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Sunday, November 15, 2015

Historical Accuracy on Television

Dear Hollywood Writers Who Think They are Being Historically Accurate,

1. Basic Economics: Wealth cannot be stolen before it is created. For there to be silver to steal in the first place, societies MUST be thriving and peaceful. I am so frustrated with these constant bands of raiders always stealing and pillaging every impoverished-looking town they come across. If life had been anything like it is being portrayed, society could not have existed. Nothing could have been built. Nothing made beautiful. Without peace, without respect for personal property, no one makes wealth and there is nothing to steal. Why would anyone fighting for their survival bother with having silver cups if they had to keep them hidden and the cups brought danger to them? The fact that there WAS anything to steal, the fact that populations increased and spread (slowly), shows that for most people most of the time there had to be some confidence that they would get to keep the the products of their labor. There had to be peace and thriving most of the time.


2. Tribal Life: People could not have killed whomever they wanted with reckless abandon as they do on Vikings or The Last Kingdom or Outander. There are serious repercussions to the choice to kill your neighbor--his family. And his family's family. Anarchy doesn't mean you can just run around killing people on a whim. There is a great book, The Lifeways of Hunter Gatherers, that explains well how measured and practical hunter-gatherers (human beings) are/were about going to war as in--they worked very hard to avoid it, because with so few people in each group, with so few people living on your farm or in your tribe to get the work of survival done, you will not survive if you lose even 3 of them. Villages worked very hard to keep the peace and keep a fight between two men just that--a fight between those two men. It was very hard to raise an army, to convince others to risk their lives for your cause. 

3. Hierarchy: It is the constant bowing to authority in these shows that bothers me the most. In my studies of the history of childrearing and Viking history--Viking Age Iceland is a great resource for this subject--hierarchy as we know it didn't exist for most of human history. Farmers--free men--don't bow to other men easily. They don't pay taxes on their land to a "king" easily. It took centuries of slowly changing the society to create the ideas of hierarchy we have now. The invention of hierarchy, how free men first began to pay taxes to a man who called himself "king" fascinates me, and that is why I have studied so much of the Viking era. So first of all: bullies got themselves killed. You couldn't be a "big mean bad guy" and accumulate that much more wealth than your cohorts unless you wanted to die. The first kings were natural leaders, men with very good social skills who did an excellent job of keeping the peace in their villages. They were looked to as wise men, not war lords--though they were often great fighters, they didn't want to fight. Duh. And they were busy farming most of the year. They didn't have hoards of peasants around them fetching them a glass of water and bowing. Not that it mattered much because the difference between a very wealthy king and a peasant back then was often whether you owned a cow and had fresh milk or not (and how many people liked you and sought you out for advice and would have your back if someone upset you). The first "lords" or "big men" lived in a home with a successful farm that was thriving and a community of about 20 people who lived in his house with him. That's right. There wasn't some great hall where the king lived and peasants in poverty around him. This was a tribe and everyone shared and leaders changed often based on who was most respected/popular at the moment. Similarly with children. Until children were "taught their place" in the 1500's and later, they were just young people. Children like doing what they are told about as much as adults do--which is say... I am so sick of this authority-reflex always portrayed on television! It didn't exist!!! (In the way they portray it.)

4. Most men had long hair until the Victorians. It was their religious ethic that demanded men abandon caring about their physical appearance, and show how little they cared by wearing their hair short.

5. Viking men were not sexist in the way Hollywood screenwriters imagine they are. Women were considered smaller and weaker than men (because in reality they are!), they were less useful in battle (and they needed to mind the children) but they were not useless in battle and they were not treated as if they were stupid until much much later. It's very hard to imagine their lives but easier for me living in rural Nicaragua: most of the time you must work for your survival, most of the time most women of fighting age had children to be caring for and often nursing as they nursed until four or five years old--they could not travel to political meetings, could not be gone on a hunt. It was PRACTICAL. And it was nothing to be ashamed of. Women's skills were highly valued and a man who could not get a wife would not have a very pleasant life. I am also very interested to understand how women allowed themselves to be turned into property--again this had to happen over centuries. On a farm the fight for survival requires the whole team and anyone not pulling their weight is let go of--women pulled their weight.

6. Viking men were not religious in the way Hollywood screenwriters make them. Their gods were very human, kind of like famous people whose lives we follow. They were not worshipped the way Christians worship their god--there was no bowing and groveling to them.

Anyway, I have a lot more studying of this time period to do before I have a true theory of how people behaved but one thing I know so far is that from what I have read, they did not behave like this.

Note on Raising Anders Without TV

Anders and I are at the Weston A Price annual conference this weekend. This conference has a "kids track," not overly impressive, but enjoyable enough that Anders has been happy to go and good enough that I am okay with him going.

Last night when I returned from the adult-only banquet dinner to pick him up, the kids were not dancing (as I had been told they would be doing) but watching Wall-E. This is the first cartoon movie Anders has ever seen. They were about two minutes in when I arrived. Anders wasn't ready to go yet, so I sat to watch with him. We watched about ten more minutes, and then he said he was ready to go, and we left.

What I found interesting is that Wall-E got hurt a lot, but Anders didn't laugh. The other children did-they howled with laughter every time Wall-E got hurt. Anders noticed this as well and started to learn when to laugh--always a few seconds behind the other kids but making a clear effort to join in. By the time we left he had pretty much gotten the hang of when to laugh, but I am not sure he actually thought it was funny.

There is no conclusion I can make from this, but I do find it interesting. I would be curious to know if other parents who don't have televisions have noticed a similar trend?