I really shouldn’t watch popular media set in the early medieval period or the medieval period generally. By this time of life, I should realize that doing so will only annoy me–but somehow I never learn…
The latest example confirming this occurred when I saw a review video of the Arthurian-ish Netflix show “Cursed.” Cancelled after a single season, this show apparently–and I say apparently because I’ve only seen the above video, the first episode, and read a brief synopsis–features as antagonists the Red Paladins, a group under the auspices of the Holy Roman Empire and directed by the Pope, who conduct a murderous campaign against the magic-wielding pagan protagonists and their fey allies.
The idea of a militant group from the Holy Roman Empire ordered around by the pope slaughtering folks in Arthurian England is so strangely anachronistic to boggle the mind. A reasonable equivalent would be a tv show about the American Revolution where the Battle of Bunker Hill is won by Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders with their laser rifles at the behest of the United Nations.
Here’s the thing…
Anyone watching the latter would question what was going on there. It’s not probable, not believable. The inaccuracies are too great compared to what the viewers know. However, the writers of “Cursed” assumed their viewers would accept the first as quite believable. Why is that?
There’s a lot that could be said here. I could talk about the historical basics–why are the aspects of this presentation so mind-bendingly wrong. I could talk about historical education–how to fix the knowledge gaps. But I’d rather identify the evangelism angle. The reality is that in this matter the historical actualities are irrelevant.
I’d wager the target audience of the show–teens and young adults–would find this portrayal of the church as a vast, powerful institution that uses force to achieve its political and social ends compelling. That’s because this show isn’t interested in getting the history right; rather the writers are taking their contemporary experience of their perspective of Christianity and retrojecting it into their fantasy-medieval past. It’s not hard at all to see the conflict as the show sets it up (at least in the initial bits I saw) as a modern parable about the social conservative campaign against all things lgbt+.
Furthermore, these sorts of portrayals inform a vicious cycle.
Americans learn their history from media. I have no doubt that many viewers could and would easily assume this is an accurate portrayal of what “the Church” is actually like. Or at least it’s a scenario they would see as plausible. And who would want to be a part of a thing like that?
Sometimes I see the challenges of modern evangelism constructed as faith vs. science or faith vs. capitalism with the chief struggle being about belief. But I sometimes wonder if a major issue might not be faith, or God, or Christ, but the perception of the Church itself.