Urgent ethical and legal questions for National Geographic, ClearStory and their Nazi War Diggers

National Geographic’s ‘Nazi War Diggers’ has stirred up a lot of anger today. I have already tweeted archaeologist Annelise Baer’s impassioned condemnation of the show, but here is a series of serious ethical questions that many feel must be answered for National Geographic to maintain any credibility:

Urgent ethical and legal questions for National Geographic, ClearStory and their Nazi War Diggers.

Edit 31/3/2014

National Geographic’s response can be found here.

A Bayeux Brofist

I first spotted the ‘Lucas, I am thy father‘ Star Wars-Bayeux Tapestry mash-up meme a while back, and I chuckled to myself, and carried on about my business. However, I have subsequently learned that this wasn’t a one-off, but a glorious conclusion to the Bildwirkerey von Bayeux storytelling project. I saw the URL, I followed the path. It was awesome.

Here’s what I came up with:

Bayeux Bros
This one owes some inspiration to this Hark! A Vagrant strip

Alright, not the most awesome start, but the toolkit is actually pretty limiting. Sure the Bayeux Tapestry is pretty long, but if I want to recreate a Norman Avengers team, can I find the Hulk and Iron Man? No. So there are some limitations.

Bayuex Batman

I mean, get it together guys. People need this kit. For… reasons, and stuff. That said, a lot of the inspiration can come directly from the tools themselves. I mean, check out this guy:

Bayeux Thriller

So, yeah… That was my weekend. How about you?

In the name of Shakespeare

Pretty awesome execution on this. I try to shy away from adding too much Shakespeare to the blog, but this really is excellent.

Transmedial Shakespeare

Throughout the entire semester of Transmedial Shakespeare, we looked across the many different ways that Shakespeare managed to make himself and his works an integral part of human culture. We learned the history of Shakespeare, and how back then he was quite different from the cultural icon that he is today.  We attempted to trace the progress of when and how Shakespeare came to be recognized in the modern times, going back and forth across various readings, trying to find the story behind Shakespeare’s rise to prominence in society.  We saw the prominent influence Shakespeare’s many works had on the artists that followed in the centuries after him. We saw him subjected to commercialism, philosophy, parodies, and radical re-interpretations, each one a distinctly different form but always managing to keep in line with the Shakespearian idea.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the course for me, however, was when we…

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Swords, sandals, and guilty pleasures: in defence of ‘300 ROAE’

Four days ago ‘300, Rise of An Empire’; the sequel to the Zak Snyder’s adaptation of Frank Miller’s graphic novel ‘300’ was released in UK cinemas. For those of you who missed the first film (and you call yourselves history geeks) or for those who need a quick recap, here is How It Should Have Ended:

That last line is particularly relevant because, at least in some circles, there has been some hang-wringing over how historically accurate the film is. This article by Cambridge professor Paul Cartledge is probably the most high-profile criticism out there, but it certainly wasn’t the only one. I’m arguing that focusing on whether it is historically accurate is completely the wrong approach. As the HISHE film subtly suggested, ‘300’ was never meant to be an accurate depiction of how things went down circa 480BC. This ain’t no fly on the wall documentary.

In my last post I came down pretty hard on the suspension of disbelief; arguing that pumpkins and potatoes should not have existed in the Lord of the Rings and that, yes, Gandalf was a dope smoker. This week, I’m going in the opposite direction. I’m arguing that there is no way you can sit down to watch a film like ‘300 ROAE’ and expect the story to follow the consensus historical narrative. To write a critique of a story like this on the basis of its historical accuracy is to be willfully disingenuous. It’s also a helluva way to set yourself up for frustration every time you watch a vaguely ‘historical’ movie.

Ross Wittenham 300
Yours truly, as ‘Themistokles’

Full disclosure; I haven’t seen ‘300 ROAE’ yet, and I probably won’t do for a while. This is for personal reasons, not because I consider myself above the genre. I really don’t. Swords and sandals movies are one of my guilty pleasures. The only one I really disliked was that godawful Colin Farrell ‘Alexander’ movie, and that doesn’t count because everyone everywhere hated it.

I love ‘historical’ films even if they bear little resemblance to the events they purport to depict. I also love historical documentaries, but I am smart enough to know the difference. So is everyone. No-one, no matter how clueless they are, goes into an action film like this and believes that what they see is what really happened. In a discussion that followed the publication of my last blog post, I highlighted the ridiculousness of my own problems with historical accuracy: I was quibbling the choice of foods, but had no issue with the existence of wizards and dragons.

This is probably the real root of Paul Cartledge et al’s issues. Just like me, they love the swords and sandals genre. But over the years, as they have gained more expertise in the history surrounding the stories, they have started to spot things that they know aren’t right. This breaks (sod it, hands up, I’m guilty of this too) our suspension of disbelief. We want to talk about how awesome the film is, but because we are human, and English at that, we also feel the need to complain when something distracts us. So we raise our voices in the hope that filmmakers will hear them, and will focus their dabbling on things that will only make the film more awesome.

And we are not alone. There are geeks from other walks of life who are equally frustrated that their subject is being willfully ignored in the pursuit of storylines. Check out, for example, Movie Code. Or, just because I’ll take any opportunity to illustrate an argument with XKCD cartoons, check this out.

Somehow, I doubt that the filmmakers are going to hear us. Swords and sandals films have probably been popular for longer than ones featuring science or code, and we’re still suffering the same problems. We stand on the shoulders of giants like ‘Ben Hur’, all our complaints have got us precisely nowhere. So what can we do?

In one of the bonus features on the original feature film, someone had the audacity to argue that Greeks often depicted their heroes as nudes, and that this was why the film featured so many naked dudes. The suggestion was that this film should be seen as the extension of a traditional Greek oral history, as told by David Wenham’s narrator ‘Dilios’. I prefer to think of it as an homage; a nod to the original events, with lashings of artistic licence. It’s a story worth telling, so let’s not get hung up on the details.