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Hollywood History

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"There is a popular belief that where history is concerned, Hollywood always gets it wrong — and sometimes it does. What is overlooked is the astonishing amount of history Hollywood has got right, and the immense, unacknowledged debt we owe to the commercial cinema as an illuminator of the story of mankind."
George MacDonald Fraser, The Hollywood History of the World

Not to be confused with the actual History of Hollywood.

In the real world, each era of time throughout history has its own distinctive style and zeitgeist, based on, among other things, what came before it. It also leaves an indelible mark in all of the eras that come after it. In this way, all periods of history are inextricably linked, and in order to thoroughly comprehend one, one must endeavor to study and understand them all.

Obviously, things get pumped up for movies. Whether or not you believe this is an Acceptable Break from Reality or THE WORST THING TO EVER HAPPEN EVER depends on the viewer, not to mention the restraints of time/watchability of an event (most filmgoers won't be impressed with a slow, boring event, however world-changing — and this isn't the Lowest Common Denominator we're talking about; many films have been blasted for this), invoking Rule of Drama and so on. This isn't restricted to film — ancient plays and literature have been doing this on and on.

It is important to bear in mind that stories told in the media work with tropes, but history works with its own rules, and many times the real events and all their details get in the way of a good story. Stories are basically a more or less linear narrative. Everything that happens in history is the result of a complex set of causes, influences and factors (politics, economy, social issues, and a long etc.), and everything keeps influencing further events in all directions. Consider, for example, that WWII never happened, that it was instead a great war movie made up by some imaginative Hollywood studios. We have a Big Bad conquering neighbour countries For the Evulz, we have Europe calling for aid, we have The Alliance standing against the evil, an atomic bomb for the end, and America Won World War II. Hurray! But, wait a moment... the defeat of the big bad does not mean that the war is over? Why are the 'Russian' Dirty Communists in the Alliance, if they will be the villains of the sequel? Shouldn't the superweapon have been used against the big bad, instead of just his minor allies? If there was a happy ending, shouldn't Europe have survived the war as good as new? And if the ultimate evil has been completely and utterly defeated, how come that history is still going on?

It should be noted that popular entertainments, whether TV, film or print literature, are products of their times and cater to an audience of that time; thus, they will always bear more resemblance to the society that produces them than to the time period actually depicted. For instance, Happy Days, set in the 1950s, looks far more like the 1970s, the decade when it was produced, than does That '70s Show, produced in the early 2000s. Likewise, Freaks and Geeks, a high school show produced in 1999, mostly looks and feels like late-90s high school life despite taking place in the early 80s. Even Aeschylus's depiction of the Trojan War depicts homoeroticism among the Achaeans because that was what was expected of manly aristocratic figures in the Athens of his day, despite the fact that it probably wasn't as big a fad at the time of the Trojan War. It's also why speculative fiction has such widely varying pictures of "The Future", and why The Jetsons (originally produced in the 1960s) portrays a future of technological marvels, but still assumes the push-button kitchen of tomorrow will be presided over by an apron-wearing housewife; it was beyond comprehension that automation in the home would result in women having lives outside it.

Note that many of these apply to Europe and the United States. Feel free to add the historical eras of other regions.


"We didn't start the fire, But when we are gone, Will it still burn on, and on, and on, and on..."