Monday, June 12, 2017

Superheroes

For the most part, Americans tend to venerate figures from scripture (Moses, David) or real life people who had achieved mythic status (Davey Crockett, Johnny Appleseed), with a few characters from tall tales or acclaimed literary works, usually because of efforts by scoutmasters and tutors. However, it's hard deny to the influence comic books have had on American culture. This is largely because of their distinctive visuals, and because comic books (and comic book-inspired works) were the easiest to enjoy in a post-industrial society. They're portable, don't require electricity, can be  enjoyed at least a little bit by the illiterate, and can exist for a long time. Not permanently,  of course, but their impact lasted. Actually, in New Mexico, where the climate is drier and the Bible is much less popular, even the less widespread comic book characters like Green Lantern and the Fantastic Four are known, but for most of the continent, there are only a few who have managed to remain iconic for a thousand years.

Superman, of course, still exists in folklore, being the embodiment of America as a culture. He has his litany of superpowers, and even a few new ones. When updated to recent times, Clark Kent is a mid-mannered churchman or friar, usually with a hood covering his face. Lois Lane doesn't recognize him because she never looks him in the eye. The biggest difference is, in the Non-Denominational world, he's from Ohio valley, as opposed to Kansas, which is full of barbarians and heretics. It makes sense, as his creators were from Cleveland, and the Hall of Justice resembles Cincinati's train station.

Spiderman is maybe the most popular character from a storytelling perspective. He's distinctive and yet simple enough to be used for toys, puppets, and acrobats are known to dress in Spiderman costumes. "With great power comes great responsibility" is the peasant's answer to chivalry. Peter Parker's dayjob involves weaving tapestries, which his spider powers make surprisingly easy. Some people believe he was real, and friends with Barack Obama, so whether he's considered whimsical or sinister depends on that part of country's opinion of him.

Wonder Woman largely became popular because the combination of classical mythology combined with American iconography and a little bit of Nazi-punching (Americans are vague about World War II, but they know they crossed the sea to fight them) makes her a natural myth. Various kingdoms try to put their own nationalist spin on her, but because primary colors, stars, and eagles are on so many flags, the changes are usually subtle. She's considered so sacrosanct it's considered bad for prostitutes to dress like her, even though it's quite popular for brothels to have folklore themes.

The Incredible Hulk is maybe the former comic book character most popular with the nomadic herdsmen. They see him as the ultimate expression of pastoralism, a big green force of nature who smashes the corrosive and oppressive structures of the so-called "civilized" world.

In some cases, characters have gone beyond folklore, and have become somewhat de-fictionalized. These are naturally the comic book characters who generally didn't have superpowers.

In the original middle ages, it was common for errant knigths to blacken their armor to prevent rust and maybe do some extra-curricular battle, and real black knights started to appear in America. That many languages have the same word for "black" and "dark" didn't escape people, and so the idea of real life Batmans started occurring. In the middle ages, peculiar costume flourishes were pretty normal (It makes you easier to recognize on the battlefield, and may show off you wealth), so a couple people started using Bat-sigils on their coat of arms, and wearing the cowl when possible. Funny enough, "Robins" also became common, as sort a sort of cross between a squire and a herald. It should be also be said that at some point, bandits started to wear clown makes or makeup, but this may or may not have been inspired by the Joker. In any case, this practice caused clowns to be banned across the territories.

There's also a few real life Captain Americas, though it may have been an accident at first, with soldiers, especially in United States territory, having the combination of mail and start-spangled attire drawing comparisons, with some deciding to lean into it. The iconic captain America shield is very popular, and as a symbol is common on coats of arms.

Because of its popularity with real life military culture figures like Chris Kyle, the Punisher's ominous skull logo has also become very common among non-nonsense warriors, and a skull ring is even given to a warlord's personal executioner.

Thor is also a popular figure in Medival American legends,  held back in popularity only by the nervousness of liking a pagan creation too much. Because he was actually around in the middle ages, he fits in this era just fine. And because he was a staple of American comic books, he fits in with stories about Superman and Spiderman just fine as well. It's very popular in taverns to argue which muscelman can beat which in a fight.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Medieval Demographics Comparison

