Behind the times…

Louis XIV, by Bernini. Image: Louis le Grand


“Verily, verily, do I say unto thee,

Be wary of those who write your history.”

….so wrote Stuart a little while ago. Reading it, you might be forgiven for thinking of politicians, biased historians or religious bodies. I came across something even more insidious the other day, though… television. Not just any television either… this was a programme under the aegis of the BBC, once the most respected of institutions.

We all know…or I hope we all know… that Hollywood has always taken gross cinematic liberties with history, chopping, changing and reshaping it, just as they do with books, in order to produce something that gives a vague interpretation of events. This is Hollywood after all… Tinseltown… La La Land…the visual fantasy factory of the world. It rarely produces historical accuracy, that is not its brief. It produces entertainment and the definition of that mission is ‘to provide amusement or enjoyment’. Even the best and most accurate films deviate from reality… how could it be otherwise when a literary masterwork or a lifetime or two has to be squashed into ninety minutes?

The BBC, on the other hand, has built a long reputation as a source of educational and informative programming. It provides entertainment too, but we have acquired a habit of trusting it does its homework on its history.

Now, I do not have television. I have a television, but it is connected only to the player that was a gift from my son. I do not miss TV, but when I am unwell and cannot retire to bed because the dog still needs walking, feeding and access to the garden, I can happily relax with a film. I mention this to explain why I was ignorant of what I was about to see, for I had also acquired, by pressing one of those ‘find out more’ buttons, a free trial of an online viewing service. Scrolling through what was on offer, the title ‘Versailles‘ caught my eye. ‘Oh‘, thinks I, never having heard of the series and being, apparently, very much behind the times, ‘that might be good…

I lived in France for many years. I know a fair bit of French history, I know the palace of Versailles… the period and its people are fascinating for many reasons. I settled down to watch… and I was shocked.

It was not the inclusion of sex and violence, for they without a doubt reflect certain aspects of life at Louis’ court. Not that I think we need either representing quite so graphically on mainstream TV. I was more shocked by a reported statement from a producer that modern TV series’ should have a scene of sex or violence every fifteen minutes. Is this really what we require? Or it is that we have become so numb that we barely notice.

Pornography is widely available on the internet already. Gratuitous gore is so much a part of ‘entertainment’ these days that we barely flinch any more, and ever more shocking examples are placed before us to get our attention. That is a problem in itself and I wonder how close we now are to the scenario played out in the 1987 film ‘Running Man‘. The film portrays a totalitarian state where all artistic and cultural expression is  censored and the populace are controlled via the media feeding them increasing levels of sex and violence in ‘reality TV’ shows.

If that really is what we require, then we are a society in the final throes of decay… comparable to the Romans with their bloodthirsty arenas and ever more outlandishly staged contests designed solely to sate the appetite for blood and vicarious ‘thrills’.

What shocked me just as much was how far the producers of the film had rewritten history. It is one thing to set fictional characters against a backdrop of history… that is a staple of both fictional literature and film-making… but to twist facts to misrepresent historical figures, that is another matter altogether.

The series, I am told, runs through several seasons, presenting historical fiction mixed with historical fact as if it were one and the same. There seems to be no disclaimer that states it to be a fictional interpretation and viewers without prior knowledge will be learning ‘history’ from the script and assuming it to be true.

This worries me.

We can probably all discern that the sex and violence are only shown for shock value and the ratings. But how many could or would pick apart the fact from the fiction? We will just accept there is an element of dramatic licence, without questioning where it begins and ends, yet we still unconsciously absorb ‘facts’ that are fed to us via the imagination and in the safety of our own homes. That, I believe, affects how we view and trust things, the fact that we are within our own safe walls. Yet that is exactly where most media reach us.

There is little that can withstand a man who can conquer himself.
~Louis XIV

One of the tenets of the Silent Eye is to accept nothing and question everything. We encourage our Companions to take responsibility for their lives, thoughts and beliefs rather than simply accepting what they are told. In this age of bombardment by visual and aural information, I believe that developing a conscious attitude of discernment, the ability to exercise informed choice, and taking responsibility for those choices, is more important than ever.

We live in an age where both information and misinformation are as widely available as opinion. We have access to the thoughts, stories and histories of the world seen from many different perspectives. For the first time in human history, we have the ability to really think for ourselves in an informed manner, not follow blindly where our lords and masters may lead, either physically or intellectually. Do we not owe it to ourselves, and perhaps to those who have walked this earth before us, to choose a path of growth rather than the slippery slope to anaesthetised decay?

The future is ours to shape. Our future… personally and globally. Call me old-fashioned, but I would rather make an informed choice of the road I take than be led blindly by the nose… or a TV screen.

27 thoughts on “Behind the times…

  1. Beautifully written. People also seem to forget the distinction between fact and opinion. The truth is not a matter of opinion. There are certain philosophical truths we can haggle over but the physical evidence is not a matter of opinion.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There is always a disparity in how people interpret even factual and physical evidence, but I do think we should be able to examine such things dispassionately and form our own opinions instead of being fed them by others.,

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m allowed to be wrong in thinking the Moon is made of green cheese, but I’m not allowed to ignore hard evidence that proves me wrong. Here’s the problem: cynical people have learned how to use social media to create a fact free bubble where even the most outlandish lie is repeated as a fact.

