Sunday, July 19, 2009

Embrace this hard

Ten years ago, we all would have had a good laugh. Now, it's just sad.From the Whiskey-Tango-Foxtrot file I submit the following. YOUR VIEW: Embrace hard reality of whaling, a criminally misinformed, wrong-headed, and ultimately pointless meander through the homesick fancies of some screwy idiot.
Mr. J. Ellis Hypenate-Or-Other (His friends call him "Jack." Well, at least "Jack" is part of what they call him) expostulates that the New Bedford Whaling Museum is a fluffy love-parlor for "whale-huggers" on a Portagee commune called "New Bedford," which is only saved from devastating political correctness by his own fallacious memory of an anecdotal youngster's reaction to contextually-inconsistent clips from a Clara Bow flick. I share some of the unfortunate screed below. He's in bold; I'm the other guy.

It's been years [You say later that it has been "ten."] since I last visited our city's [Not your city. You live in China, remember?] whaling museum, but I seem to recall a fair amount of changes to the place since my inaugural trip there some three-plus decades ago. Bad changes, as I remember. [In 1979, the Whaling Museum was still pretty much the Jonathan Bourne Whaling Museum, teaching about whaling but also dedicated to a man who did not wield a harpoon but made a great deal of money from the whale fishery. Yes, it has changed in thiry years; about 500% in size, space, collections, personnel, exhibits, world reputation, facilities, and educational partnerships. I was part of many changes there and you insult me and my colleagues deeply.] The museum, it seems, had at one point incorporated a blue whale (or was it humpback?) into its logo (the horror). [That's the Black Whale T-shirt, a popular tourist item that you can buy up the street. The Museum's logo had always featured the recognizable profiles of Lagoda and a sperm whale and harpoons. It was changed in 2000 to its current, contemporary logo, a stylized square-rig under full sail silhouetting a fluke, controversial only for its passing resemblance to a bikini top, see below] Some of the newer exhibits had nothing whatsoever to do with whaling, and were distinctly of the anti-whaling, sea-hippie whale-hugger sort.[Too bad about all that art and scrimshaw and books and stuff. You must have seen my favorite exhibit of modern whaling aboard Ulysses, a contemporary Norwegian whaler and the wicked cool HUGE harpoon gun ("Thor's Hammer" How cool is that?) and you could pretend to shoot at those whales if we're not too busy huggin' 'em. Of course, with 8 or 9 exhibition spaces, it's hard to satisfy one boy's lust for cetacean blood and gore.]Did the trustees of the museum, somewhere along the line, feel obliged to apologize (to the world? to the whales?) for New Bedford's formerly preeminent position in the international whaling industry ...blahblahblah....'The horror.' Apparently.
Let's look at the Museum's mission statement, shall we? Things may be different in China, but we still try to live up to our institutional promises, particularly in the non-profit sector. What with it being the law and all.
The mission of the Old Dartmouth Historical Society - New Bedford Whaling Museum is to educate and interest all the public in:
  • The historic interaction of humans with whales worldwide
  • The history of Old Dartmouth and adjacent communities
  • Regional maritime activities;
To accomplish this mission, the Society shall:
  • Collect, preserve, and interpret the artifacts and documentary evidence of these endeavors
  • Maintain a whaling, maritime, and local history museum
  • Maintain a research library
  • Promote and disseminate historical research
  • Accept and hold historic sites, where appropriate
I suggest that those who don't like the work of the New Bedford Whaling Museum go make their own whaling museum. But first, see today's museum before jabbering about it, its principles, or its setting in barely coherent and very inaccurate ways. The historic interaction of humans with whales worldwide. Not "the self-righteous speciousness of some peripatetic guy who's seen the place twice in thirty years."
To address the name drop of fellow short-time SouthCoaster Rory Nugent: I have read some pages of Down at the Docks in the bookstore and at the library, as well as reviews that afford reviewers the opportunity to say clever things about other books by Nugent, whom I recall as being a local crank. I refuse to buy a book that is -- by some of those above indicators -- a myopic, insulting, and hyperbolic portrayal of New Bedford as a dead, crime-ridden, hopeless, ex-industry town. As a writer, I would never spend three hundred pages describing the Fulton Fish market and then say "And that's what New York is all about."
I do plan to read it. I have it on the very long wait list at the library. (Long list. Apparently nobody else will buy a book that is a myopic, insulting, and hyperbolic portrayal of New Bedford as a dead, crime-ridden, hopeless, ex-industry town, either.)
If I may be permitted the luxury of referring to a a book that I haven't completely read completely, I'll indulge his breathless recommendation of a movie that he hasn't seen in its entirety. Had one ever watched the actual Elmer Clifton film Down to the Sea in Ships, one would know that it is a goofy period soap opera that uses "whaling" as an apparatus, an exotic setting to implicate Clara Bow in some drama. (It was her first movie, and she gets more screen time than the whaling, footage which had been filmed aboard Charles W. Morgan, out of New Bedford at the time, for use in a whaling documentary. )
The fable of the young person shouting "with joy at the faded, choppy, mute celluloid images frolicking on the screen. 'Mom! They're like Free Willy!'" is complete, utter, concocted bullshit.
I presented that film in that very auditorium on many occasions, and no child ever reacted that way, nor did any child shriek or "whimper" at honest scenes of a ship's crew at work in the industry with which our interlocutor feigns familiarity.
I also cite fabrication with regard to the wacky description of an alleged "sign" on the State Pier. It sounds like a popular subject in Nineteenth Century paintings: a stove boat. I know of no such "sign" on the State Pier. Many paintings of stove boats, at the Whaling Museum and all over town, though. (A fine bit of junk. "Junk" is a whaling term. Look it up.)
New Bedford may be home to a few thoughtful whaling opponents, but there are no whaling deniers. No one in New Bedford is a "whale-hugger" or "sea-hippie" or any of the other derogatory monickers that "J. Ellis Cameron-Perry" can insolently toss off out of his fanciful imperiousness. New Bedford knows the "reality of whaling" and has long appreciated it.
Thanks, in large part, to the New Bedford Whaling Museum.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Something is not right about that letter. Is the mail that slow from China, or is the editting that bad at the Stranded Times? I've never read *ANYTHING* so wrong and irrelevant. The letter, not your blog.

Chuck said...

Damn you mate. Now I know The definition of "whale junk". My "things I learned from PJ" file keeps growing.

ThirdMate said...

Thank you both for your kind words. If you can't make a learning experience out of a crazy man's rantings, where will we ever find the time to educate our sensible youth?

Not for nothing: My mother had a little green bottle of ambergris on a shelf in the bathroom. Smelled like lavender.

mick said...

You meant to say "insolently toss off" didn't you? That's funny. LOL