Art doesn’t care about your facts
Let’s consider a question shall we? In history, there was a real King Lear, a real Hamlet, a real Macbeth, and a real Julius Caesar. When we study Shakespeare in school, does it matter that ol’ Will made up about 90 per cent of the content of those plays that were “based on history”?
Perhaps this is just the opinion of one writer but the answer should clearly be no. Art doesn’t have a responsibility to portray history accurately. That’s not what art is for. Art is for entertainment and the communication of a message, not for the accurate portrayal of history. But it certainly seems as though there are dissenting opinions.
Since the fiasco with Ben Affleck and the Best Director category at the Oscars in January, there has been a lot of debate concerning the way that Hollywood portrays Canadians in film. In Argo, many Canadians argue, Ben Affleck undervalued the role of Canadian diplomats in the rescue of the six Americans from Iran.
Many of the pieces criticizing Argo also try to promote nationalist pride as a means of selecting the art you choose to experience. And while there is a whole set of problems that go along with that nationalist sentiment, the larger issue is that it presupposes that art has a responsibility to be accurate.
Barring documentaries, no one goes to the movies to be taught about history. We go to the movies to be swept up in the magic of fantastic stories that will tug at our heart strings and maybe just make us think about some of the bigger issues in life. And while there are plenty of potential reasons for this, the most obvious one is that films (and by extension art) will never be wholly accurate.
There will always be debate over representation in film. Whether it’s that William Wallace never had the nickname Braveheart in Braveheart, or the degree of Canadian involvement in Argo, people will bicker about the accuracy even though to the average moviegoer, it couldn’t matter less.
Stories are entertaining for their heroes and villains, their building suspense and dramatic tension, their complexity and plot twists. Sometimes the real story isn’t as important as making the movie good, and if you have a problem with that, Ar-Go-Fuck-Yourself. It’s not the filmmakers responsibility to satisfy your nit picking, it’s their responsibility to make good movies that we (and perhaps more importantly, they) want to watch. We have documentaries and journalism for the maintenance of historical record, leave fiction alone.