        Did you know that NASA had to issue a formal statement to deny the allegation that NASA is running a child sex ring on Mars?

        No, NASA is not hiding kidnapped children on Mars


        1. No, I agree with you there…and flexibility in mind and belief is something we all need to maintain…along with the ability to accept new evidence and accept when we are wrong.

          As to the power of social media, and the media in general, I find it appalling that so many use it to sensationalise and destroy…for their own ‘glory’… when it can and often does do so much good.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. There is no tool that we can’t use destructively. Television can educate or sell products. Reasonable people will find a way to use it for both.

            Social Media can help artists find an audience and bring friendship to people who live in isolation.

            Social Media is also a lethal weapon when used by unscrupulous people.

            I think the United States will survive this and a new generation of smart young adults will rediscover
            that regulated capitalism is crucial to a healthy democracy.


  2. This a powerful post. It needs to be said. I am just as troubled by the news. Growing up with Walter Cronkite and Dan Rather, the news was reporting. It did not include opinions or sway thinking. I find reporting today disturbing. Give people the facts and let them form their own opinions.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t think it is possible for anyone to tell a story, news or not, without a certain amount of their own opinion coming through, but there is a big difference between that and rearranging facts to create what amounts to fallacy. I wonder though whether it is now seen as desirable for people to be thinking for themselves… we seem to be being discouraged from doing so and encouraged into accepting instead a spoon-fed attitude.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This is such a good post, Sue. I really dislike the way television journalists presume to push their opinions down our throats rather than present the facts. As for sex and violence – they do nothing to enhance my enjoyment of a drama. Recently my son and I watched a boxset of Tenko – remember the series set in a Japanese prison of war camp? It was made in the early 80s. In one episode on the women was taken to the punishment cell. When she emerged later she was nursing what was clearly a broken arm. At no point though, were the scenes of torture shown – yet my son and I were sitting on the edge of our seats. We have imaginations – we can understand what’s going on, we don’t need it depicted graphically in front of our eyes.
    Okay – off my soapbox.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Move over on that soapbox, Mary and don’t get down. I agree with you wholeheartedly on this one. I remember Tenko very well… and Hitchcock… the very fact that we never did see the worst moments allowed all the true horror of such situations to rise up within us in a very personal way. Much worse than fake gore.
      As for the sex, I have no prudish disapproval to offer, but I do think imagination works just as well here too… if not better… and as I also believe that the sexual act is something both intimate and sacred, I have no desire to see it plastered across the screen.
      Both the sex and the violence are diminished in their power to touch out deeper emotions, I believe, when they become such commonplace images that we fail to notice them.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I thought my son would find Tenko rather tame but far from it and it led to a some good discussions on the subject of how violence is portrayed on television and film. It’s probably easy to trace when things began to change but I don’t understand why they did?
        I agree with you about sex scenes, too. Bring back the days of the leading man having to keep one foot on the floor in bedroom scenes! And a row of asterisks in books!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I don’t mind people having a choice of what to watch, but it does bother me when a purportedly sensible subject is debased by unnecessarily graphic scenes. I wonder what we are losing in the longer term.

          Liked by 1 person

  4. You are so right, in questioning both the reasons and the ethics of those who make the programmes/dramas that contain gratuitous violence and sex Sue. Good drama, as with books should leave something to the imagination. It worries me that our grandchildren are being brought up in a world where this overexposure is the norm. And what appals, more than anything are the reality shows where, it seems, it’s the sex that is the bait for viewers.

    The question of history always interests me; we often forget that much of it is was written by those who could read and write. A century or so ago and beyond it wouldn’t have been the likes of us writing historical facts- so much of what we learn is often subjective; It’s fortunate that, with secondary sources and the ability to look beneath the given and to question, we can learn much of the truth in the past.

    That the television writers producers can only think that violence and sex can make history and historical drama more interesting is both inexplicable and worrying.


    1. Thankfully, I don’t get to see the reality shows… though I am aware of them… who is not, these days? That they make the headlines so often in a world with so many genuine problems and newsworthy achievements is worrying in itself.

      I’m not one for conspiracy theories, but it does feel awfully like the plot of some dystopian novel where the masses are kept happy enough not to think, notice or complain too much…

      History has always been both subjective and selective… right back to the earliest times. Even the Venerable Bede’s history was heavily weighted against Celtic Christian history in favour of Rome and it is only because of our access to other contemporary documents that we can begin to get a clearer picture.

      The problem with TV is how easily we get hooked, especially in a series. We do it with books too, but there is a false intimacy with a screen in your living room… you get to know the characters, care about what happens to them… in some ways they almost take the place of friends and before you know it, you have to tune in…

      While there are many excellent series’, life and people are more important than a TV screen, but I know very many who will put their lives on hold at certain times of the week…


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