“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.
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.