Thursday, 14 April 2016

Unmaking history

Ashby de la Zouch Castle looking straight down from the Hastings Tower

We visited Ashby de la Zouch Castle yesterday. Interesting enough but we made the mistake of trying to use the English Heritage audio guide. If you haven’t used these audio guides, they are hand held devices linked to numbered information boards. They guide you around the place via commentaries, which expand on and complement what is written and depicted on the information boards.

Until now, all the audio guides we’ve heard have been straightforward often with some attempt at involvement via a narrator and an actor’s voice for historical figures. Rather like a simple radio play. Useful little gadgets, the one for Bolsover Castle being particularly informative.

Unfortunately the Ashby Castle audio guide uses a feebly comic double act, one straight and one camp. They spin “jokes” such as

This is the pantry.

What’s that, a place where they stored pants?

Aimed at children I suppose, but if so why wasn’t the audio guide shaped like SpongeBob SquarePants to give us a clue beforehand? I gave up and made do with the information boards. A chap doesn’t expect a dry academic exposition, but neither does one expect something so childish. Increasingly that’s what we get.

It’s a trend, this infantile presentation of history. Children have to be catered for and perhaps attracted to these places, but surely not at any cost. Museums have been going the same way for some time. No doubt the thumping beat of popular music will be next. The masses have to be entertained.


Derek said...

They have those things on HMS Belfast, absolutely brilliant. And from the on board dentists came the horrifying smell of clove oil! Shiver me timbers!

Sam Vega said...

As well as literal infantilisation, there is also a more subtle trend towards catering for the lowest common denominator. Everything has to have a strong clear narrative (you can almost picture the marketing team in discussion with the professional historians) and much is made of historical "personalities". Almost as if the public are not going to be interested unless it is something like a soap opera. I guess we can't allow buildings and places to "speak for themselves" if so few of the population have ears to hear.

Sen. C.R.O'Blene said...

Or why not make two presentations, and let the kids have the toy, silly version, and grown-ups a proper one?

Mind you, that Hastings tower looks like a bit of a drop...

I think I'd need the 'serious version' to lean over that particular edifice...

Anonymous said...

Being both grumpy and old I preferred it when museums were empty places and the labels were written on yellowing paper. As for old buildings, I prefer to meander with just possibly a guide book - or not. Would not be seen dead with one of those earphone things. Worse, last time I went to the National Gallery is was full of trendy teachers playing guitars as they dragged their gaggles around - bah humbug.

Woodsy42 said...

I seem to remember the audio guide to Castle Anthrax (Doune Castle, Scotland) by Terry Jones is a good entertaining compromise.

Weekend Yachtsman said...

"It’s a trend, this infantile presentation of history."

Indeed it is.

Don't ever visit Warwick Castle, you'd hate it.

And take note of the Disneyfication of Tintagel by English Heritage.

Where, I would like to know, are the museums for grownups these days?

Demetrius said...

(Al Hoffman / Milton Drake / Jerry Livingston)

The Merry Macs - 1946
Tommy Turner & His Orch. - 1946
Lou Praeger & His Orch. (vocal: Paul Rich) - 1946

There’s a village that I love in Leicestershire
Always had my heart enthralled
Where the stars are bright above in Leicestershire
Believe it or not it’s called

Ashby De La Zouch Castle Abbey
That’s the only place that I long to be
Skies are full of blue,
And the cows are full of moo
In Ashby De La Zouch By the sea

Ashby De La Zouch Castle Abbey
It’s a little bit of heaven to me
Girls have pretty curls
And the boys have pretty girls
In Ashby De La Zouch by the sea

It’s just a little hum-drum place
But you’ll be glad that you came
It’s such a beautiful someplace
Ain’t it a shame that it’s got such a name

Ashby De La Zouch Castle Abbey,
That’s the only place where I long to be
If you want a smooch
And be happy as a pooch
Go to Ashby De La Zouch by the sea.

A K Haart said...

Derek - the Bolsover Castle version is good. It gives lots of technical detail such as the use of powdered coal in black paint, a technique which was copied during restoration work. Look closely and the paint is quite gritty.

Sam - I've stopped buying guide books for that reason. Too much of the strong clear narrative and not enough detail.

Scrobs - two versions would be fine because both could be in the same device. One key for the kids narrative and the other for adults.

Roger - the audio guides can be pretty good but they need two sections. The Bolsover Castle guide does that with a straightforward guide then another, more technical section on restoration.

Woodsy - Castle Anthrax seems to be an interesting approach. One day...

WY - I don't think there are many museums for grownups. At best they seem confused about who they wish to attract.

Demetrius - it's quite a way from the sea though.

Michael Adams said...

I am sure that I'd be as annoyed by the juvenilia as you, but and however, I am very glad that someone is teaching the kiddies some history. I am appalled, once again every week, by the ignorance I see in kids today. It's called dumbing down, and it began with Dewey, and, before you hurt yourselves laughing at your cousins abroad, remember:It starts here, but it ends up there.

The silly story telling in the audio guides is supplying the bits and bobs that, collectively, make a historical context, so desperately needed. Kids nowadays (the under forty crowd) will fall for anything, because of this lack of context.

A K Haart said...

Michael - as I saw it, the problem was in the infantile nature of the comedy and that's a danger with comedy as education. If it is funny it is also ephemeral, a laugh or a snigger to be forgotten as soon as the show is over.