TV Shows History Pop Culture

I love history, but I can’t stand historical TV shows

I’m a big history nerd. I’m not only a history major, but someone who collects and wears historical clothes, who owns figurines of historical figures, who collects books on my favorite parts of history, and who played history games throughout my entire childhood. Studying history has always been a huge part of my identity, and one I’m still happy to include in my life today. But it’s probably time to admit it: I hate historical TV shows. As a history geek, I should love them, but it’s hard for me to stomach a single one.

These shows forget that people in the past did, in fact, have fun.

I have one main reason, and it’s that these shows are straight-up boring. The lighting is too dark, the costumes too beige and ugly, and every word of dialogue is spoken in a raspy whisper. Everything is so bleak it’s almost impossible to follow. Try watching The Medici or The Tudors. I have difficulty figuring out anything that’s going on. And don’t get me started on the lighting in The Crown. 

A disheveled white man with a beard and a loose top.
[Image Description: A dark-haired white man in a dark shirt] via BBC. This is how Da Vinci’s Demons dresses its protagonists — in dull, disheveled, and downright ugly clothing.
And trust me, I won’t hear the excuse that real life was just as bleak back then. As a keen student of historical costuming, I know that a lot of historical clothing was bright, extravagant, and sometimes just ridiculous. I admit it’s not the biggest issue, but it still rubs me the wrong way. I feel like these shows forget that people in the past did, in fact, have fun occasionally. You rarely see any entertainment or festivities in these shows, unless they’re doomed to go horribly wrong. You almost never see any characters genuinely laugh in these shows. Sure, living in the past was terrible in a lot of ways, but people still retained a sense of humor.

I’ll give you an example. I once made the horrible mistake of attempting to watch Da Vinci’s Demons, which loosely follows the life of Leonardo da Vinci, and encapsulates everything I hate about historical television. The show portrays Leonardo as a tortured, edgy womanizer, despite the fact that he was almost certainly gay and, by all accounts, a very pleasant person. Throughout the show, he almost exclusively wears dark, tattered shirts and dusty trousers, whereas the historical Leonardo wore brightly-colored tunics and tights. It might sound ridiculous to the modern viewer, but personally, I think we should acknowledge the absurdity of history. And let’s be honest, sometimes it’s easier to relate to people who don’t take themselves too seriously.

A brightly colored Renaissance painting of a wealthy, finely dressed family.
[Image Description: a Renassaince painting showing a group of people dressed in beautiful costumes.]This is how people in the Renaissance actually dressed! Short tunics, leggings, bright colors…it may not be as sexy, but it’s way more fun!
There’s also a lot of unnecessary drama in historical TV shows. I’ll admit, this trend strikes me as odd because there’s already so much drama in real history. Shows like The Tudors, The Borgias, The Last Kingdom, and The Medici like to make a big deal out of political battles and sex scandals, and rarely imbue these plot lines with any humor or humanity. Drama is important for entertainment’s sake, but we can still try and make the drama seem somewhat human. Most relationships aren’t built on stolen glances and steamy affairs. Why not portray these love stories with affection, awkwardness, and a tiny bit of down-to-earth humanity?

History isn’t all epic battles and heaving bosoms, a lot of it is everyday life.

Even the grand, epic battles are a little too dramatic for my sake. They ignore the disease, the squalor, and the sheer tedium of real-life battles. It might not be fun to acknowledge the unglamorous parts of history, but it makes for better television. If we’re going to relate to these historical figures, we need to at least see them as human.


Most historical TV shows seem totally unwilling to have any fun with history. They refuse to acknowledge that along with the drama and sadness of history, there’s also comedy and absurdity and awkwardness. Historical people were real human beings. Sometimes they wore ridiculous outfits, joked around with each other, and made awkward mistakes. History isn’t all epic battles and heaving bosoms, a lot of it is everyday life. I certainly don’t think these shows are evil, but they do make history feel so much more distant and detached than it really is.

We should remember that history has plenty of dimensions, some good and some bad, some funny and some serious, some totally normal and some downright weird. It doesn’t help to glamorize or romanticize history, but it doesn’t help to dull it down either. Historical figures were people too, and our television should at least recognize them as such. Besides, it’s more fun that way anyway.

