Historical inaccuracies throughout history

Alright, I’m at the AGO (the Art Gallery of Ontario for those many people who wouldn’t Google it) during my trip to Toronto (more on that… eventually) checking out the art. The building itself is quite pretty and it has a pretty decent collection – though I am a little miffed that they make you pay extra for special exhibitions. That’s pretty bullshit. Anyway, the stuff I do see is great, but as I wander through the gallery the thing that jumps out at me is some of the cultural anachronisms I keep on seeing in the art from certain time periods.

Y’see, a lot of those post-Renaissance painters (and a few of contemporary Renaissance painters as well) had the habit of painting their subjects in the arms, armour and general regalia that they were used to seeing. It’s why a painting of some Gothic king bears a striking resemblance to Henry Tudor and why the Greek soldiers in another painting bear a closer similarity to the modern Swiss Guard than to what we’re pretty certain hoplites actually looked like. I’m making these up for the drama, but I reckon if you know your way around a painting you know exactly what I’m talking about.

What really got me laughing though was this painting right here.

Pieter Claessens the Elder (15th century), published without permission from anyone I'd probably need to get permission from.
Artist was Pieter Claessens the Elder (16th century), hanging in the AGO. Published without permission from anyone I’d probably need to get it from (please don’t sue).

Magnificent right? Right. Nah. Not my favourite painting in the gallery, colour’s a bit flat for my taste and I’m a bit more partial towards Impressionism and Cubism. But what got me is what the painting is supposed to depict. Namely, that white kid in the middle is supposed to be Moses (as in the Biblical “Let my people go!” Moses) breaking a crown in Pharaoh’s court (as in ancient Egypt, pyramids and mummies).

Does that look like Ancient Egypt to you? It sure as hell doesn’t look like ancient Egypt to me. I mean, aside from the fact that almost the entire court could be described at our most generous as ‘a little tanned’ (except for the one black kid, of course), the dress, throne, and background has more in common with how we’d picture the Medici family dining room than anything a bloke named Ramses would get within a thousand years of. Put bluntly, that is not ancient Egypt and it boggles the modern mind that anyone would ever think that it is.

But it shouldn’t. 2004’s King Arthur (the one with Clive Owen and Keira Knightley) was an attempt at a historically accurate-ish retelling of the classic tale, and it too leaned heavily on the ‘ish.’ The Last Samurai; Dancing with Wolves; Alexander; Troy; Robin Hood; The Patriot; fucking Pirates of the Caribbean. Even the fantastical films, the ones where we know they’re just making shit up, these still inform our views of time periods throughout history.

On a more recent note the past two years have seen some pretty heavy controversy regarding the casting of white actors into the roles of non-white characters, most prominently in abysmal blockbuster flops Gods of Egypt and Exodus: Gods and Kings. Apparently we’re still casting Moses and his mates as white guys (the costumes are still pretty atrocious as well). The more things change the more they stay the same, aye?

I should have a bit more of a point to this… right. Recognise your own biases, do some proper research when writing or copying a particular time period and for the love of god don’t make everyone white. Good? Good.

Talk soon.

Can I still listen to their music?

I hate it when an artist I like does something I don’t.

Last week Max MacKinnon, also known as MC Eso of Australian hip hop act Bliss n Eso, came under fire after posting three misogynistic photos to Instagram with equally misogynistic tags taken during his visit to Madame Tussauds (a wax museum) in Beverley Hills, L.A. The worst was arguably a picture of him posting with an ‘angry’ expression and raised fist towards a wax statue of Rihanna with the caption “Where did ya throw those fucking car keys woman!?! #smackmybitch #shelovesthewayithurts.” (Haha, it’s funny because Chris Brown beat the crap out of her. Wait, no it fucking isn’t, and never will be). The other pictures were of him with his hand by the wax Lady Gaga’s crotch and crawling beneath Raquel Welch with a club, both with pretty bad captions. Outrage was inevitable, an apology was given, then another one on their Youtube channel (what I found most notable was that it condemned the threats and abuse that fans began throwing against the people upset by the pictures). Their management said it was a stupid lapse of judgement.

