In thinking about media and history I was looking into some articles and realized that very few people in my generation and younger know much about major historical events. In fact, a recent British survey cited in a Daily Mail article shows that “nearly two-thirds of young people were unable to say that the First World War ended in 1918” and “54 per cent of the same age range, 16-24, also did not know the war began in 1914.” I found this really disappointing. If so few of my generation know so little about these general facts, how much do they know about the actual events of the war? How much do they know about other major historical events? There are such rich stories there that would be sad to loose for many reasons. And I’ve always thought what Winston Churchill said was so true.
“Those that fail to learn from history, are doomed to repeat it.”
So why do youth know so little about this war? How many other famous and influential historical events do they know little about? I doubt I am able answer these questions, but I also don’t think that all hope is lost. It might seem surprising, but I think that the youth of today can learn a lot about the events of yesterday from the media. Albeit, unconsciously.
Many major historical events have been made visualized through video games, movies, TV shows, books, and many other mediums.
A man referenced in Assassins Creed, Hassan-i Sabbah, really did establish one of the first assassin groups during the first crusade (starting in the 1100s). Assassins were chosen by Sabbah to influence and sometimes kill enemy leaders. In the game, assassins always seek to kill the enemy, while historical facts show that sometimes scare tactics were used so killing didn’t have to take place. For example, a Muslim leader once awoke to find a knife and a note beside his pillow that roughly said that he would be killed if he attacked the group of assassins. Of course, these differences aren’t too terribly surprising because the game is historical fiction.
Disney has released many movies based on historical figures, including Pocahontas and Mulan. In the movie, Pocahontas chooses to say when John Smith leaves. Historically, however, she traveled to England and married John Smith but died soon after. Another interesting fact about the story of Pocahontas is that she was, in fact, the daughter of the chief of her tribe, but she was not the rebellious heroine portrayed by Disney. She didn’t rebel against her father’s wish to kill John Smith; in fact she was asked to make the life or death decision and she chose to let him live.
Similarly, the legendary figure from ancient China, Hua Mulan, was also taken more seriously in real life. She was skilled in martial arts and sword fighting before she joined the army, so it was a logical choice that she take her father’s place. There was no drama about whether or not she would get killed for being a woman in the army and her family felt no dishonour. Disney being Disney, it’s fair to assume their historical adaptations will always ere on the side of drama. All movies need some sort of conflict, and it was still very rare for women to be taken seriously in that time and culture.
Video games and movies are great for inspiring an interest in history by exposing children to stories loosely based on historical or legendary events. Video games might even have the added benefit of teaching youth about the different strategies used in war and politics. Production companies will always claim creative licence to explain the variance between fact and fiction, but it does make it difficult for young people to learn accurate world history. Nevertheless, it is better to inspire an interest through known fiction, than never be exposed to a significant story at all.