Keep up with pop culture trends and follow our brand-new Instagram account

Get The Tempest in your inbox. Read more exclusives like this in our weekly newsletter!

Culture LGBTQIA+ History Music Pop Culture

The forgotten queer and Black foundations that built electronic house music

Kaytranada made history when he won the Best Dance/Electronic album at the 63rd Grammy awards this year for Bubba. His achievement was iconic because he was the first black and openly gay man to win this award. This historic win also highlighted how far removed electronic music has become from its minority origins.

“When I was making my last album, I was really inspired by early house DJs, because now when house DJs actually come up, it’s really those white DJs and people don’t think about Black DJs in the sense that play House music,” House DJ and music producer Kaytranada explained to comedian Jaboukie about the inspiration for his sophomore album, Bubba in his 2020 PAPER Pride cover story.

Later in the conversation, Jaboukie added: “Specifically when it comes to electronic music, I feel like there’s such a history of gay, Black, queer, trans people being involved in music. It’s interesting because I feel like you have a lineage,” As an openly gay Black man, Kayranada is definitely a descendant of the early ancestors of house.

Like rock’n’roll, electronic dance music (EDM) has also experienced whitewashing. Today, many EDM enthusiasts seem to think that electronic music and genres such as house, techno, dubstep, and many other sub-genres stemming from the universal need to dance were created by white European men in the early 90s. This couldn’t be further from the truth. They often fail to recognize the communities of color, in particular the black LGBTQIA+ community that created electronic music as we know it today. They also fail to recognize the foundation of almost all current electronic music today stems from house music.

The history of current electronic music, in particular, house music, can be traced back to the underground gay clubs of New York and Chicago. Although the exact origin is unclear, the go-to story is that the genre was named after “The Warehouse” nightclub in Chicago’s South Side. Record stores in the city would attract listeners by playing mixes and dance records “as played at The Warehouse”. That was soon colloquially shortened to “house music”.

The nightclub The Warehouse first opened its doors in 1977 in Chicago. It initially operated as a members-only club almost exclusively frequented by Black and Latino gay men. At the time, gay bars and clubs were the only safe spaces for queer folks, away from police who terrorized Chicago’s gay community.

Sonically, house music was born from the ashes of disco. By the early 80s, there was a “Disco Sucks”  movement, a backlash from the oversaturation of the genre. The “Disco Sucks” movement became anti-dance and therefore anti-gay. As a result, house music was born. It was a blend of disco classics, Euro-beat, and synthesized pop. It has now evolved into many genres and subgenres within electronic music and also influenced pop and hip-hop.

A trailblazer and famous for his early house mixes and amalgamation of recycled soul mixes is DJ Frankie Knuckles. Nicknamed the “Godfather of House”,  Knuckles was also openly gay. Other early innovators included Larry Levan and DJ Ron Hardy, who too were gay and involved in the drag scene.

These pioneers and others played a pivotal role in evolving disco into early house music. They explored creative ways to edit, mix and remix records using innovative techniques. This was due to a lack of DJ equipment. Many DJs didn’t have basic equipment such as a DJ mixer, headphones, or turntables with varying speeds. At this time, DJs often also played the roles of DJ, producer, composer, and remixer.

[Image Description: House pioneer, DJ Ron Hardy performing his set at The Musicbox] Via Red Bull Music Academy Daily
[Image Description: House pioneer, DJ Ron Hardy performing his set at The Music box.] Via Red Bull Music Academy Daily
The early 80s was a vital turning point for DJing and music production. Synthesizers, samplers, sequencers, and drum machines became cheaper and more accessible. DJs and music producers in Chicago delved deeper into dance music production and embraced these machines. DJs would loop basslines, add percussion layers, mix in effects, add vocals, and apply other remixing techniques to make music that people would dance to.

Record labels soon took notice of the rapid popularity of this underground genre. In particular, Chicago-based record label, Trax Records, would commercially release iconic dance tracks including Your Love by Frankie Knuckles, Can You Feel It by Larry Heard, and Move Your Body by Marshall Jefferson.

