Part 6: Balnibarbi
Blackadder’s Travels, Part 6: Balnibarbi
(BLACKADDER and BALDRICK walk along the road where they were deposited on ejection from Laputa. Eventually a coach passes by, stops when they wave, picks them up. BALDRICK curls up on the luggage rack, BLACKADDER sits within and watches the landscape go by)
BLACKADDER NARRATES: With funds and a few letters of introduction given to me by an agent of the king of Laputa, we were able to make our way across Balnibarbi, the island for which Laputa is the mobile capital. We intended to take ship at the main port, working our way across the globe and back to London.
(view of passing countryside. Some patches of lush trees surrounded by unending grass. Here and there groups of workers are involved in incomprehensible effort. For about an acre of land, there are 5 people doing something odd, and about 15 people surrounding them, referring to documents and maps, directing their labors) While crossing the highlands, though I had little experience with farming, I did appreciate that there was little or no visible agriculture, though the lands seemed productive enough, did only someone plant something useful there. But there was no effort at tilling, planting or irrigating, and I had to wonder what allowed the nation the luxury of nonproductive farmlands. Did they import all fruit and vegetables, textiles, meats? Or did they have ready alternatives? The possibility of an artificial food supply intrigued me. I readily imagined what boon such an alternative could be to the hungry masses of Europe, and just how much money could be wrung from the miserable wretches if I could be the one to supply this alternative to the public. (Evil smile spreads across his face)
(Coach stops at a roadside inn. On one side of the road is the underdeveloped farmland, on the other are spreading fields of produce, green, growing and huge. A well-to-do lord steps up to welcome BLACKADDER as he steps from the coach.)
smugMELCHITT: So, sir. Welcome to Harrgiful By The Gyre. What do you think of my farms? (vague gesture to the side)
BLACKADDER: They’re amazing, sir. While I was on Laputa, I saw the figures on the size of your country, and the population. If this is the normal portion of the available land that’s cultivated, you must have some sort of advanced cooking technique, or some sort of food multiplier that lets such a small area produce enough to meet the requirements of such a large population.
smugMELCHITT: What the devil are you talking about? This coach has been traveling on my personal farmland for the entire day. State of the art farming techniques, overseen by the highest trained, most insightful agricultural philosophers, producing the best possible yield for far farther than the eye can see.
smugMELCHITT: Oh, well, not as yet, they’re not. But they are on the cutting edge of a major breakthrough in farm and farmer performance.
BLACKADDER: Ah. And this miserable homestead behind you? (points to lush crops)
smugMELCHITT: Ah. Them. Stick-in-the-mud traditionalists. Stuck with socially incorrect, politically slighted, unenlightened, labor centric methodologies that lack culture, foresight or the benefits of high-minded intellectual understanding of the elements of agriculture.
(BLACKADDER looks beside the road where a few farm hands on the ‘benighted’ farm harvest a few ears of corn that are about as long as their forearms. View returns to BLACKADDER who looks straight into the camera with a deadpan face)
BLACKADDER: Those poor bastards.
smugMELCHITT: Indeed, indeed.
BLACKADDER: Tell me, did you mention ‘agricultural philosophers’ a moment ago?
smugMELCHITT: I did, as a matter of fact. Are you a student of philosophy?
BLACKADDER: Not while sober. I always found philosophers to be too concerned with the abstract, to have much value in the tangible affairs of day to day living. They argue about why we eat, and forget to tell the cook to make dinner.
smugMELCHITT: Exactly, exactly. And it’s only when we can rise above those considerations of hunger, starvation and a long lingering painful death that we can truly come to grips with the true nature of the farm-to-farmer relationship.
BLACKADDER: Excuse me, we stopped for lunch. Is there, in fact, any actual food on the premises?
smugMELCHITT: Of course. Just got a shipment of imported turnips. Fresh off the boat. (turns to escort BLACKADDER into the inn.) So, it all started when the philosophy department of the Projector Academy gained control over all the other disciplines of learning, investigation and application….