As far as this kind of scandal goes, it’s pretty small-time. Bliss n Eso have managed some international success but this is really only news-worthy down here in Oz, and even then hasn’t exactly been filling the front pages. Then of course by most standards Eso’s actions (to be clear, not defending him here) aren’t even close to as bad as what some celebrities have gotten away with, or things that have been said and done that are ignored and forgotten. Repeatedly.

For the vast majority of people I expect it’s a bit of a “who cares?” moment. Well, I care, because Bliss n Eso’s particular message of peace and love (delivered with enough aggression and profanity to strongly imply an “or else we’ll break your face”) has had a spot on my playlists since high school. And as I read some of the better articles commenting on the inherent issues raised by Eso’s pictures (those issues being the fact that people find it socially acceptable to joke about domestic abuse and that others dismissed the outrage as simply “not having a sense of humour”) I began asking myself the question: at what point do you stop listening (watching/reading/paying-attention-to) an artist that has done something wrong?

It’s a subjective question with a lot of answers, but I think it roughly comes down to whether you can separate artist, art and action. Or, ’cause I’m starting to feel pretentious, can you separate the crap they do from the crap they make?

This is more difficult when the art in question is part of the problem. Take the music of everyone’s favourite chauvinistic punching bag, at least for a while, Robin Thicke (I’m using the word ‘art’ very loosely and Thicke because he’s a recent mainstream example). Blurred Lines, his hit song (for some god-forsaken reason I cannot fathom, since it’s a crap song even if you ignore the lyrics) garnered a whole lot of controversy, rightly or wrongly depending on who you listen to (as long as you don’t listen to Thicke himself). His following album Paula, an attempt to woo back his now ex-wife Paula Patton, didn’t fare particularly well either.

But where Eso and so many other artists are different is that it is not their creations that are problematic but their lives outside of it. Take for example Orson Scott Card, a man who’s Ender Saga books (the first of which, Ender’s Game, recently became a movie) is an incredibly well-regarded and influential piece of modern science fiction, but who is also a (now at least) very loud bigot. A lot of people I’ve known and a lot more people I’ve read who have loved Ender’s Game now refuse to buy his books any more (and warned me off buying them), with one of the key reasons being that they don’t want to give him any more money to spend on anti-gay campaigns. An alternate example is Roman Polanski, who fled to France rather than face sentencing for sexually assaulting a 13 year old girl, though that doesn’t seem to have hurt his career beyond needing to avoid countries with US extradition deals (for instance there’s cinematic classic the Pianist, which won 3 out of 7 Oscars it was nominated for including a Best Director for Polanski). Similar statements can be made about Woody Allen, without the conviction.

I suppose a key point here is that there aren’t any new albums due any time soon, nor are there any concerts that I know about or that I’m likely to buy a ticket for. I already own all of their music I’m going to listen to and I don’t expect I’ll be playing it where other people are going to hear it (I often seem to be one of those very rare people who actually admits to enjoying Aussie rap… probably for good reason), and none of that music to my knowledge condones violence against women (as above, peace and love or else). So surely it’s alright if I keep listening to the music I enjoy?


There had been calls last week for Triple J, the big public youth station in Oz, to ban Bliss n Eso from their playlists similar to how commercial rock station Triple M (we love our triplets) removed KISS from their playlists after Gene Simmons told depression sufferers “Fuck you, then kill yourself.” Some news articles actually claimed the station has already done so, prompting the trio to denounce those articles on Twitter and Facebook, in a move that I expect was to prevent or limit some likely attacks by supporters against the station that has in the past ten years given them a great deal of airtime. I supported the Triple M KISS ban (’cause that kind of attitude towards mental illness is wrong), and if Triple J decided to ban Bliss n Eso I’d support that too (so is that kind of attitude towards domestic abuse). I don’t expect them to do it officially, just quietly keep them off the airwaves until the people that care don’t anymore. But I’d support a ban if it did happen.

I still wanna listen to them though.

Bugger it, I’ll just listen to some Seth Sentry instead.