The Greatest Show on Earth!: The Historico-Biblical Epic, Excess, and the Sublime Historical Experience

Metathesis

A few weeks ago, when I published my post on Game of Thrones and its theory of history, one of my colleagues asked me about the nature of excess–of violence, of sex, of things (clothes, sets, technologies)–that typically stand as one of the hallmarks of the epic genre. At what point, she asked, does excess simply overwhelm the viewer, force them into a state of suspension, of sensory/sensual overload that causes them to disengage? I’ve been thinking a great deal recently about the function of excess in terms of historical representation. I’ve come to believe that the genre of the epic, perhaps more than any other type of historical film or television series, allows for an experience of the strangeness and otherness of the world of antiquity. Following in the footsteps of such scholars as Vivian Sobchack, I suggest that the historical epic provides contemporary spectators with an experience of the…

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Nasty, Brutish, but Definitely Not Short: Game of Thrones and the History of Power

Metathesis

It might seem counter-intuitive to talk about a fantasy television series as having anything meaningful to say about history. But Game of Thrones‘ self-conscious evocation of the medieval world, as well as the fact that so many of its storylines are drawn from historical events in our own world, suggests that it does indeed have something it wants to tell about history—about the ways in which individuals engage with the social and cultural forces that seem to move times, societies, and cultures forward. In the clip shown here, Petyr Baelish, the corrupt and ruthless Master of Coin, explains to Varys his vision of the world and the rules that govern the way it works.

In essence, chaos provides cunning and ruthless people the ability to rise to the top; not for him the illusions and grand visions of a just society. Power, and the ability to seize it, are the…

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Who’s That Lady?: Women’s Historical Fiction and the Writing of Female Subjectivity

Metathesis

If you type the search term “women’s historical fiction” into Amazon, you will (as of this writing) receive over 25,000 results, with authors writing women-centered fictions set in almost every conceivable historical period. I use the term “women’s historical fiction” deliberately, as this specific sub-genre pays particular attention to the experiences of women in various historical eras.  Although the “Great Man” theory of history continues to exert quite a powerful hold on the public historical imagination, popular authors–authors such as Philippa Gregory, Stephanie Thornton, Kate Quinn, Stephanie Dray, and Michelle Moran– have inspired large and devoted readerships, and their works seek to evoke in contemporary readers an understanding of the struggles, and the triumphs, that women experienced in the past.  In doing so, they also articulate a theory of women’s history centered on the tension between female agency and subjection.  These works of history offer frames of intelligibility through which contemporary readers can experience the…

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The Exquisite Queerness of Jackson’s “The Hobbit”

It is no secret that we queers have always had an appreciation and an adoration of Tolkien's work.  The richness and depth with which he paints the relationships between men--especially that between Sam and Frodo as they make their way to Mount Doom--almost inevitably strike a resonant chord with young queer nerds reading Tolkien's work. … Continue reading The Exquisite Queerness of Jackson’s “The Hobbit”

Rude Wastes of Space: Race, Class, and the Othering of the British Hoodie

Metathesis

One of the more interesting parts of writing my dissertation so far has been investigating the phenomenon of the British hoodie. My dissertation focuses on the post-2000 British horror resurgence, and the hoodie horror cycle has been one of the more prolific cycles within the more general boom.

kidulthood_poster
Menhaj Huda’s 2006 film Kidulthood is often identified asone of the first hoodie films.

Hoodies are usually working-class teen delinquents who wear hooded sweatshirts. During the first decade of the 2000s, hoodies became prevalent in a variety of forms of British popular culture. There were frequent news stories citing hoodies as a consequence and contributor to “Broken Britain,” a cultural discourse that maintains that Britain is more lawless, chaotic, and dangerous than ever before. Cinemas screened films like Kidulthood (Menhaj Huda, 2006) and Harry Brown (Daniel Barber, 2009), while various television channels produced and aired programs like Misfits (2009-2013, E4) and the…

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Has the Historical Epic Lost Its Relevance?

The historical/biblical epic seems to be in something of a crisis.  Both Darren Aronovsky's Noah and Ridley Scott's Exodus:  Gods and Kings took something of a drumming at the U.S. box office, and the latter was viciously excoriated by the critics.  One cannot help but remember another significant ancient world epic, directed by a very well-known and well-regarded director, … Continue reading Has the Historical Epic Lost Its Relevance?