“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “It means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “Whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.
Thandie Newton caused a small argument last night. In an article she regretted the fact that people of colour were essentially barred from historical costume dramas unless they portrayed an occasional domestic or slave. My opening gambit – a gut instinct because I’m a historian – was that is just an unfortunate fact of life, or if you wish, a fact of the past.
I was challenged by ‘musicals.’ I don’t like musicals very much, for me their essentially fluff and tosh with the occasional hummable tune. Others view them as creative extravaganzas. Both views subjective, both equally valid. Each to their own. ‘What about musicals?’ I said.
‘Hamilton. He wasn’t a black man.’
‘And Cats . . . Lion-king, you don’t have singing cats and moralistic lions,’ I said. We both agreed that the Musical was a form of creative expression bound by its own rules, Opera, too, I imagine. Wotan, the ultimate Aryan, could probably be played by a black man with few turning a hair, though Wagner might not be best pleased. We agreed that Shakespeare, too, was a special point, in the sense that his poetry and message was universal and transcended race.
‘So why are you opposed to colour-blind costume dramas?’ It was said with the tone of one who checkmates.
Because they’re essentially historical and whilst you can fabricate or omit small details in the interests of drama - (though I did demur at the teenage Victoria having the hots for Lord Melbourne, in real life an elderly man prone to afternoon sleeps but played by the seductive Rufus Sewell) – you have to stick to the essentials. You can’t have Victoria played by an Indian, give Queen Elizabeth I a scouse accent, make William the Conqueror Chinese, make George Washington black. I appreciate these are rhetorical statements and in real life you can do anything you want, but then like fake science and fake news you’d be immersing a culture in fake history – harmless enough you might say, but not unsurprisingly I disagree.
You can't change the past for the perceived needs of the present. The past is a world of its own and never entirely knowable, neither is science, but both disciplines strive for the truth, and history is important—even in costume dramas.
‘He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.’ George Orwell ‘1984’ Well we haven’t yet got a global Erdogan but we do have Google and some interesting algorithms. Google: European peoples — and then images. I haven’t yet got my head around this.
Maybe manipulation and algorithms are the future the historians small sad nonentities, inverted Cassandras who can talk of the past and have no one believe them.