Some of you who have shown interest in Matthew White's site may also have stumbled upon the Welsh Paper's medieval demographics calculator. While the site exists largely for the purpose of role-playing games and fantasy fiction, it is a very interesting to see how it matches up with White's vision. It should be said that the map of Richmond does have twenty or so churches, which is in sync with the number of churches the calculator estimates for a city of medieval Richmond's size. The main discrepancy, if it should be considered as such, is that White seems to offer larger cities than the calculator does. That is, the calculator seems to offer far few cities that exceed a population of 25,000. I played around with different theoretical realms--the Kingdom of Ohio, New Jersey, Eastern America, and America as a whole, and it definitely seems like the larger the realm, the bigger the cities (and interestingly, the distance between even smaller settled communities. Which makes sense, as larger settlements requires greater breadth for resources.) I don't know if this is a discrepancy in sources, or different approaches. An RPG is about trekking through the wilderness, and the generator may use a different point in time as a model. Medieval America doesn't absolutely say what year it takes place. It should be mentioned that the MD calculator is supposed to be used as a guideline and in the real Middle Ages, city states along Italy were among the largest on the continent, despite not having large tracts of land. White does seem to mix it up between mercantile republics and agrarian fiefdoms, while the calculator may only take the latter into account.

Out of curiosity, I looked up some historical stats about my home state of Rhode Island. In White's Medieval America, Rhode Island no longer fully exists as a full entity. The part that's still called "Rhode Island" is part of the United States, and a hefty chunk, (largely the Blackstone Valley watershed) has been absorbed into Massachusetts. As there are roughly sixty people per square mile, that leaves the area that would in today's borders, be known as Rhode Island with roughly 73,000 people give or take. This census shows that the last time Rhode Island had this population was probably 1815 or so. The population for Providence around this time is ten thousand or so--significantly higher than the medieval demographics calculator would suggest, but still less than half of White's estimate. Of course, the U.S. was a much younger back then. It should also be noted that the sixty people per square mileage thing is an average how much the land generally sustains. The lower peninsula of Louisiana has roughly 25,000 people per square mile, but the city of New Orleans seems to have at least twice as many people there. In general, urban populations are such outliers, they don't seem to have an effect on the surrounding area.

Not only did I grow up in Rhode Island, I grew in Glocester, a relatively rural spread out region of the state, who's main street is the picture of New England quaintness . Its current population is something like 9000, its medieval population capacity around 3000, and its early 19th century population a bit over 2000 or so. Funny enough, the road I grew up on passes through three villages, about three miles apart, which is the average distance between modest settlements in the Medieval era. The trek from my home town to Providence might not look comparatively different to such a passenger, which is perhaps a large part of what drew my fascination with the concept of Medieval America to begin with.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Fast Food

For the most part, the food franchise machine is a thing of the past, however the cooks of Medieval America certainly take a few pointers from the low frills, high-calorie, and most importantly, portable foodstuffs that industrial America was infamous for. Boiled eggs , bread, and donuts are the most common foods for those on the go, but in a larger towns and cities where the populace is big and the citizenry does not have access to hearths, there are few popular street foods inspired by fast food cuisine

Big Mac

Hamburger sandwiches aren't unheard of, but for the quickest turnover, many ovens will churn out the Big Mac, which is something like a cross between a calzone and a pie, with ground meat, onions, pickles, curds, and maybe potatoes wrapped up in a bread casing.


Pizza

Pizza is very convenient because it serves as their own plate (but it's very unappetizing when cold). Not all of them use tomato sauce, at least not all year. In the colder months when the plant stores are low, it's not uncommon to use butter or certain fish oils in its stead. Obviously, one can't order Domino's on the phone anymore, but some ruling houses may have a recurring pizza delivery on retainer.

Hot Dogs

The combination of a bread roll and a sausage made from dubious meat parts is as popular as ever, though lack of refrigeration has moved hot dog vendors away from the Oscar Meyer wiener, and more to the more easily preserved smoked and spiced sausages

Popcorn

Popcorn is not too difficult to make by hand, and is especially convenient as kernels can be preserved almost indefinitely if they're kept dry enough. This is of no small importance in a world of no refrigeration and possible crop failure. As a result, it's most commonly eaten over the winter, and is actually considered something of a Christmas staple.

Cocoa Cola

Soda is not nearly as widespread as it was, but having a coke is the drink of choice for the wealthy in Mexico and the American southwest. It's largely because it has access to the ingredients from South America, cane sugar, and ice from the mountains And yes, "ingredients from South America" means cocaine

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

When I first started

Low Tech < High Tech

I'm not the biggest fan of reverse-engineering stuff. That is, "a spaceship is a flying boat" or "a scientist is a wizard". It's a very modern way of looking at things, and should be avoided. (Light sabers, for instance, are okay, because they're simply a high-tech version of a very old mythological concept) When medievalizing a modern work, one should think of the Theseus's ship paradox--the more modern (or futuristic) aspects of a work are replaced, the less of that actual work it is.

