Ruminations on Pirates & Rum

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Aside from the obvious pillaging, trinket burying, and severe lack of lemons–nothing apart from a flag adorned with skull and crossbones could fill the popular mythos of pirates as effectively as a passionate love of Rum. But where did the idea come from and how many daiquiris could they possibly have been guzzling while terrorizing the high seas?

Before we set our coordinates and dive in on the history of rum and pirates thing, I want to briefly touch on what, specifically, rum is. Don’t laugh, I’m sure most of us chug whatever giggle juice we can find without much thought to where it came from. And, in this case, the distillation of rum is insanely relevant to what I’m about to get into in this post. So, for those who don’t really know what’s in their piña colada, rum is distilled from sugarcane by-products, specifically in this case, molasses. And, historically, where could you find an over abundance of molasses from 1650-1730 AD along with pirates? The Caribbean, baby.

As a colonial territory, the Caribbean was rampant with European special interests, sugar plantations, and, er, despite what Kanye West thinks–slavery.

planting sugar cane

The Triangular Trade is certainly a post for another day, but the bare essentials of it was the creation of a trade highway in the middle of the Atlantic. Slaves were taken from Africa and shipped off to the Caribbean and then were worked on plantations where “a total environment in which the lives of the captive workforce could be bent unremittingly to maximize output” [1]. From there, sugar & molasses were imported back to Britain and (with sometimes slaves) to North American colonies, with an exchange of needed goods sent back. Rum was at the heart of this exchange. In the process of crystallizing cane sugar, one of the by-products of this process produced a considerable amount of molasses, which no one really knew what to do with. When life gives you molasses, one of the cheapest and easiest things to do was make rum out of it, and thus in turn created an abundant and bountiful return for the West Indies. [2] Unlike the French, who refused to distill rum and preferred to remain loyal to the classic French brandy and wine, they were simply throwing away around half a million gallons of molasses a year in the 1680’s on their Caribbean colonies. To get an idea on how crazy the export game was, in 1702 Barbados exported more than 200,000 gallons of rum. 30 years later, that number rose to 4 million. [3]

Rum-men traded rum for slaves in Africa, and then slaves for molasses in the West Indies. Frequently, molasses served as a partial payment for the slaves, thereby making the circle of Caribbean involvement complete. [2]

And so it was that rum became exceedingly popular in the 18th century. In England, where brandy and wine became less readily available while warring with the French, an average of 1,317,062 gallons of spirits had been made from molasses between 1728 and 1736. By 1740, the annual consumption in London was estimated at 14 gallons per person. The Royal Navy even instituted a rum ration, guaranteeing a sailor a half pint of it a day. The Scottish had their own run at it, trading and smuggling around British tariffs. [1] North American colonies like Rhode Island and South Carolina got into the rum production game too. In fact, it seemed like everyone was guzzling rum down like water except for Georgia, those Southern Gents tryin’ their darnedest to ban the evil nectar. [4]

Found the people were grown very mutinous and impatient of labour and discipline. …this petulancy was owing chiefly to several of them having got into drinking of rum.Oglethorpe on why Georgians can’t handle their drink. [4]

So where do pirates come in to play? Clearly, an inclination to drinking copious amounts of rum wasn’t mutually exclusive to pillaging and plunder. For pirates, it’s probably nothing more than happenstance.

With The Triangular Trade, not only were there avenues of trade across the Atlantic, but also prime targets for a little self-serving economic prosperity to anyone willing to take it. Piracy increased around the same time, at first with privateers and marauders with official licenses from their respective governments to attack and plunder enemy ships, blurring the lines between agent and villain like with Sir Francis Drake and Captain Henry Morgan. But during the early centuries, it was not unusual to feel a sense of loyalty to a homeland. Pirates during the Golden Age, however, were loyal to their crew alone. These pirates were unique in that they were made up of a band of misfits, characterized as castaways, escaped slaves, and ex-sailors disenchanted with the employment opportunities and financial prospects available to them. [5] They were a counter culture in explicit retaliation of nationalist enterprises in trade and resented political and religious authority. These were rebels operating within the bounds of their own ideology and lifestyles–with the recourse to spend lavishly on all kinds of pleasurable indulgences from fancy clothes and prostitution to, yes, rum. And yet, despite their supposed anarchy, they still “developed a distinctive work culture with its own language, songs, rituals, and sense of brotherhood as well as shared institutions and agreed-upon rules for their social order.” [6] This is where the Pirate’s Code comes from, and one such example from Captain Black Bart’s Pirate Law shows how even the respective indulgence of rum was worked into the deal:

Every Man has a Vote in Affairs of Moment; Has equal Title to the fresh provisions, or strong Liquors, at any Time Seized. [6]

Therefore, it’s safe to say that pirates themselves, as diverse a band of miscreants as can be, have some form of a shared culture. And at least in pop culture, happen to be associated with rum. Whereas their consumption of rum during the 18th century was little out of the ordinary, more contemporary authors seem to shed particular light on the coupling in no dissimilar a way as any other popular outlaw characterization would a Wild West gunman with a cowboy hat or Prohibition-era mobster with a Tommy gun. [6] One of the earliest literary examples comes from Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island written more than a hundred years after the more famous high sea shenanigans took place. In it, we not only get the image of peg legs and shoulder-warming parrots, but the classic ‘Fifteen men on the dead man’s chest, Yo Ho Ho and a bottle of rum.” [1] And obviously, the romanticizing hasn’t stopped there.

Related image

Edward Teach, aka ‘Blackbeard’. Supposedly enjoyed his rum with gunpowder, probably how he managed the smokey hair tendril look.

Now, pirates are distinctly part of the Disney narrative, which in and of itself, is nearly a monopoly as a juggernaut of cultural output with the vacuum of Star Wars, Marvel, and now Fox Searchlight tangled in its web. The irony of Pirates of the Caribbean then being a narrative text within the Disney world and thus commoditized for gain in its own image is not lost on me.

“Although piracy, mutiny, and rogue sailors may have certainly existed, the manner in which they are displayed in the ride–as swashbuckling caricatures, bungling and gluttonous–is more a function of exposure to other media, not to factual pirate accounts.” –  [7]

And though I absolutely adore the Pirates of the Caribbean films, it’s important to point out how Disney manufactures and contextualizes their stories. It’s no secret that their films aren’t exactly congruent with the origin stories of which they’re based, and Pirates is no different a fairy tale than Cinderella is. With base material like Treasure Island, add in all those Errol Flynn movies, and Disney’s own Peter Pan and The Swiss Family Robinson, and you’ve already got a known place of reference. And with the first Pirates of the Caribbean (2003) film in particular, the screenwriters who were responsible for Aladdin (1992) and Shrek (2001), were already established as priding themselves on exceedingly self-aware and referential fans of fairy tales. “Slyly poking fun at the very essentialized pirate narratives and Disneyfication they were enlisted to produce” [7], they created a film both riddled with Easter eggs in synergy with the park ride and the opportunity to sell memetic jokes as merchandise. The ongoing one, in particular, should be fairly obvious…

Image result for why is the rum always gone gif

Image result for why is the rum always gone gif

Image result for why is the rum always gone gif

That’s not to say it’s all Disney’s fault by any means. Just look at all of these various rum brands that are capitalizing on pirate imagery to sell their product. But even this is completely fair, as pirates were known for making their own version of grog called ‘bumbo’ because who doesn’t like a little extra spice in their life? You could say they’ve probably earned their labels.

And, if we get right down to it, associating rum with pirates is just more fun. Because rum’s tangled history is a bit of a messy one, and it’s not one people usually like to call for shots of at a Miami dance club. With rum, there is a direct link with the slave trade, a drink synonymous with colonialism and sometimes used to barter with for slaves (or to subdue them with). [2] Then there’s traders in North America who would ply Native Americans with rum and cheat them out of their wares, getting them hooked on the drink much the same way as the British did with Opium in China. [8] And then of course, the pervasive image of rum became an evil one during the Temperance movement, especially with the associations above. [9]

But all that aside, rum is good as Jack Sparrow would say. So why not just let the pirates steal all the love?

 

Fact Check it, yo!

[1Grabiner, J. (1998). ‘Some Disputes of Consequence‘: Maclaurin among the Molasses Barrels. Social Studies of Science, 28(1), 139-168. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/285753

[2Nesbitt, Jennifer P. “Rum Histories: Decolonizing the Narratives of Jean Rhys’s ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’ and Sylvia Townsend Warner’s ‘The Flint Anchor.’” Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature, vol. 26, no. 2, 2007, pp. 309–330. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/20455331.

[3Ostrander, G. (1956). The Colonial Molasses Trade. Agricultural History, 30(2), 77-84. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/3739927

[4Sweet, J. (2010). “That Cursed Evil Rum”: The Trustees’ Prohibition Policy in Colonial Georgia. The Georgia Historical Quarterly, 94(1), 1-29. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/40585152

[5Dawdy, S., & Bonni, J. (2012). Towards a General Theory of Piracy. Anthropological Quarterly, 85(3), 673-699. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/41857267

[6Mackie, E. (2005). Welcome the Outlaw: Pirates, Maroons, and Caribbean Countercultures. Cultural Critique, (59), 24-62. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/4489197

[7] Petersen, A. (2007). “You Believe in Pirates, Of Course…”: Disney’s Commodification and “Closure” vs. Johnny Depp’s Aesthetic Piracy of “Pirates of the Caribbean”. Studies in Popular Culture, 29(2), 63-81. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/23416141

[8DiVirgilio, J. (2005). Rum Punch and Cultural Revolution: The Impact of the Seven Years’ War in Albany. New York History,86(4), 434-449. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/42677835

[9] McArthur, Judith N. “Demon Rum on the Boards: Temperance Melodrama and the Tradition of Antebellum Reform.” Journal of the Early Republic, vol. 9, no. 4, 1989, pp. 517–540. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3123754.

