More Quasi-Propaganda

Marvin linked to the Kingdom Of Heaven movie trailer and this is what I have to say:

  • How unsurprising, a movie about the Crusades. How completely predictable. You know, it’s interesting seeing this show up on the big screen while reading Edward Said’s Orientalism for the first time. Say what you will about the guy, but he did kind of have a point about how entertainment, scholarship, and imperial interests intersect. It sure goes a long way to confirming arguments that America on some level sees its relationship with the Middle East through the lens of the Crusades—a lens constructed by commonly very specious Medieval historiography, you know, in which it was commonly believed the British were the descendants of the fleeing Trojans, for example—and that Orientalist imagery and narrative obliterate a great deal of the change that has come in the intervening 900 years since the time in which this movie is set.
  • Catapults! Cool!
  • Please, please, please let that be trailer music! Please tell me they didn’t use cheese-rock on the actual film soundtrack! It’s offensive!
  • Uh, weren’t the Crusades at least as much a foreign-treasures-seizure project? (Really, an honest question: I studied a much later chunk of the Middle Ages and don’t know much about the Crusades at all.) People weren’t “making a better world”, were they? At best, they wanted to take the “Holy Land” and place it under the rule of the West, didn’t they? The rhetoric strikes me as not just ahistorical, but distractingly disconnected from anything except the modern rhetoric of the modern “crusade” in Iraq. Then again, the swarming religious rhetoric contrasted with the reality—pillage and slaughter of heathens, and conquer, conquer, conquer—could, if treated properly, be profoundly illustrative of the false uses of religious rhetoric. Not that I expect that in this film, but that’s the film that should be made: the knight who, sent to the Crusades, realizes what a sham it all is, and then, unceremoniously, is killed. (UPDATE: In battle, I mean.)

Damn, if only I wasn’t interested in the Middle Ages. Then I could just skip this film altogether.

5 thoughts on “More Quasi-Propaganda

  1. Yeah, I feel kind of guilty for being excited about seeing this one, especially after the great steaming turd that was the ending of Gladiator. Partly it’s because I recently read Read’s Templars and partly it’s because…”Swords! Shiny! Gimme!”

    One of the events described in Read’s book is an episode towards the end of the crusading period, when infighting, greed, and incompetence left the Europeans unable to maintain their grip on the territory they had captured. I forget the details, but there was a series of battles in which the Templars and Hospitallers disagreed on whether to make agressive or conciliatory moves in the face of Saladin’s army. The aggressive faction won, and the Templars — already suspected of going native and doubly under suspicion for having counseled caution — were ordered to lead a suicidal attack that ended up with most of their numbers captured. Negotiations failed, so Saladin executed them as an example.

    Anyway, there are some cuts in the trailer that make me think that that might be the movie’s focal point. Which, as you note, could be played for propaganda or for a slightly more educational angle. The general shortage of Arab characters in the primary cast doesn’t give me a lot of hope, though.

    But…Swords! Wheeee!

  2. Hello Gord,

    Neither am I an expert on the Crusades. One of the books from this NY Times book review might be helpful: The Crusades as History, Not Metaphor.

    It’s interesting to note that while most Muslims remember the Crusades as if they happened yesterday, we Westerners seem to forget that before the Islamic conquest, North Africa, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq were part of our civilization.


  3. Well, yes, the Muslim world remembers a version of the Crusades, anyway. (I doubt they’re generally more objective than we are, at a distance of a thousand years.) It’s interesting that North Africa, Lebanon, Syria, and so on were part of “our civilization”, but then I see that notion as a little, I don’t know… My mom is French, my father is Scottish; so that means I am descended from Gauls and Picts or Celts who fought off “your civilization”… who invaded and subjugated just as efficiently as the Muslims. I guess it just depends on where you choose to draw your lines. I can’t think of any reason why I would choose to align myself with, say, Rome instead of with the free-living pagans they colonized… both are relatively alien to me, but Rome reminds me a lot more of the New World Order we’re watching take form today, and that makes me feel less than happy about this ostensible connection to Rome, incidentally.

  4. For my money, best insight on medieval times and perspectives is Ananda K. Coomaraswami’s “Christian and Oriental Philosophy of Art”. The bottom line: “As modern man becomes more and more ignorant, the darker he finds the Middle Ages to be”.

    Roman salute: If you’re O.K., so am I.

  5. It looks like Scott’s at least done a wee bit more research into the appropriate tech level for this one.

    Of course, if he’d been as wrong for this movie as he was for Gladiator, Orlando Bloom would have been using an AK-47.

    Looking at the history, I’m inclined to say that any war of conquest is a Bad Thing. The Islamic expansion in the 7th and 8th centuries? Not good. The Crusades? Not good. The Roman expansion? Not good.

    That’s not to say that good things can’t come out of those, but the Albans, the Picts, the Celts, the Germanii, the Byzantines and the Lakota Sioux (among others) might dispute the quality of their lives post-conquest.

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