Featured Thought + Opinion

Period Dramas: Are They Out of Touch?

Do we still need period dramas when their historical settings were built upon oppressive regimes?

Period dramas have had undeniable success, from Mr Darcy’s wet shirt lake walk to the more recent Anthony Bridgertons steamy romance with Kate Sharma. Period dramas can have a significant cultural impact and tend to attract a large myriad of viewership. The success of period dramas in modern-day society is usually due to a disconnect with old-fashioned, chivalrous romance. It’s a time of yearning and of polite courting processes which modern-day viewers long for. The swooning!

However, of course, period dramas reflect a time in which women, minorities and the poor were notoriously oppressed and withdrawn from mainstream society. The role of women in these eras is one of subservience and fulfilling natural domestic duties. Not to mention extreme racism in the form of slavery and segregation. These time periods were of course beyond problematic.

Pride and Prejudice series
Pride and Prejudice series © BBC

For example, so many of Austen’s stories centre around women’s pursuit of marriage, particularly what was deemed as good, economic sense within marriage. Marriage was deemed as a business transaction, pairing good families and bloodlines together to further the upper classes. However within Austen’s narratives is a lot of romance, like in Pride and Prejudice where we see Elizabeth and Darcy overcome these expectations of the wealthy marrying the wealthy as love conquers all. But, there are still so many red flags within the time period of inequality that are disconnected from modern society. On the whole, most viewers of period dramas will be watching to escape from their lives, to get lost in an unfamiliar world. So, you’d presume then that most people know what they’re signing up for upon watching. 

In modern adaptations of these stories, like the recent Netflix film Persuasion, we see filmmakers trying desperately to placate these differences in class, race, gender and societal change by painting the era with a modern brush. Whilst this can work, in Persuasion, it was lazily done with little thought to maintaining original character development. Ann Elliot as the main character is kind, loyal and strong but shy in her mannerisms. However, when painted with a modern Hollywood brush, Dakota Johnson made her bold, rude and loud, something many didn’t enjoy.

Persuasion Period Drama
Persuasion © Netflix

Arguably, period dramas work the best when they maintain the traditions and old-fashioned charm that have clearly allowed the stories to remain popular over hundreds of years. Of course, modernising certain elements should be allowed, but done creatively while still maintaining characters’ original personalities. 

So, how can we blend the history of the time period with the modern day? If so many of the archetypes within historical stories revolve around an oppressor and an oppressed person, particularly the intensity and dangerousness of misogyny at the time, how can this fit into today’s society and be accepted, let alone enjoyed? Truthfully for a large chunk of Austen’s work, romance takes precedence over politics and inequality. It’s more background noise, accepted by audiences but not necessary to the story.

We know that as society moves further towards equality every day we find ourselves revisiting past media to examine what went wrong and why it hasn’t aged well and is deemed problematic. But, it’s a difficult question to ponder how far back we must go in holding inequality accountable. We’re aware that the 1700s are very much over and that many of these examples of oppression don’t exist in society today or at least not commonly. It’s obvious to admit that our society no longer mirrors society back then, But how much longer can these stories exist in such a modern and progressive world? 

The windswept high drama romance, the looks across the room and yearning are all elements of traditional old stories that I think will always remain popular, as long as people fall in love there will be media like this. The sexism, oppression and backwards societal rules however have an ever-decaying expiry date.

So, the question is, can old-fashioned romance survive in period dramas without that inequality? Or, since so much of the traditional romance is centred around men overpowering women, can it only truly exist in a somewhat sexist sphere?


Social Media Filters, Feminism and Plastic Surgery

Are Social Media Filters Feminist?

For centuries, women have been bombarded with false and unattainable expectations of beauty, driven by the patriarchal image of the ‘ideal woman’. Whilst the image of this woman has changed a lot over the years, as different fashion trends and desirable body shapes have come and go, it remains that the expectations are there. 

Through old forms of media like billboards, magazines and newspapers, women were forced to compare themselves with others and cultivate their own beauty to fit a standard made by somebody else. 

Predictably, as social media has become more persistent in our daily lives, as has the extreme nature of these filters and expectations on young women. The Social Media Filter Selfieimage of the ‘ideal woman’ isn’t a fixed axis but rather a constantly moving fantasy that women can hopelessly strive for. It thrives on the ability to update and move, making the most profit by being ever so slightly unattainable. And these standards are not only dangerous for women’s psyche but also damaging to society as they usually revolve around white, Eurocentric features and do not cater to people of colour. 

As a result, plastic surgery, a drastic and urgent solution to personal insecurities, has become part of the spectrum of beauty expectations. The increasing popularity of digital filters on social media apps has only fed into the fantasy that young women need to alter themselves to fit an ideal. 

In the early 2010s, Snapchat filters became increasingly popular.  These filters were invented, initially, for light fun but soon spiralled into face contorting and even skin tinting effects. Soon, the expectation for perfect selfies escalated; they had to be smooth with wide eyes, slim faces and sometimes inhuman embellishments, like sparkles and fake makeup. 

Most recently, TikTok has introduced several new filters, including the ability to create your own. There are filters to give yourself freckles, makeup, change your eye shape and hair colour, and even to darken and lighten skin. One of the most confusing new TikTok filters is the ‘exhausted’ filter, which mimics bags under your eyes and wrinkles on the skin. While this filter doesn’t necessarily slot into traditional beauty expectations, it still experiments with physical features and feeds into a world in which people can redesign themselves.

As the years have gone on, various social media apps have invented different filters, and new apps have surfaced with the single intention of falsifying photos. FaceTune, the app known for its blurring and stretching tools, is one of the most popular.

What’s particularly concerning is just how different you can make yourself look. You can change your body shape, blur the entirety of your skin, change eye colour, whiten your teeth, and the list goes on. Essentially, you can digitally shop for a brand new face if you’re discontented with your own. 

These filters have even become so commonplace online that young people are growing up believing real humans should like their favourite filter. In turn, teenagers look at themselves and find a million insecurities that previous generations didn’t face. 

It unearths a dangerous complex that beauty must equal perfection. We are no longer allowing subjective beauty that is personal, cultural and varied. We’re creating a society with an idea of ‘perfection’ that can only be achieved by the very few yet is expected of all. 

People are feeling these effects so strongly that they’re undergoing real plastic surgery and outpatient procedures to mimic what they see online. And what’s most frustrating is how quickly these standards can change. Somebody could go out of their way to undergo a complex Brazilian Butt Lift surgery, only to discover big bums are no longer the fashion two weeks later. 

I’m not against plastic surgery, but I don’t think making the decision to alter with digital, edited and unrealistic standards in mind is healthy. When you become embroiled in these toxic beauty standards, you’re playing a losing game.

Most ordinary people do not have access to the money, connections or world-class doctors that celebrities and Instagram models do. Therefore, we’re not readily able to make our faces and bodies look the way they can, leaving people unsatisfied with their results. 

With the persistence of these extreme filters, we’re slowly losing touch with the realities of our reflections, teaching our minds and bodies that simply by existing the way we were born to exist, we’re doing something wrong. It detaches us further from our reality and attempts to transport us into a fantasy world perpetuated by social media and porn in which every human is flawless, despite the very real complexities of the mind and body.  

Women should be able to alter their appearance online and in-person if they choose to do so, but that decision is now warped by the warped digital versions of ourselves we see online. So, are social media filters feminist? The jury’s out.