History and Historiography

Napoleon vs The Internet

On the difficulty of using internet terminology to describe a Great Man of History

Jul 17, 2023



The trailer to Ridley Scott’s new historical epic Napoleon was released recently and garnered some interest within online right circles. It isn’t difficult to see why, and it isn’t even a particularly political phenomenon: if you’re a normal white man with an IQ higher than an overpriced hotdog you’ve had nothing to watch in the cinema for years. A final judgment on Scott’s Napoleon and Joaquin Phoenix’s performance will have to wait for the cinematic release in November. My current attitude is one of cautious optimism having viewed the trailer. There are certainly a few thumbs down for the deployment of a cover of a Radiohead song in the trailer, however. This is the music of a depressed 19-year-old playing video games and contemplating self-harm, not a legendary exemplar of military genius and superhuman will.

Hollywood hasn’t been kind to historically curious and reasonably intelligent white men in recent years so when we’re met with a new film featuring grandiose battle scenes and a historical sweep of epic proportions we approach it like a whipped dog to a mysteriously placed and very convenient bowl of beef broth. We want to engage with it but also have an eye to the trap being sprung and the rainbow-coloured garrote being slipped around our necks. Like Deckard in Scott’s Blade Runner we scrutinize the content for giveaways and signs of danger:

“Enhance the ballroom scene. Stop. Enhance 35-42. Stop. Track 27 left. Stop. Enhance. Okay, boys, that’s a black aristocrat in post-revolutionary France.”

No such concentration was needed when it came to Napoleon’s great love Joséphine de Beauharnais. For some reason one of the most glamourous women of the age had, in this movie, adopted a sort of New York junkie chic complete with ragged spiked hair and fuck you demeanour. Thus, here we have it. Joséphine is to be a girl boss and she’s going to be depicted as the true conquering force of Napoleonic France. At least, this is a widely held sentiment. The Empress Joséphine would follow in the third-wave feminist footsteps of the Star Wars girl, Galadriel, and all the capeshit heroines. Hollywood has certainly earned every drop of suspicion and contempt with which it is currently held — many times over. In the trailer to Scott’s film, Joséphine whispers to Napoleon:

“You’re just a tiny little brute that is nothing without me.”

And there we have it: proof that Scott is woke and his movie carries a feminist message.

It is perfectly possible that his Napoleon will turn out to be politically correct trash. We shall see. However, before we squeal too loudly about historical inaccuracies, it behooves us to consider the actual history.


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