Ye Olde Mayflower
And thanks be to God for the deployment by the production team hired by the National Geographic TV channel of everything that is right, just and good in potraying history in a dramatized, semi-fictionalized way in their recent, 2-part miniseries, Saints and Strangers.
If you didn’t catch it when it aired last Sunday and Monday (Nov 22 & 23rd), the Nat’l Geographic channel is apparently re-broadcasting it on occasion and it’s available online at their site.
As you might already know, what’s immediately so impressive about this production of the Grande Olde Tale of the Mayflower’s Atlantic crossing and the Pilgrims’ first, horrific and death-filled winter and that first, lucious, much-ballyhoo’d giving of thanks in Nov 1621 is that it is in-your-face gritty; unflinching in its insistence on keeping it real. So real, in fact, that the big take-away after watching it is a genuine feeling of being grateful that we weren’t actually THERE, because my gawd: it sucked.
BUT! Another part of that reality was the clear and present fact of the folks who already lived there: the Indians, the native Americans, the Wampanoag, the Narragansett, Massachusett and other peoples native to the land. And everything about their presence and reaction and involvement is so much more, well, present! than ever has ever been depicted in any presentation about the situation
My family (my kids, mom, aunt and six 1st cousins on that side & their kids) had four people in attendance at that first thanksgiving. Six had been on the voyage on the Mayflower, but Priscilla Mullins’ parents didn’t make it through that first winter.
And–my stars!–that very event, ie, their death aboard the harbor-bound Mayflower, is actually depicted in this awesome miniseries: young John Alden, who was not a pilgrim as such, but a 19-year-old hired hand, is standing on the shore near Plymouth receiving a boat of more dead from the ship, told that two of the bodies are the Mullins; he looks sad but stolid, then worried and asks after Priscilla (the Mullins daughter, just a few years younger than he & thus of his age-group) and is assured that she’s fine.
They get more screen time and the blooming of their affection is straightforwardly (w/ nothing but taste and class) depicted, too. Yes, we are descended from them.
And I’ll be honest, I totally loved seeing them depicted up there on the big old TV screen. In anime and other fandom circles, this kind of thing is known as “fan service”*. And though in certain sectors of that phenom it can imply more openly romantic, or even (gasp!) sexually charged or erotic nods to what fans want to see, that certainly wasn’t the case here. In fact, fan service, whether teen-aimed and perhaps risque, or geek-aimed and bristling with gear-head details actually evinces an aspect of media inter-engagement that’s quite interesting.
Be that as it may, however, there was good reason for them to semi-gratuitously focus on these two: among the show’s viewers you can bet were lots of us who could be labeled the “genealogy” fandom (family history enthusiasts), specifically who have traced a line or more of our ancestors to these particular two. Indeed, they have the most descendants of the Mayflower passengers. These kinds of things are hard to estimate, but it’s reckoned that perhaps somewhere around as many as 30 million Americans alive today are descended from one of the folks who rode the Mayflower (and was at that first thanksgiving). How many of those can trace a line or 2 or more to Alden & Mullins? I have no idea, but millions. Millions of Americans can. You betchyer ass they were gonna give a little nod to good ole Gramma and Grampa Alden. (more like: 10th-great-gramma & gramps!)
Part 2 will include my line-item suggestions for “best practices” in movie and TV dramatic depictions of history.
But here’s one other good example (and it’s total fiction, but) replete with the good and best practices I’m thinking of). The movie “Jonah Hex”, based on the DC Comics character who’s a deeply wounded (ha ha) Confederate vet from the US Civil War who can get the scoop on how the dead died…from the dead. And he (played by Josh Brolin) is on a righteous vendetta against, in the movie version, deliciously evil John Malkovitch.
*fan service: “scenes that exist only to gratify the wishes of fans”, from Robin E. Brenner’s Understanding Manga and Anime, Connecticut, Libraries Unlimited, 2007, p. 88
“Other forms of fanservice include gratuitous amounts of detailed mecha transformation scenes, mascot placings and so-on.” from Anime News Network’s Lexicon, http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/encyclopedia/lexicon.php?id=54