Exploring the vast and exciting world of medievalism all around us.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Knights of Mayhem

Any one besides me watching "Knights of Mayhem," and thinking that not only do the producers not really know how to tell a story, but that the "Knights," in their view of jousting as essentially an extreme sport are sort of missing the medieval point? They're hardly the first, of course; missing the medieval point is certainly the theme of this blog, but any ideas about honor, prowess, and courtesy seem to have gone out the window in favor of making something as violent and aggressive as possible. Although I was interested to see that the knights apparently wear favors into the lists; thus far (I've only seen two episodes, thank you DVR) there has been no commentary on this. Whose favors are these, and what are the relationships of these ladies to these "knights"? Another question that has presented itself to me is why there seems to be so much dwelling on the injuries--there's a lot of imagery of these guys spitting up blood and lying on the ground, whereas it might be more interesting to see how they learn how to joust, how they create their armor (which is a mix of authentic and inauthentic), and how they understand the sport. More posts after I've seen more episodes. But the Knights of Mayhem and their ilk seem, I think, to be missing out on an opportunity to gain fans through a more romanticized (and perhaps more authentic!) vision of what jousting is! Also, there might be some value in talking about the skill involved, rather than focusing so much on the interpersonal conflict. If we wanted to see that, we could watch Housewives, after all.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Sims Medieval

Any fans of the Sims out there? Starting April 22, you can create your own Middle Ages with Sims Medieval. Brought to you by EA games, which has something of a medieval fantasy going on, being the folks who brought us Dante's Inferno (game AND action figure!), the new game allows players to go on quests, some drawn primarily from medieval literature, some seemingly from medieval life. A look at Yahoo's series of images: http://blog.games.yahoo.com/photos/235-the-sims-medieval#OmgPhoid=11 will have medievalist enaging in fun games of "what's not authentic here?" (was that a dragon in the second picture, or a giant cloaca? and weren't the stocks invented in early America?), but no doubt there will be plenty of fun to be had. But why the criticism of Dungeons and Dragons http://blog.games.yahoo.com/blog/484-sims-set-to-go-medieval? Plenty of people spent an equally inauthentically medieval time entertaining themselves with dice and graph paper in an attempt to recapture the same impulses that Sims Medieval offers (except, I suppose, for those whose interest is primarily architectural!). But what's interesting is why the medieval games can't be open ended. This sense of the medieval as a closed narrative seems to inform Sims Medieval; rather than having a "real" medieval life, which like contemporary life involved getting by with what one has and looking for more, this game departs from Sims tradition in offering fixed narratives set in limited time frames, as if the medieval existed only as moments of narrative. Sims Medieval is like a book, with covers; it begins and ends, and things happen to drive the plot--avanture, entrelacement, etc.--that put the focus on "time out of time," rather than real time. So again, we find the impulse not in history but in fantasy; the Middle Ages can't be a time when people did regular things, only in a medieval milieu, but a time of knights, ladies, dragons (or cloacas?), swords, and costumes. Given the lack of attention to history, of course, all medieval things blend together; the hall in one image looks like Heorot, but the costumes are much more influenced by the fashions of the High Middle Ages. And of course, people didn't regularly run into dragons in medieval France. But whose counting?

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Vikings (and Giants)

It has been funny seeing all these Vikings on televison (for some reason, the Capital One adds seem to have been running a lot in our area). The adds started out with people being marauded by vikings trying to steal their belongings, from which the card was supposed to protect them. As Vikings are typically associated with raping and pillaging and raiding (and to some extent rightly so; in Egil's Saga, the author is prone to comments like, "Egil spent the Summer going raiding," one of the many violent ways Egil uses up some of his boundless, savage energy), this made sense. However, now the Vikings seem to have acquired their own cards, and instead of being invaded by Skralings (the one people, presumably native americans, too violent for the Vikings, according to the Vinland Saga, and who thus drove them back from Vinland to Greenland and Iceland from whence they came), they are running around all over the place, dressed in furs and horned hats causing all manner of chaos while having a jolly old time. Are these domesticated Vikings? Slapstick Vikings? The transfer from the "villains" to the "heroes" of these commercial narratives is interesting. Is this who we want to be? One popular holiday ad showed a Viking child (albeit a bearded one) asking Santa for a sword and an axe and a mace.

This, of course, leads me to think more broadly about the meaning of Vikings in contemporary culture. Despite the horned helmets, which we know Vikings only wore ceremonially, if at all, the association of Vikings and unmotivated, extreme violence is a fairly accurate piece of medievalism. After all, that was how they were thought of in their own time, if comments from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle are to be belived. Do Vikings have a special place in our rhetorics of violence? Looking at the names of sports teams, it's interesting to find Vikings with other groups more problematically associated with dangerous, threatening behavior . . .Chiefs, Redskins (and if we're looking past football; Indians, Braves). Of course, those groups ARE the only peoples able to drive off the Vikings . . . although it's hard to imagine how far a team called the, say, Brooklyn Skraelings would go in popularity (this from a locale whose two teams, one lost one present, are the Dodgers and the Cyclones). Still. There are remarkably few medieval team names apart from the Vikings. While there are certainly many animals popular in medieval narrative (Ravens, although they're named for Poe's "Raven," making them the most literary team ever; Bears; Rams; Lions) many others are not (Cardinals, Blue Jays, Colts, Tigers, Bengals). So the only medieval team apart from the Vikings would be the Giants.

Somehow their look doesn't strike fear into one's heart, however. Although the Vikings/Giants game may have for some. (For more details, see our friends at NJSports Blog).

But some Vikings will . . .