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

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 . . .