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History of the World, Part 2

Updated: Feb 29, 2020

In 1981 the legendary Mel Brooks released a comedy film called The History of the World, Part I. For those of you who haven’t seen it (seriously stop reading this post and go watch it!) – the film is an irreverent take on the course of human events through history and covers the Stone Age, the Old Testament, the Roman Empire, the Spanish Inquisition and the French Revolution.

As I struggle to draw boundaries around my research for Fractus I find myself musing how and why Mel Brooks choose those times to parody? Clearly a big motivator was his personal view on which comical storylines he felt would be strongest. But coming from the writing perspective, I feel he must have thought long and hard about what his audience would have been most familiar with – only by intimately understanding the canon can you then understand the lampooning of it.

It’s very interesting to note that while the film is called “A History of the World, Part I” it is a film which really only covers certain major historical events in the Western psyche. Off the basis of this, I assume Mel Brookes anticipated his audience would be a largely Western-European and Judeo-Christian educated background.

So this is a long way of saying that I am fast realising with Fractus that when we initially pitched the idea of using VR to show “the repeating patterns of thoughts and events through time,” I was blithely unaware of the dangers of such a vague statement.

This is what my browser looks like every time I work on Fractus and fall down the rabbit hole of research.

And, truthfully, when any of us talk about “History,” we are so often indicating a very thin sliver of human events – not just in time – but also in terms of culture and place. This is often determined by where we are studying this subject. I was privileged to study history in three different countries, and this is what occurred:

As a child in England (5-14), in formal education I learned about the Ancient Egyptians, The Blitz and The Tudors and Stuarts. In the USA (14-18), I had non-electives called “Modern American History” which skimmed over everything from 1950’s to 1990’s, and then by choice picked European AP History which, admittedly, provided a fascinating overview of WWII from the American perspective. In Scotland (18- 22), studying to an advanced level I had elective and non-elective modules. Non-elective covered British History from 1603 – 1980. My elective choices broadly covered these areas: Japan 1603-1960, The Spanish Civil War, Africa 1900 – 1990 and various gender English medieval history courses from 1200-1700.

It sounds obvious, but unless I elected to learn about history outside of the West, it barely registered on the core curriculum of whichever country I was in. Since then and even around my formal education, I was fascinated by many different times and places and so self-educated myself where there was time and resources. But still…my own knowledge of “the history of the world” is woefully limited. I’m blinded by a Euro-centric education, by my own bias towards my culture’s history, my own intrinsic heritage and the stories I absorbed from my earliest years.

So what does this mean for Fractus, a project with such lofty ambitions? To accurately research and show the “history of repeated thoughts and events” requires knowledge of global history and philosophy – this is going to take a huge amount of work – years, decades (that’s possibly why so many professors spend their whole academic lives focusing down on one very small part of the story of mankind)…it’s fairly impossible for our timeframe.

Just starting to try and write up a visual map of major themes across time and cultures (even just tracing back to Britain) begins to be overwhelming.

I’m also not able to accurately represent “the world” in my writing. That’s not to say that I don’t want to try my hardest to make this for as diverse audience as possible – but that I’m admitting the hard truth – I’m one white woman, and I bring my own cultural bias to this project. And I can’t solve this through research – because the sheer volume of research needed to ensure I am covering voices, views, history and philosophy from across the world throughout time is enormous.

I know, you’re probably thinking – well, duh, didn’t you think about this sooner? The truth is…yes, a bit. But It’s like the proverbial loose thread. Until you pull on it, you have no idea just how much of your jumper is going to unravel!

Coming back to Mel Brooks, I am reminded that A History of the World, Part I, was entertainment not history (and very entertaining at that).

Fractus is the same. The harder I try to cling to the factual side of the project, the more I try and make this historically accurate, the more impossible it seems.

But art is about metaphors and representation. It is also, fiction not fact. In order to move forward with the story side of Fractus I need to stop trying to make it a history project. In short – I need to stop trying to chase the facts, but instead concentrate on telling a good story, which reveals the underlying metaphor of our project.

I think I also need to stop feeling like I should be the only one to “write this.” The idea with this project has always been that we would create an initial prototype to test it, and hopefully expand the project once we had a proof of concept. Fact or fiction, I can only write from my truth, my viewpoint. It’s a valid one, but limited. And I can recognise that.

The history of our world, the history of thought and repeated events, belongs to many voices, views and cultures. I feel that to ensure authenticity and diversity, after this initial prototype phase, Fractus should be opened up to other writers – it could in fact become a VR experience built out of monologues from writers across the world, threaded together by theme.

Right from the start we wanted Fractus to build empathy as a VR experience; perhaps that should be embedded into the very creation of the project itself.

#MelBrooks #RampD #Comedy #History #Research #Writing

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