Saturday, 20 December 2014

The Sublime

I haven't owned a television in over 20 years, which has mostly been to my benefit, but nevertheless I did get to watch some exceptionally interesting things. Strangely this often consisted of late night BBC movies and documentaries. One of my fondest memories is watching this documentary by food critic* Jonathan Meades about high tech architecture in the 1950s to 1980s. I just never knew that you could make documentaries like this.

It's in your face a personal documentary as Meades is shown prominently, rather than as the all-knowing voice over. It's hard not to love his florid pontificating on British architecture and culture. Especially not when he mentions The Sublime in a tone that suggests it's a close friend of the family.

But apart from the half hour monologue, the visual style of weird angles and dead pan humor work surprisingly well. Of course, it only worked because most other documentaries at the time were standard fare. And probably there were many documentaries like this, but I just noticed this one. By the way, where does that intro remind you of?

So, what if you're a wargamer and you've made it this past all this arty farty mumbo jumbo? Is there a message in this for you? Yes, there is. In fact, there's two:

  • First, mainstream military history is an incredibly backward branch of history. While academics have largely moved on beyond Dead White Males On Horseback in the wake of John Keegan, John Lynn and the like, the main innovation in popular military history books (and war movies) is the partial transition from 'drum & trumpet' to 'drum & gore'. How often does a military historian come up with a TonyBenn-o-Meter? When does he mention The Sublime?

  • Second, we can do more of this in our own work, as organisers of demo games and on our blogs we can try to move beyond eye candy, Dan Snow and Osprey. There is nothing wrong with these three in themselves, I've enjoyed and shared pictures of painted miniatures and I've written loads about Osprey. But we can do even better than that. Yes, a demo game has to look attractive, it has to be easily digestible with much of the rough edges of history smoothed over. But why not reach for The Sublime? Why not leave the hyperrealism of miniatures and move into the abstract? Why not provide a fundamentally different atmosphere by taking a different perspective? Why not drag the player, viewer or reader out of his comfort zone of riding in the boots of a Dead White Male on Horseback?

So while you're at your painting table (scoring points for Curt's challenge), have a look at Jonathan Meades (or Adam Curtis for that matter, or one of these documentaries) and let yourself be inspired! This is after all the time of year for retrospection, introspection and reflection. And feel free to share this post so that others are inspired to push the boundaries!

* I looked that up on wikipedia. I didn't know this at the time.

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