(some time later, BLACKADDER and smugMELCHITT return to the coach)
BLACKADDER: So, this Projector Academy exists as an institution created to insulate the leaders of the nation from any real world information or experience that might alter their perceptions, or inform their decisions affecting industry, finance, agriculture…all the aspects of your society?
smugMELCHITT: Yes. There’s no place like it in the world.
BLACKADDER: Well, Parliament does come to mind.
smugMELCHITT: Then you should visit the Projector Academy while you are in Lagado awaiting transport. You might learn something that can aid your people on your return.
BLACKADDER: Yes, perhaps I will. Is there a fee?
BLACKADDER: For tours. At Bedlam, you can get a nice tour of the…philosophers for a shilling, with a spot of tea afterwards. And for three shillings you can poke a stick through the bars and interact with them as they construe philosophies, or scream obscenities.
smugMELCHITT: No, no, nothing like that.
BLACKADDER: Ah. Then I had better take my own stick, shouldn’t I?
(BLACKADDER climbs up a flight of stairs to the end of a row of brownstones. Above the door at the top of the stairs a sign reads “Grand Academy of Lagado.” A scholar stands at the door.)
smugPERCY: Are you the Mr. Blackadder whose introduction was introduced by means of a letter.
BLACKADDER: My letter of introduction?
smugPERCY: Yes, but those things are so underefficient. No, when we received your letter of introduction, we sent a letter of confirmation, seeking confirming of your introduction, which was returned.
BLACKADDER: And it confirmed my introduction?
smugPERCY: Tragically, it didn’t. Our new postal system delivered it to the office of the Projector for Financial Affairs.
BLACKADDER: And what did he do with it?
smugPERCY: He charged the Academy five thousand gold pieces for wasting his time.
BLACKADDER: Oh, dear. Does the Academy have that much money?
smugPERCY: No, but we submitted a bill to the ministry of financial affairs for 5,000 gold pieces to correct the postal system and avoid such embarrassments in the future. It was approved and improvements were instantly effected.
BLACKADDER: By overhauling your new postal system?
smugPERCY: Not entirely. We just took steps making sure the office of the Projector for Financial Affairs never gets any mail in the future.
BLACKADDER: Ah. I do believe you’ll do well here.
smugPERCY: Thank you. Now, you were to be given a tour of the Academy. Come this way, please.
(The row houses seen from outside have been hollowed inside into a series of rooms. BLACKADDER and his guide walk along the hall as patrons at an exhibition, seeing each Projector’s effort in series. The Typical Projector is, as I see it, Rik Mayall (Flash, Robin Hood, Mad Gerald). As Blackadder progresses down the row, work alcoves slowly change to cages reminiscent of Hannibal Lecter’s in Silence of the Lambs. Chalkboards and manuscripts become graffiti and straw, and The Projector goes from philosopher to nerd to geek to Mad Gerald. We really need to understand a steady indication that each Projector is loonier than the last.)
(The first Projector is a little disheveled, as a forgetful professor, lecturing to two students. He points out spots on a map of Balnibarbi.)
smugPERCY: Projector Alphane is our leading expert on matters of agriculture.
PROJECTOR-A: Now, what sort of metrics do we have to compare the farms which have adopted the newest of new processes for crop production, thus benefiting from the great forward strides of modern research with those that adhere to primitive, old-fashioned and probably brain-damage causing methods?
STUDENT1: The old-fashioned farmers tend to vote with the Wheels.
STUDENT2: The progressive farmers welcome representatives of the Academy without death threats or setting the dogs on them.
STUDENT1: The old-fashioned farmers tend not to borrow as much money from banks, thus preventing the proper flow of funds through the economy and crippling the capacity for profit amongst the nation’s financiers.
STUDENT2: The progressive farmers borrow great sums and spend them on produce, ensuring widespread productive employment in the shipping, import and transportation industries.
