyes when he has to listen to someone call him a ‘savage’. We have Ed’s reactions from his childhood to desiring beautiful things and not having beautiful things.
EJ: We even have Oluwande pointing out to Steve that most people that become pirates don’t become pirates for the funsies, it’s because they do not have an option.
Kavita: Well, and it’s the fact that all of those different narratives, and all of those different perspectives are just presented, they’re not necessarily privileged one over the other. You get all of them. And the fact that all of these characters have interiority, and have personalities, and it is absolutely possible for the viewer to sympathize with any one, or all, of them.
EJ: It reminds me of what the creator of The Orange Is the New Black show said, which is that she sort-of tried to lure people in, to tell them that it was going to be about this white girl in prison, and then use that as a way to get people engaged in all of these other stories, that they wouldn’t have been able to tell otherwise. Yeah.
Lori: Would you guys be interested in doing a very quick sort-of, this is who I identify with, and why? Either identify as, or identify with, or this is the person that kept me coming back.
Kavita: Honestly, it’s that one shot of Stede in the library during a storm trying to keep all of his books on the shelves.
Evan: Why wouldn’t you have rails? Why wouldn’t you have rails?
Kavita: I was like, okay, I identify with this. That is my life in a nutshell. Yes, cords. I was like, nets. Just nets.
Evan: Have you seen the galley? Like you’d have cords across the shelves, like that? I’ve been on a many a boat, in my time.
EJ: Hinged doors, because you’re a fancy-ass motherfucker. Like barrister bookcases, where they’ve got-
Kavita: the doors-
Evan: -a grill, some rattan netting, anything. Come on, people.
Lori: This is why I like Stede, because it would never have occurred to me to do that until somebody on the crew came up and said, have you thought about doing this? And I would be like, yeah, that’s a plan.
Kavita: It’s a good idea. Well, and Stede is so, like, every time someone gives him a good idea, he takes it and he’s appreciative, and it’s like, aw, you’re the best boss.
EJ: Yeah. He is really open to feedback.
Kavita: He’s the best boss.
Evan: So long as you reframe your criticism as a feedback, it’s all good. Although I want to know how the china figurines survived, too, especially the canon fire.
Kavita: That’s true!
Evan: That ship shook, and the china figurines are still in the cabinet for Izzy to get angry about.
EJ: There was a Twitter feed, there was a Twitter thing that was just like, what’s the most superficial, like, which character are you and why? For Our Flag Means Death. And I was like, I identify with Stede because I also veer wildly between unearned overconfidence and sheer terror.
Lori: I noticed that one of the things that was coming up when we were talking on Discord was, like, as a teacher I am Stede, kind of thing. Where it’s like, I go into the classroom, I am just trying to get these people on my side. I am throwing everything I have at it, and it is not resonating.
Kavita: Dancing a jig.
Lori: Yeah. I’m reading stories to them, for God’s sake, but nobody’s listening.
EJ: Going in and trying to say, let’s deemphasize grades, to look at feedback instead. And let’s try to create this group environment that’s going to be really healthy for all of us to develop as people. And yeah, I want to do that. I think all of that’s good. But when I’m dealing with a bunch of college freshmen and sophomores, who are coming from all of these years of a particular education system, they definitely always look at me like, ’ what are you talking about? I just need to get an A’.
Lori: It’s basically Oluwande saying: ‘We’re not here because we want to be.’
Evan: You know that meme where you’re, like, ‘what I think I do, what my family thinks I do’, that old meme? I think I could play that with the characters because, like, what my students think I do is definitely Stede. Right?
Lori: What I think I do is definitely Stede.
Evan: What I think I do is Oluwande. I think I’m there, I think I’m nurturing, I think I’m helping. I think I’m bringing people together and getting them to talk. And what I actually think I’m doing, in reality, is probably Izzy. Probably annoying people, ineffectually barking orders, and, frankly, probably wasting people’s time with tasks that they don’t understand, which is quite a disturbing image now that I think of it. So, wishing I hadn’t done that out loud.
Kavita: Ineffectually barking orders. Yeah. I feel very, I feel very seen right now.
Evan: And what we were saying about everybody getting interiority, do we think that that’s possibly why we’re losing Guz Khan, who is absolutely one of my favorites, but because Ivan does not have enough interiority? Right? Where is Ivan’s story? I’m sorry. I am very annoyed with the underutilization of some prime British talent there.
Kavita: Well, we’ll wait and see. Fingers crossed for season two.
EJ: Yes. I want more time with Roach. I want more time with Frenchie. There’s a lot of characters I want to see more.
Kavita: There’s so much potential.
EJ: Wee John. I want to see more about Wee John’s history.
Lori: Actually, I want more Mary, too. I want Ed and Mary to bond.
EJ: I can’t decide what I liked better – and I see it in fic all the time, but I can’t decide what I like better – which is Mary meets Blackbeard and then finds out he’s Ed, or Mary meets Ed and then finds out he’s Blackbeard. But I love them both so much, too.
Lori: I do, too.
Kavita: And isn’t that the wonderful thing? You can have both, because fandom.
EJ: I can have them all.
Evan: The magic of fanfic.
Lori: And it’s a wife that we’re not trying to murder.
Kavita: Yeah. No. Mysterious wife plague.
Evan: Nobody gets fridged, because fridges haven’t been invented yet.
EJ: Emma Thompson called it ‘the historical women in historical films that says, no, don’t go off and do that terribly brave thing.’ And that’s so often – women in historical stuff are obstacles to whatever amazing magical thing that the dude must go off and do, whether it’s your mother who doesn’t want to sacrifice you, or your sweetheart who doesn’t understand why you must do this, or whoever it is framed as obstacles to whatever noble, manly quest you must do, and not as fully realized people who are dealing with their own shit. And I think Our Flag Means Death is fantastic in showing that Stede is absolutely trapped by the society and the culture and the bullying, whatever. But Mary is even more trapped! Because Stede can run off and become a pirate. Mary cannot. Mary has the kids. Mary had to go through childbirth at least twice. And to have her shown as not the villain, not the bad guy – even, she’s gone off and is finding her own self-actualization, life, and it has nothing to do with Stede, and it’s valid, and it’s hers.
Lori: To think about it in terms of, we were talking about, authenticity earlier, one of the things that I love about this show is that it’s very much a both/and kind-of set-up, whereby – first, it’s not about one person. You would be pressed to say who is the protagonist. It starts with Stede, it ends with Ed, and everybody in between, with the exception of Ivan, pretty much has a life of their own. And each person… Evan was talking about episode five, and I will also go back to that as just an example of really brilliant television, and say that in that episode, nobody is short shrift. Everybody who has a part in that episode has a fully realized little arc, and each one of them is compelling. I mean every arc in that episode is fantastic, right up to and including Abshir, who we don’t even really get to know, but we know enough, and he’s off to sort of invent the Nigerian prince scheme.
Lori: Next time on The Shipping Forecast, we’ll be talking about episode one of Our Flag Means Death, and all the wonderful, and wild, and-
EJ: Happy Pride!
Lori: -we will establish the podcast us with a discussion of episode one, to kick off Pride month. Anyway, thank you for listening and I’ll probably rerecord this anyway.