Using Fake Anachronisms In Historical Art And Fiction – A Ramble

Although this is an article about making art and/or writing fiction, I’m going to have to start by looking at part of a computer game for a while. As usual, there’s a reason for this that I hope becomes obvious later.

A couple of days before I originally prepared this article, a game that I’d been meaning to buy for a while finally went on special offer. Although I’ll post a full review tomorrow, it’s a “point and click” horror game from 2016 called “Kathy Rain”. One of the things that interested me about this game is that not only does it look like it’s from the 1990s (and will also run on old mid-2000s computers 🙂 ), but it is also set in 1995 too.

This is a screenshot from “Kathy Rain” (2016). Yay! It’s a retro-style game, set in the 1990s 🙂

From what I’ve seen so far, the game takes a very clever approach to historical accuracy. There were a few things that I initially thought were anachronisms, yet some brief internet research seems to show that they could theoretically have happened or existed in 1995.

To give one example, the main character mentions that another character used the (modern-sounding) term “spoiler alert”. Yet, looking online, the term was apparently used in old newsgroups in the early days of the internet (and the character who used the phrase is shown to be something of a geek). So, it’s possible but unlikely that the term would have been used in everyday conversation in 1995.

Not only that, a dialogue segment is displayed if you look at what is implied to be a poster for the 1997 film “Titanic”. The poster’s seemingly anachronistic presence is explained in a really interesting way:

Again, looking on the internet, the film started production in 1995. Again, this is a “possible, but unlikely” fake anachronism.

These “possible but unlikely” fake anachronisms are really interesting since they signpost that the game is a stylised modern game, yet they still technically fit into the game’s historical setting. In other words, they are perfect for things that are meant to evoke nostalgia and/or a stylised version of the past.

Another interesting thing about these types of fake anachronisms is that they show that the main character is slightly “ahead of their time” in a way that could realistically happen. This can provoke thoughts about what “futuristic” things could be hiding in plain sight in our own time.

For example, a short story I wrote last year (from this collection) is an ironic historical comedy story, set in early 1997, which revolves around two games critics discussing a mysterious videogame cartridge that arrived in their office. This allowed me to include an ironic joke about a game called “Goldeneye 007” which wouldn’t be released for a few months, but had been mentioned in game magazines at the time. Again, those “in the know” would probably know about the game, but most people probably wouldn’t have heard of it.

In terms of art, these types of fake anachronisms can be a little bit more difficult to include unless you are making a historical comic set in a specific year (rather than a vague time period) or making art based on a recognisable historical event. Plus, since art is primarily a visual medium – it can be a little bit more difficult to explain the presence of fake anachronisms to your audience.

One of the best ways to do this sort of thing in art is to either go for a stylised “nostalgia” montage picture, or to blend a historical setting with a clearly fantastical one. For example, here’s a sci-fi style painting of mine that is set in a “futuristic” version of 2004. Most of the things referenced in it (except for the flying cars in the background) existed in 2004, but it’s unlikely that they would have been in the same place at the same time.

“Future 2004” By C. A. Brown

So, yes, fake anachronisms are an absolutely wonderful thing. Not only can they intrigue your audience, but they can also be a way to give your historical fiction and/or art an instantly stylised and nostalgic type of atmosphere.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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History, Nostalgia, Creativity And Subtlety – A Ramble

2017-artwork-nostalgia-and-subtletey-article-sketch

Although this is an article about creating historical art, historical comics, historical fiction etc…. I’m going to have to start by talking about real-life “anachronisms” and some vaguely geeky stuff. As usual, there’s a good reason for this.

The night before I wrote this article, I happened to find an absolutely fascinating historical video online. This was one of those mildly unusual things that, like colour footage of 1920s London (or colour photos of 1910s Russia) or old footage from the 1920s/30s that seems to show people using mobile phones, seemed like an anachronism. But, what was it?

It was a modern-style HD video of New York… filmed in 1993. Seriously, you can actually watch this in 1080p if you have a fast enough connection and/or enough available RAM. I watched it in 720p, but it was still pretty astonishing, given when it was filmed.

Some of the high-definition scenes in the film look wonderfully retro and some look slightly eerie (eg: modern-style footage of the Twin Towers etc..), but a few scenes look like they could have been filmed today.

For example, there’s some aerial filming which – if it wasn’t for a barely-noticeable helicopter shadow on a building– could easily be modern HD drone footage. Likewise, there’s a close-up of an old man sleeping on a bench, which literally looks like something from a modern HD documentary.

So, what does any of this have to do with creativity?

Well, one of the many interesting things about this modern-looking HD video from 1993 was the comments below it. One thing that seemed to “shock” a few people was the fact that nobody was staring at a smartphone in the footage of the busy streets. People were actually *gasp* acting like people whilst walking down the street.

