How does mass remembrance affect history?

In 2014 the Tower of London sparked a revolution of remembrance when it unveiled an enormous work of public art to commemorate 100 years since the start of the First World War.

888,246 handmade ceramic poppies standing in the fortress moat, so many they tumbled out of ramparts and windows. Each one representing a member of the British and Colonies military who’d died in the First World War. It was called Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red (also known as Poppies at the Tower) and it changed everything.

I was working for Historic Royal Palaces (the organisation that looks after Tower of London) when the Poppies were being planned and believe me; it was a gamble!

The Tower of London is steeped in military history, with its famous Yeoman Warders (beefeaters) all ex military. The Tower was always going to remember those that had fallen, but what would be the public’s reaction? Would people come? Would poppies be ridiculed?

Not to mention that poppies was going to be a very costly endeavour and if it failed, then what did that mean for future projects?

It didn’t fail.

Millions of people came to see the poppies. So many that London Underground had to put in place tannoy announcements advising people to plan alternate routes, as the tube stations by Tower of London were so packed.

Almost 18,000 volunteers worked to plant all of the poppies. At nightfall, a roll-call of the fallen was read out to a silent crowd as The Last Post was played. The Royal Family came, with the Queen planting one of the poppies. The prime minister urged the Tower to keep the poppies for longer. And when the final day of the exhibition came, each poppy was sold to the public, raising millions for military charities.

But the most remarkable thing about the Poppies was the effect it had on everyone who saw it. At first you’d look at one poppy; a particular patch. But it soon became impossible to see that one poppy, as it was eclipsed by the vastness of red. Lost in a sea of the dead.

It was both the individual loss and the mass mourning. It was visceral. You could feel it. And you couldn’t leave and still view the First World War in the same way.

crowds at poppies at the tower
Crowds visiting The Tower of London’s Poppies

Blood Swept Land and Seas made the front pages of newspapers. It was the first story on the news. History… the main news story.

What was normally reserved for 1 day a year, remembrance day, was now the UK’s water cooler talk.

Let’s not understate this, because it’s INCREDIBLE!

But why was this? Well it was because it showed history in a new light.

Kings and Queens are great. The stories of lost empires are great. The nitty gritty of tanks and military plans are great. But this wasn’t that. It was people. Everyday people, their story. And that’s something else entirely.

There was an increase in people looking into their family history, discovering their link to this era.

It built a bridge between a time that seemed far away and showed it as relevant, our ties to the past as strong as ever.

Soon Blood Swept Land and Seas went on tour and everywhere it went to saw increased visitors. And I’m not talking a slight bump, I’m talking an increase of over 1000%.

Poppies at Yorkshire Sculpture Park
Visitors view Blood Swept Land and Seas during its tour stop at Yorkshire Sculpture Park

This new style of mass remembrance didn’t stop with the poppies.

Arts programme, 14-18 Now, devised a series of events, running from 2014-2018, to commentate 100 years since The First World War.

Perhaps the most incredible was 2016s, ‘We’re Here Because We’re Here’ which marked 100 years since The Somme. Young men, dressed as WW1 soldiers, each one representing a soldier who died in the battle, descended on Britain’s cities. They sang a trench favourite ‘we’re here because we’re here’, before falling into silence and passing out the individual details of the soldiers they portrayed.

Once more the display created national interest. Once more the individual loss was the focal point.

we're here becuase we're here, in Glasgow
‘We’re Here Because We’re Here’ in Glasgow
one of the we're becuase we're here cards
One of the ‘We’re Here Because We’re Here’ cards given out to the public

So what does this new form of mass remembrance mean for history? 

Well, for one thing it shows that people are really interested in history. Fantastic! 

But more importantly, it shows that we can stretch the boundaries when it comes to telling history. 

During the commemoration of 100 years since the First World War, it was not the conventional history telling that resonated. The template exhibitions, documentaries and books were all there, but they weren’t what captured the imagination.

And this tells us 2 things key things:

1 . People are interested in history, but not always the kind of history we’re selling. This is a great opportunity to take chances! For example we can look to how 14-18 Now and The Tower of London have done an amazing job with merging history. And it doesn’t stop there. This is a chance for us to explore the boundaries of how we tell history!

Exhibitions that blend experience with archival objects, and play with the perimeters of written word and visuals. Books that embrace new narrative and language styles. The expansion of documentary formats into podcasts and YouTube. There is a whole world of opportunity out there, just waiting to be pioneered.

2 . People are interested in people. I know this may seem obvious! But I think the popularity of these projects shows us that there is a lot of room to build upon, when it comes to telling what we may have previously thought of as, everyday mundane stories.

When we look at battles we either tell the story as a whole or pick out one incredibly notable person. A leader, a saviour, a hero. But its clear that people also want to hear about the average Joe. The people with normal lives and jobs, thrown into these unimaginable situations.

If it was a choice between watching an hour long documentary on the Battle of the Somme or an hour long documentary on what happened to 5 different people during that battle… I know the one I’d watch.

What do you think? Will this new form of mass history change the game? Or is it a fad that will die out? Let me know in the comments below, or hit me up on Twitter or Facebook

Why Harvey Weinstein is just history repeating itself

*Trigger warning for violent sexual assault, this post includes some difficult but -I think-very necessary subject matter. 

As decades of alleged abuse by one of Hollywoods most powerful men slowly unravel in front of the world, we’ve been understandably shocked… but not surprised.

What makes these appalling crimes even worse, is the network that formed itself around Harvey Weinstein, preventing his sexual abuse from ever seeing the light of day.

