Watching my wife watch The Vikings

Part of picking up the pace on the rewrite of my current novel is using some of that momentum for getting back on the blog. I wanted to feature an interview with author Bryan Hall this month, however, haven’t been able to put it together quite yet. In the meantime, here is a new installment of voyeuristic video criticism wherein I get to see my wife Sarah’s point of view on a new offering from the History Channel.

So Sunday nights after we read with the kids, she usually falls asleep with them for a while. I use the time between then and when she gets back up to look over what I had written that morning, or if the day’s been unusually productive, I’ll just sit down with a drink and read or watch a movie online. But lately, I’ve actually been watching a little TV. I’m not a TV snob, I just find most of it boring. But the History Channel has drawn me in with its new series The Vikings.

Now, if it’s a given that I’m actually sitting in front of a TV, I’m usually in the mood for something dark and action packed. I like a good shootout, slashing or bashing. An erotic dimension, amid the violence, is also a plus. If you can weave in character development, well, wrap it up, I’ll take it…

My wife is a somewhat harder sell. Since we’ve now watched all the episodes of The Walking Dead that are on Netflix, and we missed the first few episodes of the current season, that show is out for now.

And so, since it fits the same day and time slot, I thought The Vikings would get its chance. Now, some blog readers know there’s another dimension to this for me, a personal and historical interest in the religion of the region from which Vikings originate. While this does add another aspect of interest, it’s definitely not the main thrust, so to speak, of my interest in the show. I see TV for what it is, and though historical accuracy is a bonus, I’m not demanding it per se. I do think realism always increases the beauty and impact of a story, especially if it is horror or fantasy. In these cases, a sense of realism serves to make the fantastic elements themselves seem more real. But with a period piece TV show, with historical fiction, the dynamic can be different. Detailed historical accuracy is almost a completely different genre than ‘embellished’ historical drama.

For my wife, the more realism the better in all cases, particularly since she’s already seen me pick out shows and films akin to some form of historical splatterpunk. Thus, when she first comes in and I tell her we should watch The Vikings, it’s met with a roll of the eyes possibly even more cynical than The Walking Dead was. But after an initial session of making fun of me for what she deemed will become the most important night of the week—“No, really, I’ll throw some wood on the fire, no, don’t get up, can I get you a flagon of ale?”—I find she’s stopped in her tracks:

“Wow, those guys are hot…”

“Don’t worry there are empowered women on this show… wait, what?”

“Look at all those long-haired guys with muscles!”

“Um, I have long hair…”

“Wow, and hairy chests for a change, gotta have hairy chests, and no fake tans.”

“Well, they do live in Norway.”

“It’s like, whatever happened to men? What’s up with all this hair removal for men?”

“I don’t know, but I think I’m starting to see why our daughters always like the bearded bad guys in the cartoons.”

“They have good taste. So like, you should braid your beard, two long braids.”

“I don’t know, that might be a little dicey at work. I’m already kinda pushing it. Last time I stretched for the printer my Jormungandr tattoo stuck out my sleeve. Sea serpents might be business casual, but sea serpents and braids, I don’t know.”

“Yeah, too bad you can’t work outside. You know you’d rather be on a boat. The second best thing to shooting up a parking lot full of zombies is stabbing somebody in the neck on a rainy boat in the North Atlantic.”

“Hey, gray days bring out colors.”

“Wait, what just happened? Did those guys just slice up a bunch of unarmed monks?”

“Yup.”

“What the hell’s so tough about that?”

“They’re Vikings. It was 900 A.D. It was all part of the intimidation, power and allure.”

“To kill a bunch of skinny unarmed dudes in a monastery? These guys talk about honor. Where’s the honor in that?”

“Well, it’s at least as honorable as burning witches.”

“Sounds like it was all pretty messed up to me.”

“Well, I think there were a lot of historical forces during the early middle ages that led to piracy in the North Atlantic and raids like the one at Lindisfarne. To me what’s interesting with regard to the show is how a sympathetic portrayal of such an act has entered American pop-culture. I mean, I don’t think it’s quite the same thing as the noble-savage type romanticism of the Viking Revival in the 18thcentury. I think it might rather have something to do with the increasing presence in our culture and politics of wolves-in-sheeps’-clothing. I mean, few of today’s baddies try to actually look scary. Whether you consider your enemy to be a serial killer, a televangelist or a senator, they’re likely to all be wearing a suit and tie. The monks become like floating signifiers of anybody who looks meek but is really the scion of a powerful institution, or a casualty of a culture gone awry. The image of a group of armed, fur-clad Vikings daring to be wolves-in-wolves’-clothing, and to the contemporary mind, all the gall, naiveté and not so much nobility now as perhaps innocence and honesty that come with it, can come off as refreshing.”

“Oh yeah, it’s probably that… Hey look the commercial’s over, they’re back on the ocean, look at these guys row. I guess we can watch it again, I mean, at least it has good camera work.”

“Sure, why not, I wouldn’t want you to miss any of the good camera work, honey.”

Carl R. Moore is the author of the novella Slash of Crimson, prologue to The Crimes of Heaven and Hell series. He is currently at work on the series’ first full length novel.

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