Culture

Problematic Bayeux Tapestry full of trigger warnings

BY Iain Martin | iainmartin1   /  17 January 2018

As a Scottish person I can only marvel at the generous and warm way in which the delighted English have reacted to the news, revealed by The Times, that the Bayeux Tapestry will be put on display in Britain while the French repair the building in which it is usually held in, er, Bayeux. Worth a visit, Bayeux. But no need for now, as the tapestry is coming to England.

This diplomatic gesture surely illustrates that President Macron has a sense of humour. The tapestry in question shows the English being defeated in humiliating fashion and invaded and subjugated by the armies of William the Conqueror. England has never been the same since, say some purist English patriots. Macron is trolling the English, surely? And the wonderfully well-mannered English are pretending not to notice?

There is one particularly troubling aspect of this tapestry loan business. Will our sensitive millennials be able to handle seeing it when it is here? The story of 1066 is one long trigger warning, albeit with bows and arrows instead of actual guns, or muskets which would not be invented for several centuries‎. Safe spaces may be required for the fragile.

It was only last week that there was the most dreadful row when on the intertubes Netflix put up every series of Friends, the very 1990s ‎comedy. Sensitive millennial critics were appalled by the lack of diversity. They cited the shaming of Monica, jokes about Chandler being gay (the joke was that no-one had a problem with that other than Chandler), and the general air of people enjoying themselves. It is almost as though people in the past had different worldviews from those of us superior enough to be living now, in this age of new puritanism.

What I found most shocking about Friends, incidentally, was the terrible clothing. Did we really dress like that in the 1990s? Yes, we we did, sadly.

The fashions in the Bayeux tapestry have dated too, but that’s just the first thing wrong with it. The tapestry contains multiple violent scenes, including one episode – the one in which King Harold is shot in the eye – when he loses the English throne and leaves the field wide open for the ruthless Normans to impose themselves, introducing detailed record keeping, castles and steak frites.

The women play a subservient role. There is a bloodthirsty warmongering Bishop. There are no transgender characters, other than Bishop Odo. Everyone involved is Anglo-Saxon or Norman. A house is burnt down and the police or fire brigade are nowhere to be seen, presumably because of Tory cuts. Hastings, now home to bearded hipsters on the run from London house prices, is presented in a very poor light. None of the main characters in the battle seem to be very sensitive to other people’s feelings. There is feudalism and rampant militarism. As Jeremy Corbyn would say: why couldn’t William get round the negotiating table with Harold?

This is not a diverse tapestry.