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Out of the Mouth of Playboys…

I am writing “My Life” to laugh at myself, and I am succeeding. I write thirteen hours a day, and they pass like thirteen minutes. What pleasure in remembering one’s pleasures! But what effort to recall them to mind! It amuses me because I am inventing nothing. What chagrins me most is that I am forced, at this point, to mask the names, since I cannot expose the affairs of others.

– Giacomo Casanova, The Story of My Life on why he’s cool enough to ruin even the chastity of nuns.

Mozart’s Crap

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You know who Mozart is. I shouldn’t need to spend any time explaining that in the 18th century, a musical prodigy was born in Salzburg, Austria, to a chapel director/violin teacher. That this little ruffian was learning the harpsichord at the age of 3 and not a year later was mastering the violin and displaying a proficiency for arithmetics, and that by age 6, had composed his first concerto. [1] You’ve heard his most famous works; Allegro, The Magic Flute, The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni, Requiem, to name a small few. You’ve maybe also heard some crackpot theories about Salieri murdering him rather than one of the possible 140 causes of death scholars are still quibbling over. [2]

What is perhaps not as well known about the eccentric powdered Mozart is his obsession and love affair with…crap.

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“Lectu mihi mars” or “Leck du mich im Arsch” (For those who don’t know the fun parts of German, “Lick My Arse”)

Indeed, when it was discovered in some of his letters and manuscripts that Mozart had a propensity for fecal preoccupation, there was some embarrassed rejection of the material by later family and scholars of the 19th century (See Victorian prudes)–how could a genius such as Mozart, write about passing a bowel movement on his cousin’s nose? [3] Even Margaret Thatcher, U.K. Prime Minister, wasn’t pleased with the reality of a famous classical composer degrading himself with potty humor and refused to believe it factual. [4]

But the fact of the matter is, it runs in the family.

We lead a most charming life, up early, late to bed, and visitors the whole day; we live like princes. Addio, ben mio, keep well. Stretch your arse up to your mouth. I wish you good-night; Shit in your bed with a resounding crash. It’s already after one o’clock; now you can keep making rhymes yourself.

A note written by Mozart’s mother to her husband on September 26th, 1777 [5]

A leading theory to account for Mozart’s affinity for scatology is to assume he was a sufferer of Tourette’s syndrome–A disorder characterized by involuntary tics, movements, and vocalizations–as a defensible explanation for why Mozart insisted on writing limericks about ‘licking arses’ while he was busy writing and composing some of the most famous operas in existence. Despite gaining traction in the public mindset, however, this theory has been largely debunked. [6] As Mozart would say, what a load of shit.

Notably, there doesn’t appear to be a credible primary source to ascertain Mozart suffered from involuntary tics or movements, nor does simply writing potty jokes in letters translate at all to the coprolalia symptom present in only 10-15% of those diagnosed. [7] In short, Mozart was just a bit of an oddball not unlike other weirdo geniuses, and attempting to diagnose him retroactively, ignores another layer of his cleverness–even if it is about things best left in the toilet. The letter quoted below, which Mozart wrote to his cousin, is one such example. It contains a proficiency in alliteration, mirror construct, synonyms, echo effects, lyrical syntax, and, well, poop. [8]

Dearest cozz buzz!

I have received reprieved your highly esteemed writing biting, and I have noted doted that my uncle garfuncle, my aunt slant, and you too, are all well mell. We, too, thank god, are in good fettle kettle. Today I got the letter setter from my Papa Haha safely into my paws claws. I hope you too have gotten rotten my note quote that I wrote to you from Mannheim. So much the better, better the much so! But now for something more sensuble [sic].