Around the mid-80s, distinct electronic genres and subgenres emerged. These included deep house and acid house. House music and urban club culture, influenced heavily by gay urban club culture, continued to cultivate these new house sounds in clubs in emerging regional hubs like Heaven in Detroit and The Saint in New York. These new regional hubs often merged their own styles of music with Chicago house. The Saint also helped usher in a new era of electronic music and light shows that would inspire much of the rave aesthetic that now become synonymous with today’s EDM scene.

At the same time, house music has spread internationally, becoming one of the most popular genres in Europe. The first major house success outside of the US is considered to be Love Can’t Turn Around by Farley “Jackmaster” Funk and Jesse Saunders, which peaked at ten on the UK chars in 1986. A year later, Jack Your Body by Steve “Silk” Hurley reached number one on the same charts becoming the first house record to do so.

By 1998, Euro-house, particularly French, Italian, and  UK house explosion, was at its height. At this time, more global influences like broken-beat, Latin jazz, and Afro-house were infiltrating into Euro-house which was now considered the house hub of the world.

“The constant innovation and globality of house music led to the emergence of acid-house and in turn techno and all other electronic sub-genres. In the mix of it all, queer folk of color have somehow slipped out of the established narrative.” Author Luis Manuel-Garcia detailed in  An Alternate History of Sexuality in Club Culture.

Despite its globality and its inspiration for dance, freedom, and acceptance, all of this started with the queer Black people in a small underground Chicago club. DJ-driven dance music may have long since outgrown its minority origins, but it is still essential that this history not be lost and Kaytranada’s Grammy win and many Black electronic DJs in this space are making sure of this.

Keep up with entertainment news and trends and follow our brand-new Pop Culture Instagram account

Get The Tempest in your inbox. Read more exclusives like this in our weekly newsletter!

History Lost in History Historical Badasses

Meet Armen Ohanian, the belly dancer who defied every stereotype of a Middle Eastern woman

It would be easy to dismiss Armen Ohanian as just a famous belly-dancer, but she was more than just that.

Ohanian was one of the first women to bring Middle-Eastern dancing to the Western world, but most people haven’t heard about her before. Those who have heard of her only think of her as an “exotic dancer” rather than a gifted, talented, and complex human being. So who was this woman?

Armen Ohanian was born in 1887, originally named Sophia Pirboudaghian. She grew up in modern-day Azerbaijan in a wealthy Armenian family, where she received a vast academic and artistic education. Despite her privileged upbringing, she underwent an incredible amount of tragedy at a young age. She survived a devastating earthquake in her early years, which forced her family to relocate. She later witnessed brutal anti-Armenian pogroms in Baku, which tragically claimed the life of her father. After a brief marriage, Ohanian lived, worked, and studied in Russia, Turkey, and Iran, learning the art of Armenian and Iranian dances.

She didn’t need to be Western to be modern

Eventually, Armen Ohanian accepted an offer to perform in London, and eventually became a sensation throughout Europe. Western audiences were quick to fetishize and commodify her style of dancing, which they only viewed as hypersexual belly-dancing. They reduced her to a sexual object without considering the traditions and talent behind her dancing. In reality, Ohanian was an incredibly gifted dancer and choreographer.

She revolutionized dance by merging modern free-dancing with traditional Armenian and Iranian dances. Ohanian embraced tradition and innovation alike, proving that she didn’t need to be Western to be modern. Some might say that she embraced Western fetishism to further her career. I say we cannot hold her responsible for the Western reaction to her art. Ohanian danced with dignity and pride in her culture. It’s her audience’s fault, not her own, that they couldn’t recognize her humanity.

Armen Ohanian’s talent extended far beyond her dancing. She was also a gifted writer and poet, as well as a political activist.

In her later years, she immigrated to Mexico where she was an active member of the Mexican Communist Party and translated political literature. She also wrote a number of memoirs and poems, which focused on her identity as a diasporic Armenian in exile. Ohanian was not only subversive politically, but in her everyday life. She was likely bisexual and had numerous affairs with both men and women. She divorced and remarried in a time when that was incredibly uncommon. Ohanian lived her life how she wanted to live it, and that’s beyond admirable. 

As a woman of Iranian-Armenian heritage, Armen Ohanian is a reminder that Middle Eastern and Armenian women have the power to be both subversive and proud of their heritage. I know firsthand that Armenian society can be very traditional. Seeing an independent, liberated, queer woman like Armen Ohanian gives me hope for other Armenian women. She is proof of the resilience of Armenian and Middle-Eastern women. This is someone who survived natural disasters, ethnic cleansing, xenophobia, and prejudice, but emerged stronger than before. She was a multi-faceted and complicated woman who couldn’t be confined to one category.

