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markk

markk

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The Governors-General: The English Army And The Definition Of The Empire, 1569-1681
Stephen Saunders Webb
Progress: 329/561 pages

Off-Topic Rant: DC's Legends of Tomorrow, or why I hate Thomas Carlyle

 

After doing some reading online I decided to switch my bingeing from Arrow to DC's Legends of Tomorrow, and I skipped the poorly-reviewed first season in favor of the second. It's resulted in some highly enjoyable TV viewing thanks in no small part to a great cast of actors ⁠— whoever thought to team up Neal McDonough and John Barrowman as villains is a certifiable genius ⁠— but there's also something about the show that is really starting to bug me, which is the way it endorses the "great man" theory of history.

 

If you're not familiar with the show, it's about a group of superheroes who have been recruited by a time traveler to fight villainy throughout human history. Most of this consists of journeying to various points in (mainly western) history and ensuring that the past turns out as history records it. Given the nature of the show, that involves a lot of one-on-one interactions with the famous names and events of human history, which the writers and showrunners have tweaked slightly for 21st century sympathies. Yet throughout it there's a constant theme that if this one person doesn't do something or does something wrong, everything will turn out differently. And that's just all ways of wrong.

Take the second season premiere episode, "Out of Time." In it, some bad guys detonate an atomic bomb in 1942 New York, which is all well and good as a premise. But the whole thing pivots around one scientist (and if you think it's you-know-who you're partially correct) who can somehow singlehandedly whip up an atom bomb. Setting aside the requirements of building an atomic bomb in the 1940s, which I can forgive given the limitations of the show, the idea that events can be changed by just one (typically white) person just doubles down on the sort of thinking we have needed to divest from for a long time now. Unfortunately it's one that the show returns to at least three more times so far in the season (I'm about 3/4 of the way through it at this point), which suggests that it's a trope that the writers fall into far more often than they should. We need stories about the past that posit change as dependent on more than one special individual, no matter how familiar the name of that individual might be to audiences.