So sorry to hear that Herr Abbate Salate has had another stroke choke. But I hope with the help of God fraud the consequences will not be dire mire. You are writing fighting that you’ll keep your criminal promise which you gave me before my departure from Augsburg, and will do it soon moon. Well, I will most certainly find that regrettable. You write further, indeed you let it all out, you expose yourself, you let yourself be heard, you give me notice, you declare yourself, you indicate to me, you bring me the news, you announce onto me, you state in broad daylight, you demand, you desire, you wish, you want, you like, you command that I, too, should could send you my Portrait. Eh bien, I shall mail fail it for sure. Oui, by the love of my skin, I shit on your nose, so it runs down your chin…

Mozart to his cousin, Maria Anna Thekla Mozart, on November 5th, 1777. [8]

It’s actually even been suggested that Mozart was…behaving completely normal. Defecation, it turns out, has strong roots in not only Mozart’s family discourse but in German culture too. Alan Dundes writes, “The fact that the anal themes so prominent in German folklore are also to be found among the so-called elite. In sum, anality would appear to be an integral part of general German national character and is not limited to either an occasional peasant or a single exceptional theologian, musician, or poet.” [9]

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German proverb: “Geld ist Dreck, aber Dreck is kein Geld.” [Money is shit, but shit is not Money]

So to all those parents out there hoping their little baby will be the next concerto prodigy just remember that your kid already has something in common with Mozart: They both giggle when they flatulate. Or, mothers, you’ll know it when you receive this beautiful loving poem from your child pinned to your pillow.

On Monday, I will have the honor of embracing you and kissing your hand

But before that I will already have shit in my pants [9]

Fact check it, yo!

[1] Mozart. (1854). The Illustrated Magazine of Art, 4(24), 331-334. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/20538517

 [2] Karhausen, L. (2010). Mozart’s 140 causes of death and 27 mental disorders. BMJ: British Medical Journal, 341(7786), 1328-1329. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/25766569

[3] Head, M. (2002). Music & Letters, 83(4), 614-618. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/3526384

[4] (1992, October 16) The Mozart Miracle. Retrieved from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/4715973/The-Mozart-miracle.html

[5] Schroeder, D. P. (1999) Mozart in Revolt: Strategies of Resistance, Mischief, and Deception. Retrieved from books.google.com

[6] Davies, P., Karhausen, L., & Heyworth, M. (1993). Mozart’s Scatological Disorder. BMJ: British Medical Journal, 306(6876), 521-522. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/29718658

 [7] Karhausen, L. (1998) Weeding Mozart’s medical history. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, PDF. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1296923/pdf/jrsocmed00020-0044.pdf

[8] Spaethling, R. (2005) Mozart’s Letters, Mozart’s Life. Retrieved from books.google.com

[9] Dundes, A. & Pagter, C. (1978) Work Hard and You shall Be Rewarded: Urban Folklore from the Paperwork Empire. Retriever from books.google.com

The Original Queen of Shade

There are many people at Versailles today.

-Marie Antoinette, to her grandfather in-law King Louis XV of France’s mistress Madame Du Barry.

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(On the left) Madame Du Barry, Maitresse-en-titre & Marie Antoinette, then Dauphine of France (on the right)

Context:

When 14-year old Marie Antoinette, Archduchess of Austria, arrived in France in 1770, it was to a whirlwind marriage to the heir apparent and (soon to be her ruin) Dauphin of France Louis XVI and an angered and resentful court over the now newly cemented alliance between France and Austria to which she was greeted.

One of her political foes was the current king and grandfather of her now husband Louis XV’s mistress Madame Du Barry who had been warming his bed and ear for some time. She was in large part responsible for kicking out the man who solidified the alliance and marriage of Marie Antoinette and was unpopular among the court for her vulgarity and well known history of “congressing“.

To innocent and as yet to be unflowered Marie Antoinette, Madame Du Barry was nothing short of appalling and certainly did not approve of her relationship with the King nor her opinions on Austria or shameless “your mamma” jokes. Encouraged by her husband’s sisters, Marie decided the best thing would be to stone cold shun Du Barry and ignore her in court.

Because the court protocol dictated that Du Barry, who was of lower rank than Marie, could not initiate conversation, she grew angry at the snub and the presumed lack of approval which, for political reasons, was important for Marie to give. Naturally, the King didn’t hear the end of it and Marie also received letters from her mother encouraging her to at least speak to Du Barry to please Louis XV since her position was a bit contentious since her husband had yet to consummate their marriage.

So, begrudgingly, on New Year’s day of 1772, two years after arriving to France and ignoring Du Barry, Marie Antoinette glided over to the Madame and uttered the choice words above, masterfully crafted to appease all concerned and yet needle Du Barry for her common (and illegitimate) birth and affinity for prostitution.

And what solidifies the shade, Du Barry didn’t pick up on the slight–happy to have been acknowledged at all. Marie strutted off never to speak another word to Du Barry, who in the next 2 years would be ousted from court and placed in a convent after the death of Louis XV.

Ironically, though Marie Antoinette was determined to distance herself from Madame Du Barry as much as possible–the two ultimately did share the same fate. They both became victims of the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror, sentenced to beheading by guillotine.