After 20 years of water under the bridge, how has your perspective changed? I was listening to the radio in the car this morning and heard an old song “Blame it on the Rain” by Milli Vanilli. (For those of you who don’t know the story of the band Milli Vanilli, you can find the Wikipedia version here.) It made me think about public perspective and how much it changes over time. Something that was a scandal years ago may now be considered nothing but a blip. Something that was never given a second thought decades ago (for instance, leaving kids in the car while the parent entered the grocery store), is now unthinkable.
Case in point, at the time, the Milli Vanilli story was a scandal. When caught lip synching, the band was stripped of its Grammy, their record label dropped them entirely, and the band’s album was erased, as if it had never been made. However, in the past 20 plus years, we don’t think so much of it. Many of the world’s most famous singers have been known to lip synch (Whitney Houston at the Super Bowl, Beyonce at the 2013 inauguration, Madonna on tour, Ashley Simpson on SNL).
Now I freely admit the Milli Vanilli example isn’t weighty or necessarily relevant to important historical events. Even so, it got me thinking: what’s the “right” perspective?
As an author of historical fiction, I think about this kind of thing often. I find it hard to strike the right tone for an event that happened hundreds of years ago. Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to fully understand a contemporary’s view of the events when you consider things that long ago. And just because history books detail a widely-accepted, academic version of events doesn’t mean that’s the right frame of reference either. Should we strive to be authentic and true to the time periods, capturing things as people living then might view them? Or, because our audience is a modern one, should we impose a modern slant to them? Which, if any, is correct? It’s amazing what 20 years can do, let alone hundreds.
As for me, my jury is still out. It’s a question I continue to struggle with. In the meantime, I’m going to go dig up that old Milli Vanilli tape…if I can find it around here, that is.