Pirates, Hydrarchy and the Motley Crew: Beyond “Arrgggh!”

In the late 17th thru mid 18th centuries, piracy was the method of last resort for the downtrodden and dispossessed: men desperate for work; deserters from throughout the war-wracked Atlantic; runaway slaves seeking refuge from bondage; criminals (from debtors to cutthroats) escaping the long arm of the law. Today, pirates are most remembered through popular culture–as dashing rouges, foppish cross-dressers, menacing brigands and motley crews of mad men and degenerates. But the pirates and piracy of history were much more complex, individuals who chose the margins of society as preferable to the authoritarian rule of empires, creating a separate space where they sought to govern themselves through methods that were radical not only for their day, but our own.

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Welcome to Crimeopolis: Trinidad’s Dystopian Utopia

Anyone acquainted with dystopian science fiction is familiar with the theme of crime. As the stories usually go, in some near-future basic human decency has severely broken down. This can leave us with societies where crews of psychopathic rebellious youth terrorize the rest of the populace, like A Clockwork Orange. Or we find ourselves in the midst of a crumbling urban community ridden by rampant criminality, as we get in Robocop. The most bleak assessments are those that feature the utter breakdown of civilization, where everyone is left to fend for themselves against leather-clad S&M biker gangs, psychotic rapists and cannibals who’ve learned to hunt in packs. Often, these latter dystopias are based on cities in our present world with a crime-related image, such as John Carpenter’s classic Escape from New York (with all its questionably racially suggestive metaphors) to 2009’s District 9 (equally filled with problematic racial allusions) set in Johannesburg, South Africa.

The one place I would think furthest away from this futurist world of societal blight and crime is Trinidad & Tobago, where I spent the earliest years of my life. But if you’ve visited the island republic any time in the past few years, you quickly learn that crime is the hot topic on everyone’s lips. From relatives to friends, acquaintances and strangers, journalists and government officials, crime is the crisis du jour. Everyone has stories of crime to tell you, each more harrowing than the next. And everyone is worried about where the country–and crime–is headed. A small Eastern Caribbean country often associated with utopian scenes of beaches, Carnival and festivity, is experiencing its own crime-associated dystopian reality.

*disclaimer: these are the observations of an outsider-insider, and are not meant to supplant anyone’s daily lived experiences.

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Speculative Art: The Daily African- Diesel 2001

More alternate history and power reversals (for reasons I’m at pains to explain, I seem to be on this kick lately), this time from the fashionistas at Diesel. Created by DDB Stockholm advertising agency in 2001 for the overpriced famous denim company, the ad gained attention at the time for its provocative photos featuring the front page of a fictional newspaper, The Daily African. “Birthrate Booms in Italy and Spain,” one of them reads, “Europe Set Back Even Further;” the sub-headline continues: “With an average of 8.7 children born to every Italian woman and an annual GNP per capita below AFRO 45, there is a high risk of looming tragedy in southern Europe.” Another headline reads, “African hostages free after being held 148 days by Californian rebels,” while yet another proclaims “AU (African Union) agrees on financial aid to Europe.” Each daily is superimposed in white print against the backdrop of photos featuring African models, finely dressed (or in states of near undress) in various modes of play, lavishly indulging in decadent lifestyles of excess, while a poverty-stricken, politically unstable Third World Europe struggles to survive. Didactic enough for you?

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