It’s impossible to define Armen Ohanian as simply a sexually liberated dancer, or a fiery political revolutionary, or a homesick poet living in exile, or an intellectual writer and translator. She was all of these things and more. I find a lot of inspiration in this incredible woman, who refused to limit herself to one art form, one talent, one career, or even one national identity. She was able to create a name for herself in a world that was hostile to the aspirations of Middle-Eastern women, and she did so with dignity and courage.

Armen Ohanian passed away in 1976, but her bold and resilient spirit still lives on in all of us. We could all take a page from her book and live our lives as she did, fearlessly and proudly, always in search of a better future.

Get The Tempest in your inbox. Read more exclusives like this in our weekly newsletter!

LGBTQIA+ Gender Inequality

Transgender and intersex people in Bangladesh have recognition on paper, but their lives haven’t been made any easier

Trigger warnings: Mentions of transphobic comments/incidents

Disclaimer: The word “hijra” is commonly used in reference to the South Asian transgender and intersex community. In Pakistan, the word takes on a derogatory connotation and much of the community does not approve of its use. However, in Bangladesh, many members of the community are proud to consider themselves hijra. While it can be used in a derogatory way at times by non-transgender people, like how the word gay is used as an insult in America, many people have gradually begun to reclaim the word and its meaning. 

I was first introduced to the hijra community in Bangladesh when I was 15 years old. It was 2009, and I was at my uncle’s wedding. They arrived unannounced to the front yard of my family’s home to perform dances and songs, and asked for payment. I was fascinated by them – growing up in the United States had robbed me of the lived cultural experiences my cousins who grew up in Bangladesh had. But I also noticed how some of my family members were uncomfortable and angry at the arrival of the hijra. Some even yelled at them to leave. I became uncomfortable with those reactions; I didn’t understand why they reacted so negatively.

That day, I learned that hijra is an identification category for a third gender. In South Asia, the term, hijra, refers to a subset of transgender people. They do not associate themselves with the sex and culturally correlated gender assigned at birth; in fact, they do not identify as either male or female, man or woman. Thus, they categorize themselves as hijra – a third category. Many intersex people also identify as hijra in South Asia. It is a widespread notion in South Asia that most hijra are born biologically male and assigned a male gender category at birth, and later identify with what is culturally perceived as feminine gender roles. Thus, the dominant view also in evidently overlooks the recognition of trans men.

My mother explained to me that hijra will often show up at large celebratory life events, like weddings and the birth of babies, to sing, dance, and pray for the families. Afterwards, they ask for payment because it is one of their only avenues of income. She also told me the hijra community is severely discriminated against – they are excluded from “normal” society because they do not fit into the culturally accepted (mythical) binary of gender and sex. They are a neglected and segregated people.

And that’s when I understood those negative reactions I witnessed. Those guests and family members, like many in Bangladesh, were prejudiced and bigoted against the hijra community. And that’s what spurred me to educate myself and others about this community as much as I was capable of.

On January 26, 2014, the government of Bangladesh announced the legal recognition of hijra with the following statement: “The Government of Bangladesh has recognized the Hijra community of Bangladesh as a Hijra sex.” This recognition was a huge victory for the hijra community – they held a celebratory Pride Parade later in the year 2014 – but there’s so much more that needs to be done, and it starts with the very terminology.

Academic circles and Western narratives refer to hijra as a third gender, but the terms gender and sex are conflated in South Asia. Thus, there is little understanding of what it means to identify as hijra – that is a major disadvantage to the community because while recognition of them exists, knowledge of this identity category does not. Because hijra are considered social outcasts, there is not enough developed discourse that allows their voices and lived experiences to become common knowledge. As a result, people have varying degrees of knowledge of what hijra means. Some believe being homosexual and transgender are the same things (this, of course, is completely incorrect – sexuality does not equal gender identity); some believe hijra are only trans women; some believe they are only intersex people. This lack of understanding is extremely problematic and further marginalizes hijra.

