Movies must stop using historical atrocities for pathos


One year before Beasts, Diana crossed No Man’s Land in Wonder woman, deflecting bullets with her indestructible bracelets (somehow no one bothered to shoot her bare thighs). This year, Disney Jungle cruise introduced a magical healing petal that the heroes of the film hope to use to aid soldiers in the trenches during WWI. .)

Inserting magic or technology into history and claiming that it caused or prevented an atrocity is a dangerous game, a game that arguably robs humanity of its autonomy and its guilt (the atomic bomb, after all, had an inventor not remorse is the subject of historical debate). Worse yet, inserting these scenes for quick pathos and not exploring them in depth can seem unpleasant and cheap. A backdrop of world war can, according to researcher Kees Ribbens, make a story “less vague, less inaccessible,” but sometimes these scenes become too short a short cut.

“There may also be a certain laziness on the part of the creators,” explains Ribbens, who teaches courses on popular historical culture and war at Erasmus University Rotterdam. “They know that the two world wars almost always appeal to contemporary audiences, because the wars are not only very recognizable, but also serve as moral benchmarks for good and evil. “

Yes, presenting atrocities in popular culture can raise awareness of historical events, but it can also be exploitation, explains Agnieszka Soltysik Monnet, professor of literature and culture at the University of Lausanne, also specializing in representations of war. in popular culture. Because these films are commercial enterprises, Monnet argues, “their motive for using atrocities is essentially to strike a nerve in a way that moves people but doesn’t actually bother them.”

Additionally, the introduction of fantastic elements or superheroes can reduce people’s sense of action or, according to Ribbens, “suggest that people are in fact not able to cope with the evil that has been, after all, created by human hands ”.

Yet is this really something new? Superheroes and WWII have always been linked. Ben Saunders, director of comic book and cartoon studies at the University of Oregon, says monthly comic book sales doubled between 1941 and 1944, with nearly half of enlisted American men reading about the super -heroes fighting against the Axis powers (Captain America even punched Hitler in the face in 1941). “The superhero fantasy is one in which the pleasure of moral righteousness and the pleasure of aggressive action are intertwined,” he says. “Of course, then, this was a particularly popular fantasy during the war, when the cultural need for messages of justified aggression was very great. “

Paul Brians, author of Nuclear Holocaust: Atomic Warfare in Fiction 1895-1984, also notes that writers have long confused nuclear brutality and fantasy, adding that some science fiction writers in the Soviet Union have depicted nuclear war on other planets in order to explore the theme while escaping censorship. However, Brians notes that “the vast majority of popular fictions on the subject belittle it”.

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