BLACKADDER: Yes, but the purpose of a farm is to produce crops. How do the metrics for crop production compare?
PROJECTOR-A: They favor the progressives by several orders of magnitude.
BLACKADDER: Um, okay. (to smugPERCY) You know, I didn’t really understand just how much I could learn from this place.
smugPERCY: Oh, yes, this is the center of the world for intellectual advancement.
BLACKADDER: Oh, no, not anything like that. I’m just amazed that he could make a statement like that with a straight face. (to PROJECTOR-A) How do you determine that?
PROJECTOR-A: Well, obviously, high level thinking must be isolated from the dross concerns of the mundane. When we compare the existing farm’s output to the progressive farm’s ‘potential’ output, once a few details are hammered out in the field, then we see…
BLACKADDER: Alright, all becomes clear. I’m ready to move along.
(The second Projector is well presented, lecturing to a number of rapt students. He reads from a book on his podium.)
smugPERCY: Projector Betadine is our leading expert on matters of the fisc.
PROJECTOR-B: And so, we see that true economic reform lies in the substitution of legal tender that is arduous to acquire with monies that the common man might find more accessible. This lightens the individual’s burden to work for another individual who has accumulated a stockpile of what I like to call ‘strenuous specie,’ by allowing him to directly access what I like to call ‘casual currency.’ Some examples of things that are easy to obtain?
STUDENT4: Toenail clippings?
STUDENT5: Lord Fothereresson’s daughter?
STUDENT6: Religious pamphlets?
smugPERCY: Projector Betadine is our leading expert on matters of the fisc.
BLACKADDER: Fascinating, but I was wondering, if it’s so easy to get the cash in the first place, why would a farmer hand over a pig to someone with a handful of leaves?
PROJECTOR-B: Because it’s our system.
BLACKADDER: Yes, but if the farmer can just go out and get a handful of leaves for his needs, why would he bother to raise pigs?
PROJECTOR-B: Because he’s a farmer. Farmers raise pigs.
BLACKADDER: Yes…to earn money for his own needs. To buy more pigs, for one.
PROJECTOR-B: But, if he didn’t raise pigs, then the system would collapse. Our nation would fail.
BLACKADDER: Been outside recently?
PROJECTOR-B: Sir, if you had the most basic understanding of the spirit of an economy-
BLACKADDER: As it happens, I was trained and worked for many years as an accountant.
PROJECTOR-B: Oh, please. A plebian workman moving numbers in columns. Like asking a donkey to understand the intricacies of the road system it hauls a cart along.
BLACKADDER: Well, at least the donkey understands the difference between the whip and the carrot. A distinction that, it would seem, eludes you.
smugPERCY: Um, perhaps we’d better move along.
BLACKADDER: Oh, very well.
(The third Projector is rumpled, substitute teacher after a long day, lecturing to one student, who is bored. The Projector adjusts knobs on a large machine.)
smugPERCY: Projector Gammaphone is a singular expert on the concerns of manpower utilization.
PROJECTOR-C: And so, by adjusting the input settings on the fictotron, we (starts turning a huge crank on one end…paper issues from the other side) can produce an entire piece of fiction by sheer physical effort.
BLACKADDER: (looks from student to projector, waiting for someone to make another comment. Steps up to take the paper and reads aloud.) “Is much to be wishing you many fine lucks, my boyo. Put another Barbie on the shrimp. Yah Boo Sucks and Up the Downfall.” Excuse me, sir, what is the point of this machine?
PROJECTOR-C: It writes books, sir.
BLACKADDER: Really? Isn’t that properly the function of authors?
PROJECTOR-C: Yes, but people with the cerebral ability to produce novels, essays, stories and travelogues are better employed putting their skills to the production of more understandable technical documentation and procedural supports.
BLACKADDER: But that would leave a nation devoid of any entertaining casual reading material.
