Saturday, January 31, 2015

Who needs Simon Schama?

Let's face it, there's nothing the BBC likes better than to send bespectacled history boffins out into the fields to stomp around in the mud, to frown portentously while wading through a mire, to intone solemnly while sloshing through a bog, and generally have a lovely time splashing and splattering their way through millennia of British history. Cut from a shot of the historian looking brooding and intense about something important to a shady murky camera shot of someone in a bad costume waving a sword or a parchment or an old greasy pair of undies about and then back to the historian shaking their head at the sad and sorry irony of it all, and that's a wrap, ladies and gentlemen.

It's all great fun and quite harmless, and if the British didn't occasionally release their historians out into the wild then who knows what would happen to them? They'd probably get all sorry for themselves, sitting in their little boxes and looking in a brooding and intense manner at a wall, or something like that.

But what about the non-historians? What about the rest of us who did arts degrees in one obscure subject or another, and now spend our time shaking our head at the sad and solemn ironies of the decline in fortunes of the Lydian mode, or intoning solemnly about the state of semiotics pre-Ferdinand Saussure to no-one in particular? Why isn't there a television network ready to release the experts in the Theodosian code or the Freudian/Lacanian interpretation of Christopher Marlowe's later plays into the wild, to wallow in galoshes through the slough of some bog, to utter grand soliloquies about some confusing philosophy or another? For, it must be admitted, even though no-one watching the television would have the faintest idea of what these people are talking about, no-one knows what televisual historians are talking about most of the time anyway. Who honestly remembers anymore details from Simon Schama's History of Britain than the fact that a) it had a title b) it was about Britain and c) it involved some dude called Simon Schama?

I think it would all be quite grand. What better setting for postmodernist philosophical thought than a pile of sludge? What other visual metaphor of the state of thinking in the modern humanities than a gigantic dirty swamp? We're on to something here, I think, by sending these professors of quibbles and obfuscantism out into the bogs and the moors. Sure, they are shy creatures and may be a little timid at first in front of the cameras - but with a little encouragement, and perhaps a scone here or there, they could become quite healthy.

Picture it now: a windy heath, a grey sky, a shadow looms on the horizon. And then a grizzled and cantankerous voice growls out: "I'm Judith Butler: and I'm here to talk about the prehistory of the subject and its role in modern gender binaries....."

And CUT!

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