Saturday, April 06, 2013

Does Hollywood know better?

I have noticed something. It happens sometimes, I may not be the sharpest knife the the drawer, but I do notice some things. I don't know if anyone else has noticed. Unless they are pedantic, like me, don't like historical inaccuracy, and draws attention to it, they may not have done. 

Before readers lose interest at another historical rant, please at least let me explain things. What I have
noticed is the way that some people are coming to respond to the pointing out that a book or a movie is historically inaccurate. 
A fairly typical response to this might be something along the lines of "its not a documentary, so it doesn't have to be accurate" . This is an entirely separate issue which I don't want to get into. 
However, there seem to be some people, who, when it is pointed out that a book or movie they like has a severe deficiency in the accuracy department, will respond by trying to make out that it is in fact the history that is wrong.

Such persons say something like "We can't possibly know what really happened because we weren't there".
Notwithstanding that the same argument could be applied to the very work of movie makers or authors living centuries or millenia after the events, the people who say such things don't seem to realize  (or take account of) something important.. 
That is we have at least some material composed by the people who were there. Who were around at the time, and may well have known what happened. It is such primary source material that people who study history use.

The history-doubters, however, might have another card in their deck. They may be aware of the source material, and take upon themselves the mantle of self-appointed textual critics by claiming that the sources are for whatever reason unreliable or untrustworthy. Ergo, we still don't know what really happened. Ergo, the movie may not be wrong after all?

It is true that the sources have their deficiencies, they were after all written by fallible men and women who made mistakes and had their own personal biases and opinions, or who may have wanted the depict events in a certain way. 
To entirely dismiss all the sources on this basis however, seems as absurd as discounting everything the in   because the writers or presenters thereof might not be entirely objective, or rejecting all witness testimony in court cases because those who present it may not be entirely unbiased.

Has anyone else noticed this, or is it just me? Is this a new trend? If so, I rather think its about time we cut history some slack?
If someone says something is inaccurate, one can reasonably guess its because people know something about it.
So perhaps, rather then dismissing such claims, its time that we started listening a bit more to those who point this out. In my experience, studying history takes more effort than reading a novel or watching a movie, and let's face it, there are none (or very few) which are entirely accurate.

Maybe we should just accept that, instead of attacking that which brings this to notice. Maybe also, alongside enjoying historical fiction, we could also turn our hand to some  historical and not 'learn' everything we know from what is, after all, entertainment, or worse still, act as though we know better because we have watched the  movie.....

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