PROJECTOR-C: And thus, the fictotron. By changing the settings of the machine, for time, characterization, setting, length, vocabulary, that casual reading material can be produced by any dockworker or high school principal. Novels, novellas, short stories, collection, humorous political slander columns, cooking reviews…
PROJECTOR-C: My feeling is that if it could write scripts, it would free those playwrights to wend their ways through the rest of society, wreaking havoc. No, we’re better off keeping them hopelessly employed producing hackwork to keep the agents and producers engaged.
BLACKADDER: Good thinking. In fact, the entire machine seems a good idea, at least as far as the idea goes. But it’s hard to believe that merely cranking knobs (begins spinning the dials at random) can allow a mechanical device to compete with the human brain for the production (kicks the crank one turn, a single sheet prints out) of entertaining material.
PROJECTOR-C: (reads from the paper) “Lady Fothereresson struggled in the middle, her bosom heaving with the exertion of keeping the two men apart. ‘Please, please,’ she begged, ‘don’t make me choose between you!’ ‘But you must,’ Lord Fassasstil said, muttering through clenched teeth, looking daggers at the half-naked blacksmith, ‘obviously you can’t have us both.’ ‘Can’t I?’ she asked, relaxing in her efforts and allowing the two opponents to draw closer to each other…and to her. Her hand moved to the stays of her corset. She was not entirely surprised to encounter two other hands, one calloused, the other smooth, already at work. ‘At least they’re working together,’ she thought.”
BLACKADDER: I, uh, wonder if I might have a look at the design of this machine, sir?
PROJECTOR-C: (entranced in the writing) Um-hm…yes, of course.
(STUDENT8 finally shows signs of life. He is engaged in carefully recording the settings of all the knobs BLACKADDER touched.)
(The fourth Projector is nasty, alone in his room, for good reason. He stirs his pots, moving back and forth.)
smugPERCY: Projector Deltander is…
BLACKADDER: Oh, my, what is that PONG?
PROJECTOR-D: PROGRESS, good sir. The ultimate in recycling.
BLACKADDER: Getting the best possible fertilizing benefits from manure?
PROJECTOR-D: Heavens, no. That’s not recycling, that’s a follow on secondary utilization. No, no, that’s not what we do here.
PROJECTOR-D: (moves to a wall chart with an outline of a human being. A tunnel is shown within the human going from mouth to anus, evidently displaying the digestive tract. But this tract seems to show four stomachs… Large arrows point to show the mouth is the entry and the anus is the exit.) Attend. Perfectly useful food enters the body here. After some time, where it is altered by the body, it exits here. As a means of removing wastes from the human systems, it’s very efficient. But what I want to do is remove all the additives added until I can restore the food to its original condition.
BLACKADDER: So all these pots here contain…
PROJECTOR-D: Human ordure. Yes. (moves from pot to pot) I’m trying to find the best methods of sponging off the bile, skimming the saliva, unaspirating the flatus, extracting the stomach acids…
PROJECTOR-D: Yes, leaving the original food product. Of course, it’ll have been chewed; perhaps it would make a decent sort of sausage.
BLACKADDER: No, no. LEAVING! (covers mouth, tilts forward and runs, smugPERCY on his heels)
PROJECTOR-D: What a nice chap. I’ll have to send him some chili.
(The fifth Projector is in a cage suspended from the ceiling. Mad Gerald would point to this guy and call him ‘the nutter.’ He scribbles notes on scraps of paper and mumbles.)
BLACKADDER: Ah. Hello.
PROJECTOR-E: A meritocracy!
BLACKADDER: Um, excuse me?
PROJECTOR-E: I’m not mad! It could work! We record each man’s achievements in the area in which he functions, provide an objective score, not just for success, which is often beyond his reach, for reasons beyond his control, but for the accuracy of his decisions he makes before hindsight is available. Then, we would build a database whereby we might find experts before we need them, not after we misutilize them.