Without providing proper guidelines and explanation of who hijra are and solely going off of the widely varying personal understandings of what hijra means, this recognition does not mean much.  In December of 2014, the Ministry of Social Welfare in Bangladesh allowed hijra to apply for jobs within the government – a large step forward for their community. But measurements were taken to find proof that those lining up to interview for these positions were, in fact, hijra. Candidates were not only asked questions about their gender identities and sexuality, they were also stripped down while doctors examined their genital areas to make sure they were “authentic” hijra. This humiliation and harassment come from both bigotry and the lack of attempts to publicly define the term “hijra.”

Furthermore, solely recognizing this third category did not establish stable constitutional rights for the hijra community, such as being able to own and inherit property. Rape laws were not changed to include hijras; they still do not have easy access to medical facilities; there is no official government database as of yet to count their population to assess their needs and demands; and laws that implicitly enforce heteronormativity in Bangladesh are still interpreted in ways to harm and punish non-heteronormative behavior.

Hijra are socially marginalized to the extreme and their frustrations and vulnerabilities have been historically overlooked. Because of their outsider status, they have essentially created their own sub-society with their own language (Ulty), ritual ceremonies, and families (because they are often excluded from their own).

Yet, the hijra community has existed in South Asia for over 4,000 years. They are celebrated in Hindu texts and had high status during the reign of the Mughal Empire. They worked as performers and bodyguards and were an active part of the Mughal Empire’s success.

When Britain invaded and colonized South Asia, they began an active attempt to eliminate hijra communities in the area because the hijra identity challenged Western morality and conceptions of gender. British colonizers classified hijra as eunuchs rather than trying to understand their identity, and stripped them of their status by only allowing them to work as domestic workers or farmers.

Colonization has had a long-lasting impact on how current South Asian societies view the hijra community. But now, the prime minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina, is increasingly turning a blind eye to the violence and injustice the hijra community faces in order to pander to rising Islamic ideals. The government’s failure to take action is, in large part, the reason hijra suffer such prejudice.

As of now, hijra do not have equal and equitable employment opportunities. They are economically exploited. Even though the government has taken rudimentary steps to provide them with jobs, they are met with discrimination. Many live in poverty and are forced to beg for money or become sex workers, further demonizing and dehumanizing them in the eyes of society. The public stigma about hijra is that they are uneducated and immoral, yet the underlying problem – the fact that they have extremely limited access to jobs and educational opportunities in the first place – is unaddressed. Their status as an extreme form of “other” has disenfranchised them most. Their social exclusion has led to their economic exclusion.

Only as recently as 2018 were hijra allowed to vote under this third gender category and in July of 2018, Bangladesh’s government appointed Tanisha Yeasmin Chaity as the first hijra official in the National Human Rights Commission. These are great steps for Bangladesh to take in securing rights for the hijra community, but there is still a long way to go.

Hijra are, essentially, the oldest transgender community in the world. Since first being introduced to the hijra community at 15, I have done research and written academic papers to call attention to the injustice of their status. Othering groups of people, punishing them for being different from the mainstream, and economically subjugating them for that difference is something I cannot reconcile with my conscience and morality. From afar, I have attempted to educate Bangladeshi communities both within the United States and Bangladesh. There are not many advocacy groups to help hijra in Bangladesh, but one notable group is called the Bangladesh Hijra Kalyan Foundation has been around for quite a while. I keep up with their advocacy activities such as bringing attention to the hijra community’s economic state and providing communities with food. In August of 2016, an NGO named Uttoran Foundation began efforts to better the social and economic statuses of hijra. Like all impoverished and segregated communities in the world, the hijra deserve allies and advocates to fight alongside them for their rights. The attitude and mindset of society has to change. We must decolonize our minds and view hijra as human beings.

LGBTQIA+ History Coronavirus The World

50 years later, the legacy of Pride lives on

The New York City Pride parade has been cancelled for the first time since its origin 50 years ago. In-person events that were scheduled to take place June 14-28, 2020 are in the process of being reimagined virtually as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Pride is a staple in New York City, as it has been since the Stonewall Riots prompted a revolution in June of 1969. The fight for gay-rights as we know it was born and catalyzed here. America in the 1960’s, and in the decades that came before it, was not at all welcoming for those in LGBTQIA+ community. In New York, any inclination of sexual activity between people of the same sex in public was considered illegal. That is, hand holding, kissing, or even dancing. This antiquated and ridiculous law was not overturned until 1980 when the People v. Ronald Onofre case was decided. 

