Saturday, September 19, 2009

Revisionist History

How historical do you like your historical fiction? I just saw Inglourious Basterds and I was completely unprepared for the new ending to World War II. To be perfectly honest, I found it pretty damn annoying.

Hollywood is basing their films ever more loosely on those "true" stories. No, Inglourious Basterds didn't claim to be historically accurate, but there are far too many people who will watch that movie and assume that's what really happened. If "historical" movie makers are going to veer quite so drastically away from reality, I'd like a disclaimer... or some paranormal element in the plot to indicate that this is an alternate history. The relationship between history and fiction is a messy one, especially in the eye of the general viewing public.

Historical romance is not immune to the bending-history epidemic. I don't have a problem with the wild proliferation of rich, studly dukes in the regency era... as long as you aren't giving those dukes real historical identities. Then things start to get a little fishy. A fictitious king? You can do whatever you want to him. George IV? He actually lived. Is it so much to ask for a little historical accuracy?

History itself is a jumble of perspectives. No two memories of an event are going to be identical, so it stands to reason that our cultural memory would be fuzzy around the edges. But some things are facts. If we know when someone died and how... if we know how they were viewed in their own lifetime... why do we have to mess with that? Why do we have to sensationalize and speculate? I'm all for creativity, as long as people aren't trying to pass it off as truth. "A true story!" has become a selling point that is trotted out more and more frequently, with less and less accuracy. We will never be able to reverse that trend until we start calling people on the lie.

What do you think? Am I not giving the masses enough credit for knowing the difference between Truth and Based on a True Story? Or are we losing our sense of history to fiction even as we lose our sense of news to entertainment?

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