But this kind of cover up operation isn’t new and Harvey Weinstein isn’t the first.

This is a side of film making that has existed since Hollywoods conception. Men like Weinstein have littered it’s history, their victims are numerous and forgotten.

One man invective of this age old machine is Eddie Mannix.

Eddie Mannix
Introducing Hollywoods most notorious dick, Eddie Mannix

Mannix worked as one of MGMs head honchos during Hollywoods golden age, though listed as a producer, Eddie Mannix really worked as MGMs ‘fixer’.

A softcore porn of Joan Crawford surfaced? Call Eddie. Jean Harlows husband turns up dead? Call Eddie. Clark Gable sexually assaults his young co-star? Call Eddie.

Covering Clark Gable’s attack (which Loretta Young’s daughter later called rape) was just the tip of the iceberg for Eddie.

Ensuring history forgot this kind of abuse was just part of his day to day. It was rare Eddie came across a sexual assault case he couldn’t easily sweep under the carpet…

And then Patricia Douglas happened.

Patricia Douglas
Patricia Douglas

By 1937, Patricia Douglas had been working in Hollywood for 5 years. A dancer and occasional extra, Patricia had already appeared in a couple of Hollywood classics (you can see her in the chorus in Busby Berkley’s Goldiggers of 1933)

So when MGM asked her along for a casting call, Patricia didn’t have to think too hard…a chance to work for one of the biggest and most beloved Hollywood studios was surely a no brainer!

(Just FYI…from here it gets pretty sexual assault trigger-ery) 

On a hot June morning, Patricia headed to the MGM lots. There she was outfitted in a short cowgirl outfit and – along with 120 other young women – shipped off to a remote desert studio set.

When they arrived, Patricia noticed that there weren’t any lights, cameras or crew. But what could she do…this was MGM!

And so she and the other women stayed, waiting to see what they were there for.

Their use suddenly became very clear, when a horde of drunk MGM Salesmen burst through the studio doors.

The men had spent the day being plied with hundreds of crates of champagne and scotch; but that was just the starter.

The women, so kindly provided by MGM, were to be the main course.

In town for a 5 day sales conference, the men had been that day been promised a debauched Wild West ‘stag affair’; a reward for their hard work.

And so, when they arrived at the studio, they naturally assumed these cowgirls must be their prize.

Patricia couldn’t escape and was soon cornered on the dance floor by David Ross, a salesman from Chicago.

She turned him down, but David wouldn’t take no for an answer. Together with another man, he held Patricia down and poured alcohol down her throat until she was sick.

Patricia fled outside, but David Ross wasn’t finished.

He grabbed her from behind and dragged her to a parked car, crowing:

‘I’m going to destroy you’

Then he brutally raped her. Slapping her throughout to ensure she was awake.

Screen Shot 2017-10-16 at 20.07.19.png
David Ross

A bloody and bruised Patricia arrived at a hospital immediately after; she explained what had happened and was quickly seen by an MGM paid doctor and then dropped home in an MGM car.

That was it.

But Patricia wasn’t going to let this happen to other girls

She reported the rape to the MGM casting agent and they ignored her; only offering her the $7.50 she had earnt for that night.

Patricia went to the police. When they didn’t do anything, she threatened to go the press. The police still refused to act. So Patricia picked up the phone and called the papers.

That’s when MGM called Eddie Mannix.

MCDGITW EC001

The sudden press attention forced the DA (by the way, a good buddy of Louis B Mayer) to act and David Ross was put in front of a Grand Jury. But MGM wasn’t out.

They hired a private detective to get dirt on Patricia, but only uncovered that she was a virgin who didn’t drink.

MGM sunk lower. They paid off and bribed any witnesses.

The doctor who examined Patricia that night claimed there was no sign of rape and having immediately cleaned Patricia with water douche, any evidence of rape wouldn’t exist anyway.

One parking attendant had actually seen David Ross flee the scene; but after being promised a job for life, he quickly changed his story.

An actor who had literally punched several salesmen at the party out (after seeing their treatment of the women) retracted his statements when his MGM contract was put in jeopardy.

Even Patricia’s own testimony was pulled apart. Forced to recount her rape on the stand – in front of her rapist – Patricia broke down as David Ross’s lawyer turned to the jury and jeered:

‘Look at her. Who would want her?’

The case ended. David Ross a free man.

MCDGITW EC002
Patricia after testifying in front of David Ross

But Patricia got back up.

She sued MGM… in return they destroyed her

They convinced Patricia’s attorney that continuing this case would destroy his career.

MGM even went so far as puppeteering events, so Patricia’s attorney would fail to turn up to court enough times that the case was eventually thrown out.

The studio paid budding starlets and friends of Patricia to give interviews to press, portraying her as a desperate wanton alcoholic.

By the time they were finished, Patricia was a joke. Friendless, in debt and with no hope of working in Hollywood ever again.

Patricia Douglas was now nothing but a warning;

What happened to girls who spoke out.

Decades later, When asked what MGM had done to silence Patricia, Eddie Mannix smiled:

‘We killed her’

They might as well have.

This was interesting where can I find out more? Theres a fantastic documentary on this, called Girl 27. Made decades after Patricia and her story were long forgotten, I urge you to dig it out and give it a watch.

Note: This post was a lot different to the normal content we post. But sometimes tackling a horrifying subject like this is necessary. Men of power using their positions to abuse and assult others is nothing new and it’s important to talk about how these systems establish themselves so we can dismantle them. 

Normal gif and joke based history services will resume next post. 

%d bloggers like this: