Thursday, July 6, 2017


Sometimes it's refreshing to realize how many smart people (a) also hate the whole "oh the dirty stupid past" foolishness we like to bandy about a bit too much, and (b) also know better than to accept the most commonly held generalizations about the Dark Ages, barbarians, medieval/fantasy/The Dung Ages and so forth. Jeff Sypeck is one of those who reassures me that not everyone thinks uncritically about historical stereotyping. He's also introduced me to Amy Kaufman, whose paper he discusses above is easy reading, free, not so long as to scare one off a scholarly work, and accessibly written and reasoned. It's highly worth the click beyond.

The ideas under discussion - our "romanticization" of some of these ideas of The Past, and the consequences (ask Mark Twain) of ... well, what frankly is often called "branding" these days. Specifically, Kaufman looks at the same dynamic as embodied in the so-called Islamic State (side note: it's nice to see ANY use of the "so-called" anymore; even mainstream media seems entirely to have forgotten that ISIS is a made-up title and self-bestowed, and that using it straightforwardly confers legitimacy). It's a pretty chilling look, not least in the gender politics* involved.

*I refuse to call rape "sexual".

Readers here know, I have plenty to say about women's treatment in this world - doesn't matter "when", we are prey, and anyone who thinks otherwise is simply ignorant. But I don't consider things worse than they once were ... and I do not consider them BETTER, either. Like bubbles in wallpaper, the position may be pressed out of shape or shifted around, but one look at human trafficking, slavery being perfectly alive and well no matter its perceived absence in our own personal worlds, the lives of children across the globe - and the regressive state of nationalism and politics worldwide - leaves no doubt: human beings don't really change very much.

So just as bad as chronological snobbery - the idea that we have evolved beyond what we think we used to be, that the past was populated by morons and we today are educated and therefore actually more intelligent - is the offensive mistake of chronological romanticization. The good old days never were, and the bright new tomorrow isn't, at least so far.

As I grow older, the irony is that this view of humanity SAVES me from much of the fear so many of us find overwhelming. Knowing that we did not really clamber up from darkness and ignorance to a more enlightened place provides perspective that we're not about to fall off a cliff.


Okay, I won't keep going on. But your thoughts would be most welcome. And please do read Sypeck's post, and Kaufman's Muscular Medievalism.


Jeff said...

Sorry I'm coming late to this, but thanks for the link! This post was my most-read thing in a couple years, but I didn't bring much to the table; it's really all Amy Kaufman's thinking.

What troubles me about fandoms, including Game of Thrones, is that you're (we're; one is) always criticizing a moving target. If we express concern about what may be gratuitous depictions of violence, the response is, "hey, this is how history was! Deal with it!" But then when you show that maybe history wasn't quite always that way after all, the new response is, "it's just a show; you should really just relax." People will defend the shows and books and comics and movies they like no matter what. I'd compare their devotion to religion, except that in 2017 I think it's actually easier for people to modulate their personal faith than it is for them to re-think the fictions they adore.

DLM said...

Religion does make a good comparison, though. Or party politics ... Little modulation to be found there in recent years.

It's always good to see you - I really did enjoy reading you *and* Kaufman, and ruminating a bit myself. Thank you for coming by!