These times were also riddled with discrimination and a series of raids among other forms of abuse on prominent gay bars and clubs in Greenwich village. Such spaces were some of the only places where members of the community could seek refuge and were finally able to express themselves openly without worry. Nonetheless, police brutality on the basis of sexual orientation and just plain bigotry was awfully common during these raids.  

On the night of June 28, 1969 obvious tensions arose between the two groups, and the patrons bravely decided to fight back against the police at the Stonewall Inn, a popular gay bar that was one of the few of its kind that opened its doors to drag queens. Notably, the first bottle of the uprising, which lasted six whole days, was thrown by a Black transgender woman, Marsha P. Johnson. The protesters were met time and time again with tear-gas and physical altercations with the police, but they persisted. Those in the street are said to have been singing slogans similar to the ones that we hear today like “gay power” and “we shall overcome.” 

It would be an injustice to ignore the contributions of the Black community to this iconic moment that started a resistance.

This moment sparked the beginning of a modern resistance that is beautifully laced with love and versatility. 

It would be an injustice, however, to ignore the coincidences of this past that align with the current civil rights demonstrations happening across the world, declaring defiantly that Black lives matter. Both movements continue to feature a spotlight on recognizing basic human rights while also condemning police practices that terrorize the communities they are meant “to serve and protect.” So much of American history is patterned with this same struggle, consistency, and perseverance. Not to mention that it was, in fact, Black women who spearheaded this revolution 51 years ago, and 51 years later Black women are again at the forefront of a movement seeking to eradicate systemic inequality. We must not let this go unnoticed.

The year after what has come to be known as the Stonewall riots, June of 1970, marked the first ever Pride parade in New York City. Though it took a long time to come, the LGBTQIA+ community has certainly overcome much of the hate and marginalization that has been thrown its way. But, they’re still fighting. To this day, new non-discrimination protections are being fought for and passed all because of their constant effort and strength. 

Since then, New York City and its Pride parade has been a proven safe-haven for vulnerable and battered communities alike. It is a time for people to come together and celebrate themselves as phoenixes who have risen way above the ashes while also acknowledging the slashed history that they are eternally attached to. 

Just last year, New York City hosted world WorldPride and some 2 million people were in attendance. This in and of itself is a testament to the impact that the revolution has had, and continues to have, all over the world. Such ever-clear and unrelenting perseverance is nothing less of an inspiration. 

Today, as the coronavirus runs its raging course throughout the United States, New York City has been noticeably hit the hardest. With nearly 212,000 confirmed cases and over 20,000 deaths thus far in the City alone, New Yorkers are being urged to remain full of the hope and drive that makes us so thick-skinned in the first place. But, this is not an easy feat, especially given the turmoil that seems to be slowly encapsulating every bit of our daily lives. Once again, we have set out in a movement that looks to challenge history and change it for good. For the LGBTQIA+ community, that anxiety is heightened tremendously. 

The absence of the iconic Pride parade will certainly have a dramatic financial impact on the people and businesses that have come to rely on it. Not to mention the mental toll that will surely come along without a break from mobilizing, resource, or strategy efforts concerning the ongoing, and seemingly never-ending, fight for equal rights. It is certainly an all-hands-on-deck sort of thing. This fight is fought every single day, with the smallest actions sometimes making the most noise, and none of it should go unnoticed. 

The contributions that the LGBTQIA+ community has made to both the City and to the greater struggle for equality are undeniable. So, the decision to cancel Pride this year was not easy. But, it was definitely necessary. However, just because the pandemic prevents us from physically coming together this year, it does not mean that the spirit of Pride in New York City won’t be felt just the same.

An online Global Pride will be broadcasted for 24-hours straight on June 27, starting in the east and moving west. Each local or participating pride chapter is hoped to have an allotment of 15-minutes of airtime each, depending on individual time zones, for performances and speeches by grand marshals. This is a community that has always come together in the face of adversity and this year is no different. My wish is for this to be yet another example of the LGBTQIA+ communities resilience that should be honored and remembered, especially in a context of human rights.