The Never-Ending Appeal of Historical Themes in Media
Historical themes have always appeared in media, for as long as industries like moviemaking have existed. They don’t just allow the exploration of foreign cultures like Japan or Egypt; they can represent culture and technology that doesn’t exist anymore. This has widespread appeal, even if you’re from the country being portrayed. For example, ancient Rome is still distant from modern-day Italians’ experience of their country. Here are some more reasons why historical settings are so widespread in media.
They’re Aesthetically Unique
Starting with the most basic reason – many old cultures look good. They don’t just look good; they have an aesthetic appeal that can’t be found in the modern world. Once enough time has passed and surviving exhibits are safely tucked into museums, the only way for many to experience these dead cultures is to create and engage with themed media.
This started with books but, in the digital age, we now have a deluge of movies and other experiences that use ancient themes for visual appeal and intrigue. Most modern forms of entertainment, like iGaming which exists solely on our computer screens, tap into historical aesthetics. Online bingo websites offer Megaways games like Egyptian Eye Of Horus Megaways and the Western Into The Wild Megaways, and many historical periods in between including Aztec, Medieval, and the Renaissance period.
Historical settings can be appealing for a wide variety of reasons. Sometimes it’s due to cultural oddities from our perspective, like the Aztecs using and wearing gold for religious reasons, and not as a currency. That means a lot of Aztec culture is represented as being dipped in gold, which interests us because we associate it with wealth.
Similarly, this is something you can see with ancient architecture that we cannot replicate anymore. Modern buildings need to be created quickly and with readily available materials to keep up with demand. Back in middle ages Europe, however, they could spend a lot of time and money on chiseling grand cathedrals out of stone. Often, the projects were motivated by religious authorities or the will of an autocratic leader like a king, both things that don’t influence construction anymore. The result was beautiful chapels and majestic pyramids that would have taken multiple lifetimes to complete. This posed a unique challenge for those restoring Notre-Dame after its 2019 fire.
They Tap Into Memetics
Following the aesthetic appeal of historical settings, there are also memetics to consider. Coined by Richard Dawkins, memetics applies Darwin’s evolutionary theory to ideas, trends, and other cultural practices. Put simply, the most striking, effective, and memorable ones become more remembered than others, and over time come to symbolize the entire era. This is how certain places, people, items, and songs come to represent a whole era.
This allows people who weren’t born during these times to recognize them, having grown up with ideas asserted about historical cultures. So, media that plays into those ideas become familiar and appealing to old and new viewers alike, reinforcing the stereotypes involved. These inherited ideas about cultures can be inaccurate – think Vikings with horned helmets which by all accounts, never existed in Norse culture. However, due to its appeal, media representing historical settings may still play into inaccurate tropes like spiked helmets or Napoleon being short.
They Had Stakes
When telling a story through any medium, stakes and tension are a great way to get people engaged. While modern settings often pull this off, there are no higher stakes than fighting in a gladiator arena, possibly for your life. As appealing as they are to look back at, historical settings were also brutal, putting ordinary and extraordinary people into circumstances that make for great storytelling.
There are a lot of historical realities that can make ancient settings more dramatic and appealing. For example, a lack of modern medicine, readiness for war, and the tendency towards autocracy and dictatorship. From living-god pharaohs in Egypt to squabbling kings in Europe, or the Wild West cowboys to the feudal Japanese ronin, there are recognizable tropes that persist throughout history and culture. It gives historical settings no shortage of corrupt rulers to challenge and wronged underdogs to root for.