@end-of-vanity I was inspired by your post about the woobification of imperialists, but this got very long and I didn’t want to derail it. I hope it’s OK to tag you!
I don’t participate in the fandom anymore, but this reminds me of the talks that I was having with a friend about a similar thing. (They’re asleep, so I’ll ask them if I can tag them when they wake up.)
We found it interesting that though the show made a strong point about British imperialism, there was a part of the fandom liked to scapegoat Hickey for the violence visited upon indigenous peoples as well as the violence the British inflicted upon themselves, thus absolving the remaining characters of their responsibility.
Even within the narrative there were characters that tried to frame Hickey for the greater part of the violence. Fandom favourites Crozier and Goodsir come to mind, and it is likely that people will share some of the views of their favourites or at least be more sympathetic to them. (In my interpretation, this was an ultimately ineffective attempt of theirs to alleviate their own burdens of guilt, but that is a subject for another post.)
I imagine that this was a way for people to feel OK about casting their faves in a positive light. I don’t think people should feel guilty or that they should apologise for liking a character, but there might be others who do and nobody wants to be harassed over the internet, so I see why for some it would be emotionally safer to justify why their choice of character is morally acceptable.
I don’t know if this kind of thought is still going around, but I remember that a lot of people were saying things like, “If it weren’t for that dastardly Hickey, everything would have been good and nobody would have died!” Nevermind the sailors that had already died of illness, and most importantly to the current subject, the Netsilik shaman that had been shot by a British soldier and whose loss disrupted the social, spiritual and ecological fabric of the community. None of which had anything to do with this character in particular.
Back in the day Hickey was my favourite character, but I could understand that people hated him. By any standard, he did commit despicable acts. But what I found so jarring was that often the very same person who found Hickey morally repugnant for exploiting the crew’s racism would turn around and sanitise Fitzjames, who in his introductory scene makes a funny story of having invaded China and shot at local people with a rocket, or if condemning him for cannibalism completely glossed over whatever was happening in Edward Little’s camp, a much worse situation than anything we ever saw with the mutineers.
My friend and I also discussed that, if the mutineers or other members of the expedition had survived, they likely would have blamed Hickey for the killings and the cannibalism that they themselves partook in, in quite a similar way that the fandom did. It would have been awfully convenient, with him being poor, homosexual, an impostor, a person who was all sorts of undesirable to the society that created them all. Someone else made a better post (I don’t remember who it was) about how Empire is cannibalistic, endlessly devouring humans, nature, and all manner of things as resources, and that Hickey upon recreating this Empire on a smaller scale only made it explicit. One may partake in it, but to reveal its machineries is what is unforgivable.