BLACKADDER: So, you would give jobs to the men that can do them, not the men that a completely off-point system decides that deserve them?
BLACKADDER: And would competent women be included in this database?
PROJECTOR-E: (recoils from the bars) Good heavens, man. Of course not! I said this was a workable system, not a suffrage fantasy.
BLACKADDER: Ah. I see. And princes would be limited to picking functionaries by their competence, not their bank account, their father’s position, their mother’s heritage, or their ability to sink one on the back nine for the company golf team?
PROJECTOR-E: Exactly! You DO understand.
BLACKADDER: And it’s your contention that this system could and should be implemented right away, in all the halls of power and persuasion?
PROJECTOR-E: Yes, yes! We could realize the benefits immediately. Budgets alone, in the hands of competent administration, could be reduced to functions of government, not headaches of nations.
BLACKADDER: Interesting. Very interesting. Thank you for explaining it to me. (walks a few steps away from the cage on the way to the exit. To smugPERCY) Positions based on competence. In this day and age. I’m afraid that while the rest of your academy at least has the possibility, however small, of success in their endeavors, this man is nuttier than the nut collection of a particularly ambitious squirrel in a protected preserve of nut-bearing trees.
smugPERCY: Yes. Projector Echelon was one of founders of the Academy. He’s retained his position here out of respect for his early achievements, but I fear that his isolation from the real world has had a negative impact on his ability to theorize useful improvements to society.(they continue out of the building and stand on the steps of the former row of houses.)
BLACKADDER: So, you accept that he’s truly, outrageously bug-knuckle insane NOW, but all his work, to help create this (gestures to indicate the entire Academy), was something he was guided to do BEFORE he went nutsy fagin?
smugPERCY: Well, yes. Of course. One need only examine the-
BLACKADDER: Yes, yes. As I said, you’ll go far here.
smugPERCY: Oh. Thank you.
(BLACKADDER and BALDRICK board a small ship in the harbor. No other passengers board, but huge nets of turnips are being offloaded from the ship and other vessels in the harbor. The view scans along the piers, finding numerous crates of foodstuffs, some marked ‘emergency relief supplies’ or ‘Operation Children Are Starving in Balnibarbi’ or the like)
BLACKADDER NARRATES: The next day, after a night of some small entertainments among the local projectors, we boarded ship for Maldonada. As we left Balnibarbi and Laputa behind, I reflected on the nature of intellect. The importance of cogitation cannot be denied, it is the singular trait that divides humans from beasts. But too much preoccupation with that characteristic reduces its effectualness. (View returns to BLACKADDER, on the rail of the ship, scanning the city Lagado beyond the docks.) Still, not for all the tea in China would I have attempted to educate them on their folly. For one thing, I was a traveler, and a guest. It would have been impolite of me to have passed judgment on their situation, much less to have sought to change it. For another, and more importantly, the very smart, or those that are convinced they are, are very easy to manipulate.
BALDRICK: Sir, the men have arrived with your poker winnings. (points to a coach on the wharf)
BLACKADDER: Excellent. Captain? If you please?
CAPTAIN: Yes, master. Where shall we stow it, sir?
BLACKADDER: I’ll leave that to your discretion, Captain. The fact of owning the ship doesn’t make me an expert in handling it.
CAPTAIN: Yes, sir. Glad to hear you say it, sir. Wish more men understood that, sir. Especially the former owner, sir.
(He signals, several large trunks are carried from the coach up into the ship, lowered into the hold. BLACKADDER smiles smugly into the camera.)
A land obsessed with biggest brains,
Where Blackadder is not the best hung.
But still his self esteem remains,
Because of profit that he has wrung.
Blackadder, Blackadder, it wasn’t by some trick,
Blackadder, Blackadder, he’s just a clever dick.
Part 1: Lilliput
Part 2: Blefuscu
Part 3: Brobdingrag
Part 4: Lorbrulgrud
Part 5: Laputa
Part 7: Glubbdubdrib
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