Over the weekend, I decided to watch the first episode of “Reign,” the CW’s recent foray into historical drama. That, of course, led to me mainlining the series (thanks, Netflix!). Now, I’m just a handful of episodes away from the end of the first season. Now, I’m not going to say that the show is great. It’s a teen drama put over a historical background. What else does one expect from the CW? The costuming isn’t entirely period and neither is the pop music. That said, it seems like a perfect way to tell a fictionally-enhanced tale of Mary, Queen of Scots. The more I thought about that aspect of it, the more I realized that we need more shows like “Reign.” Follow along and allow me to convince you.

It’s Just a Bunch of Dead People

A while back, a friend of mine was planning to head back to college to get her degree. I remember hanging out with her and asking her about the courses she was taking. It was all the basic stuff, really, including history classes. She was crystal clear about her dislike of that subject matter. In her mind, history was the most boring subject ever invented and it didn’t have any relevance any more.

I spent ages trying to convince her otherwise. I majored in History in college. I received my BA in European History. The very idea that History held no relevance in this modern era went against some very fundamental core beliefs. Despite my considerable efforts, I don’t think I ever converted her to my way of thinking. In hindsight, though, I can’t really blame her for her feelings.

While I’d always been fond of learning about history, I didn’t really fall in love with the subject matter until High School. I have one teacher to thank for that: Mr. John Musgrove. He was a larger than life teacher who’d been at it for a quarter of a century. Each class, he’d be there in his chair with a handful of index cards in front of him just in case he ever lost his place. Then, he’d start telling stories.

He’d talk about the dates and events, but he’d put them in a larger context. It wasn’t just a dry recitation of facts. No, he was talking about who was doing what to whom and why. He told us stories about how personal feelings caused great political rifts. He made the subject feel real and alive.

History is still one of the great loves of my life. While it’s not the center of my universe any more, I still love randomly researching whatever period catches my fancy at a given time. I call these my little History Fugues. There will be months I’ll obsess about WWI and try to acquire as much knowledge as I can about it. Then, I’ll move on to the American Civil War. I’m drawn to the more personal stories of those who lived through those years. To me, it’s not all about a bunch of dead people. It’s about people who lived.

Make It Real

One of the things I’ve noticed that people have difficulty with when it comes to studying history is an inability to really relate to these figures they only read about in textbooks or on Wikipedia. For them, these people are just names they have to memorize. Their deeds are simply pieces of information that have to be regurgitated in research papers or on tests.

Forgetting that these figures were once people with favorite colors and foods does them and ourselves a great disservice. Turning them into little more than statues with plaques bearing the important dates and facts associated with them is dehumanizing. More than that, though, forgetting that they were once people as flawed as we are now runs the risks of turning them into super human figures and false idols to rally around. Take America’s Founding Fathers, for example. With the way they’re spoken of these days, they seem less like actual dudes and about as real as Batman.

While people can always watch “The Tudors,” “Downton Abbey,” or either of the recent shows about the Borgias, the target audiences for those shows are generally older. While older audiences can benefit from the reminders that people in history were just like you or I, the ones that really need that reminder are the younger sets. That’s why shows like “Reign” are important.

Sure, it’s not factually accurate. Their costuming and music choices are anachronistic. It’s a teen drama on the CW. So, it’s chock full of all of that angsty goodness. That’s one of the things that makes it so awesome. Mary, Queen of Scots was once an angsty teenager. Adding the not-quite-period costuming that looks like somethng fancy modern folk would were to Prom or a dinner party makes it easier for audiences to imagine themselves in some of these situations. The music makes it feel present to them. Besides, if the show was historically accurate, she’d be all of 14. That would just make it awkward.

It’s getting viewers, though. It’s getting kids who might not be interested in the subject matter otherwise interested in the fictionalized accounts of these peoples’ lives. Interest leads to Googling. Through Google, they’ll be pointed toward knowledge.

All people really need is the spark of interest to push them toward things they might not have considered otherwise. While people may criticize the show for its teen drama aspect, it’s what the kids these days like (goodness, I feel a little old now).  It also features some pretty fantastic actors like Megan Follows.

I hope that “Reign” inspires other channels to take a chance on making more historical dramas aimed at the teenaged and younger set. While adults have already formed their opinions about history, the kids are still malleable. With the focus being placed on Math and English in school, it’d be an utter shame for the study of History to fall completely by the wayside.

As they say, those who don’t study their History are doomed to repeat it. So much of what is going on in the world today can be traced back to things that happened in the past. While it might seem like a bunch of boring stuff that dead people did once, those actions helped shape the world.

We’re living in a great age for history and the dissemination of information. With the Internet, we’re able to share all kinds of information around the world. We’re able to tell stories of people whose stories would largely have been forgotten. Our views of the world in which we once lived are evolving with each passing day as we come to fully understand that not only was history written by the victors, but history was written by those with the ability to write.

There is so much out there to be learned and explored. Learners of all ages just need the right tools and guidance to teach us more about life as it once was. That all starts when they watch something that brings these grand historical figures to life on screen in such a way as to make them tangible. Light the spark of interest and see it burn into one learning flame. Or some other awesome metaphor.

 

 



  • lisefrac

    I kind of want to watch this now, because hell, the story of Mary Stuart *was* a teen drama. Her relationships alone are the stuff of Bad Life Choices Personified. (Why sure, your kidnapper/rapist is a better choice over the syphilitic drunk. Let’s go with that). A dude was once murdered in front of her. People snuck her letters in over-dramatic ways. There were daring escape attempts.

    I admit my interest in history was sparked rather late, too. At least when I was in grade school, history had moved away from the “let’s memorize dates!” approach to the equally unfortunate, “let’s teach you define ‘nationalism'” approach. Neither is really appealing; you at best get a list of things to memorize in both of these cases. I find history works best when told as a narrative, with characters with human motives.

    Also there’s just some weird shit in history, that can appeal to any ghoulish teenager 😉

    • Yeah. History is full of weird enough stuff that studios don’t need to add stuff in to dramatize it. People should embrace the weird and the quirks.