The Universe and Me

Friday, June 30, 2006

We come on a ship they call the Mayflower

PBS series: Colonial House. I have to preface this post by saying I’d have lasted about a day in this place before I ran screaming for civilization, and give these people tremendous credit for living there four months. Stepping back to 1628 in reality isn’t the same as taking a day trip to Plimouth Plantation. Although, if you want to and can swing the cost, Plimouth now offers a weekend stay. Just let me warn you that when I visited lo those many decades ago, the smell was too noxious to stay in a house for more than a few minutes. So the series:

Straight off I had an objection to the narrator’s using the term “genocide” when referring to the decimation of the native population. The settlers brought diseases (such as smallpox, etc.) over but I’m reasonably sure they had no idea the Indians weren’t immune to them, so it was not on purpose. The definition of genocide is the purposeful extermination of a group. The narrator or series producers should have consulted a dictionary. Not that I don’t feel tremendous sympathy for the Native American plight and fact that their land was stolen from them and spoiled.

Next objection: it seemed some of the House participants had their own personal agendas for joining the project. It was my understanding that they were supposed to live completely as they would in 1628, following all rules and ways of life. Back then individualism wasn’t allowed and the need for survival meant no real freedom for anyone because they had to work from sunrise to sunset. While I’m all for John & Michelle exercising their 21st century freedoms in the 21st century, they couldn’t have (without risking banishment or even death) in the 17th. Michelle seemed to understand that women had no rights and was miffed at Julia for suggesting they each have a day off. So she must have understood there was also no freedom of religion. Which led me to believe she signed up to make a personal point.

I don’t want to malign her or John, as their personalities were engaging, especially their sense of humour. I laughed myself silly when the new group arrived, were asked if they were hungry and Michelle said in a timid, plaintive voice, “We’ve got peas.” I think she may also not have understood, not having lived it, that as Governor W said when his son was ill and he was talking about how many settlers watched their children suffer and die and heart achingly so, that they still thought the New World was better than the persecutions they suffered in the Old. Attending a weekly church service was harmless compared to the treatment she may have previously received wherever she was from. Plus it looked like everyone was fine with not working on the Sabbath, which has religious origins. (To be fair, the women still had to cook all day, so they still had to work.)

As for Governor W’s attempts to punish them for swearing, blasphemy and whatnot, wow was that useless. I wonder if it went better in 1628. Perhaps the threat of death from illness or starvation made the real colonialists more spiritual. Something I learned from having cats is that they don’t respond to punishment and it might behoove people to consider that others (especially children and Governor W did call the group “spoiled children”) might be more like cats than anyone wants to admit. Cats respond to praise. If you want them to stop doing something bad, yelling at them will only rile them up and make them more aggressive at that behaviour. To make them stop, you have to divert them, bring them to something you want them to do and when they do it, offer copious praise and head pats. Would such excessive positive reinforcement work on humans? Should we reward people for following the laws?

A few other gripes. I couldn’t believe they slept in until 9 or 10 in the morning. No adults now can afford to do that. What were they thinking? Only the last day did they bother to get up and watch the sunrise. This should have been done every day. Had they been expected to stay the winter (or forever), there would have been proper motivation for that and to work even harder. Plus they needed to be stockpiling provisions: firewood, preserves, everything possible. The corn crop was good, but it was my understanding it was headed back to England. They should have been growing more vegetables for themselves. Carrot or string beans or beets. Something. Such poor nutrition would do them in quicker than anything.

The one guy who went on a walkabout was a major disappointment. If he truly did tell Governor W that he would stay outside civilization, then he should have turned back as soon as he saw the highway. Where’s integrity? And no one’s personal orientation needed to be revealed for the purposes of the project. That seemed like a ploy for attention. I was most appalled at the two young men who decided to take time for their own crafts while the rest of the gang worked their pilgrim hats off. It was not only selfish and thoughtless, it seemed cruel. What I learned: Don Woods is a hero, muskrat takes like chicken, and life in the 17th century was “a void that has no replacement. You just duck your head and keep going.”


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