This also applies to the actual medium itself. Something that exists exclusively as a video game or a Netflix series is less likely to resonate than something that exists in a more solid or low tech format, because it will disappear in a non-industrial world. Essentially, oral

Older < Newer

The best way to know if something will be passed down over time is evidence it already has been. The United States is a very young country, and has a very young culture, but if it's closer to a century than not, it shows potential of staying power. There's also the above mentioned tech aspect where it remains in low tech forms, and that people will understand it more if it's an antiquated setting. Finally, it's more likely storytelling will be done by the village elders, so stories will reflect their memories and interests.

Rural < Urban

90% of people are farmers, and what was once derisively called "Flyover country" now makes up a larger segment of the population. Therefore, material that appeals to Middle Americans, and an even more conservative version of Middle Americans at that, is going to be more well-remembered. Therefore, less stories about antiheroes, more stories about the God-fearing. (The plot of the occasional monster movie is good, though.What better way to keep the youth from fooling around than stories of a Hockey-masked killer?)

Public Domain > Private

It's not that there are copyright lawyers

Real < Fictional

Mythology has always been around, but the idea of fiction for its own sake is relatively new, and kind of uncommon in olden days. Therefore, there's largely going to be a focus on people who actually existed, if sometimes in mythical takes on them.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Christmas

Even though New York is no longer the major city it once was, its histoy sill has it serving as a Christmas headquarters.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Medieval American Toys

Toys are a constant throughout history, throughout cultures. While the average child's toy collection has decreased dramatically, (due to resources, and the fact they shouldn't be goofing off as much) they're still around, especially as Christmas gifts, since there's not much farmwork to get in the way of playtime. Toymakers are their own guild, and the greatest toymakers are found in upstate New York, Canada, New England, and the foothills of the cascades, due the proximity of metals, timber and precision crafting.

Stuffed Animals: Teddy bears remain popular from the industrial age, largely because of their simple design, and the name coming from a former American President (And perhaps the one that most embodies rugged individualism.) For this reason among others, Mickey Mouse is the 20th century cartoon character that has endured the best. Sock monkeys are also more popular than ever, as their knitted and makeshift nature are a natural fit with the scale and economy of the medieval world. Other stuffed animals are popular, but not extensive due to the Americas' lack of megafauna. Because of this, the animism of tribal folklore, and the Industrial age's fascination with mascots and anthropomorphisizing, "plushies" made after non-animal concepts like plants, snowmen, and even fire are very common.

Dolls: "Toy soldiers" remain in vogue, naturally modeled after the pikemen found in the largest empire of America. Most are unpainted, much like the little army men, but one can obtain more elaborate and colorful toy soldier at a premium. If one is especially well-off, one can even find a poseable equivalent to a poseable action figure. Spider-Man is the most popular of such types, because toymakers do not have to do much sculpting of the face--even an amateur parent can probably come up with a Spidey toy. Herdsmen make dolls in their own image, with a small clay or wooden head, but the rest of rawhide and felt. The craftsmanship and exotic novelty even have an appeal to traveling dignitaries and merchants, who try to bring one home for their children, and cowboy dolls are made in this same "floppy" fashion.

Dolls for girls are usually in the shape of children themselves, as care of a doll is seen as practice for rearing children themselves.  However, the daughters of nobles will often receive porcelain dolls, some wearing the latest fashion. Dolls called "Barbies" have endured, but they're usually designed with nubile and sexually appealing design, and are definitely not for children. In fact, Barbies are often referenced a shorthand for perverted individuals.


Outdoor toys: Children, and some adults still enjoy athletic endeavors. Whether to play soccer, gridiron, ninepin, or just a game of catch, most balls are leather-bound and wool-stuffed, and generally come in the same shape and size. The focus is on versatility, not specialization. The only specialized ball is marbles, which were popular in the old middle ages, and have made a big comeback. Kites are also very popular, owing in large part to the Benjamin Franklin legend. There are also hula hoops, made from metal or wood.

Vehicles: Toy boats are extremely popular, especially in the communities that inhabit the rivers and coasts. Toy wagons are also pretty common. In areas with a lot snow, toboggans and miniature sleighs are also a "toy", but may sometimes be used for practical purposes. Long gone are the days of toy jets and shiny red firetrucks, but automotive vehicle has curiously remained, if exclusively in toy form; The locomotive. Maybe because it's an icon of the old west, or it being a fixture in popular fantasy stories like "Harry Potter" and "The Polar Express", but toy trains can be a toymaker's pride and joy. They don't circle around the tree or table however--that only happens in fairy tales.