I was more distracted by the retro fashions etc… to notice this (which is especially odd, given that I made an entire webcomic about smartphones, time travel and 1990s America a while ago), but the absence of smartphones seemed to be one of the things that made it stand out as something from the 1990s.

And, yet, it’s a really subtle thing.

So, this obviously made me think about works of art and fiction that are set in the past. Often, when we’re making art or comics about the relatively recent past, it can be very easy, and very fun, to go down the “nostalgia” route and exaggerate notable features from the time in question. Like with some of my own “nostalgic” 1990s-themed artwork:

"1990s Office Awesomeness" By C. A. Brown

“1990s Office Awesomeness” By C. A. Brown

"1990s Awesomeness" By C. A. Brown

“1990s Awesomeness” By C. A. Brown

But, often the most telling signs that something ‘serious’ is set in the past are a lot more subtle. For starters, many things are surprisingly timeless. Although the inclusion of these things in historical works might make them seem ‘modern’, they’re often anything but modern.

For example, the copious use of four-letter words in the fictional medieval-style setting of “Game Of Thrones” is probably closer to how people actually talked in medieval Britain (even if many written records of the time were kept by pious monks etc… who didn’t use four letter words). Even a few centuries later, the old French slang term for British people – “les godames” – comes from the fact that we used to use the word ‘goddamn’ a lot. So, it’s hardly a modern thing.

Likewise, historical change isn’t really an instant thing – so, the best way to show that something is set in the past is often to focus on these timeless things and to keep the “old” details relatively subtle.

This also reflects how nostalgia actually works. For example, in late 2016, I had a sudden and vivid moment of 1990s nostalgia that actually led to me spontaneously writing a short essay and making a cartoon.

All of these old memories were suddenly brought back to life when I happened to hear about a videogame series that I played when I was a lot younger. It was a subtle “background detail”, but it probably evoked more nostalgia than a picture of the Power Rangers playing POGs whilst watching a Tamagotchi advert that was playing on a CRT television in the middle of an episode of “The Fresh Prince” probably would.

So, yes, nostalgia and a sense of history can often work better when they’re fairly subtle.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

The Joy Of…. Anachronisms

Of course, I turned him into a frog about three seconds later...

Of course, I turned him into a frog about three seconds later…

Well, a while after I wrote yesterday’s post, I thought of another idea for a “The Joy Of…” post. So, today, I thought that I’d talk about anachronisms and why there should be more of them in stories, comics, art, videogames, movies, TV shows etc…

In case you’ve never heard the word “anachronism” before (I learnt it from “Gadget: Lost In Time” when I was about seven), all it means is something that is from the wrong period of history. An anachronism is something that is out of place in time.

Usually, it’s used to refer to old things that are still being used in the present day – eg: “They were using an anachronistic computer system from the 80s” or “he holds anachronistic views about the role of the monarchy in modern society”. But, as interesting as old things in the present day are, there’s a much better type of anachronism which really doesn’t turn up as often as it should in fiction, comics, TV shows etc….

No, I’m not really talking about things from a future period in history turning up in the present day (which is fairly common in the sci-fi genre), but I’m talking about things from the present day turning up in the past.

Although there are a few mysterious possible cases of something similar to this almost happening (such as this woman talking on a mobile phone in a 1930s silent film , this colour footage of 1920s London and – most interestingly – the Baghdad batteries), it’s one of those fascinating things which will only really exist in fiction and in people’s imaginations.

But, why is it so fascinating?

I suppose the most important reason why it really fascinates me at least is because it shows us how far humanity has advanced over the past few centuries and it also makes us think about the future too.

When, for example, a Roman centurion in a TV show picks up a mobile phone which has accidentally been left there by a time traveller and declares it to be some kind of evil sorcery, or possibly even the work of the gods- we get to laugh at him.

But, at the same time, we also get to realise that most of the technology we take for granted would be considered impossible or magical even a few centuries ago.

And, well, this makes us feel better about the world.

Not only that, these kinds of anachronisms in fiction also make us realise how much more we know about everything than we used to. When people from the past react with surprise, joy, horror, incomprehension or fascination when they see modern technology – we get to feel like we’re a lot smarter than they are.

But, we also get a fascinating (fictional) glimpse of the limited and/or superstitious way that people used to view the world a few centuries ago. And, more importantly, this makes us think about our own mental limitations too.

It makes us wonder how, in a few centuries time, people will see us. It also makes us wonder what kind of “magical” technology people will invent long after our own lifetimes are over.

So, clever uses of anachronisms in fiction can be used to make audiences think, but they can also be used to amuse people and make everyone feel better about the world too. I can’t really think of that many other things (apart from possibly comedy) which do this.

So, if you want to add something interesting and unique to whatever it is you are trying to create – then why not add an anachronism?

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Sorry that this article was so short (and so random), but I hope it was interesting 🙂