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Old History in New Bottles


True stories are one of the most popular sources of script ideas in Hollywood. But some are meaningfully less true than others. Discuss with your team: how much should filmmakers be allowed to change about an event or those involved in it before a film can no longer be billed as “based on a true story”?

This article looks at the trends in the movie business and answers if real life is the best and most popular source of inspiration. Reality or fantasy?  

1) Of the movies released in American cinemas during 1996, only 7.7% were based on real life events, compared with 27.2% twenty years later.  Original screenplays have held steady (around 50%) meaning that it’s adaptions from other sources that have proportionally declined.

2) Whilst the number of movies based on real life events has grown threefold in the past 20 years, their share of revenue have increased slowly.  In the five years between 1996 and 2000 (inclusive), real life stories took an average of 5.5% of the US box office.  In the five years between 2011 to 2015 (inclusive), it was 10.2%.

3) The large increase in real life movies has mostly been in lower-budget filmmaking, with only 2.9% of movies budgeted over $100m being based on actual events, such as Deepwater Horizon, Alexander, Pearl Harbor, The Perfect Storm, The Aviator, Ali and American Gangster.

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4) Within fiction, drama movies have the highest share of real life events. Interestingly, romantic comedies are the major genre least likely to be based on real life.

5) This also differs by country. For example: Between 1996 and 2015, Canadian filmmakers based their movies on real life events 24% of the time.

Art mimics life, and that's also the case for movies! Sometimes, people prefer fantasy, science-fiction and there are some that favor poignant realistic narratives. With the growth in AI technology, is there a push towards fantasy? or will these tech be used to bring reality to the silver screen? 

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Hollywood loves true stories and that's because audiences love them too. People are naturally curious about "what really happend?" So, many movies use the true story tag as an easy marketing tool. This article goes through the different types of "true stories".  There are four different types of true stories that screenwriters can research, develop, and write. And each of them comes with its own freedoms, restrictions, constraints, and benefits.

1) "Based on" a true story: the characters, storylines, and a majority of the scenes  within the script are primarily based on actual occurrences.   127 Hours, Schindler’s List, The Right Stuff, Lincoln, and Apollo13 are excellent examples that did their best to depict the actual true stories.

2) "Inspired by" a true story:  more creative liberties are taken, including creating fictional characters, events and cherry pick what facts to emphasize for the greatest cinematic effect. The Pursuit of Happyness is a perfect example of writers taking the central core of the true story and character and using them to launch an otherwise fictional cinematic story with a few facts mixed in.

3) Based on "true events":  Names, people, locations, and happenings may be made up within the historical event's confines as a setting. Titanic is a primary example of this, although the "based on true events" is implied and never really used in the film's marketing. Often screenwriters created fictional characters as the main protagonists and antagonists and used historical characters to accentuate the historical legitimacy of the story

4) Inspired on "true events":  These scripts take a true event and tell a cinematic story with nearly all fictional characters and fictional macro events. Top Gun never used the tag, but the feature was inspired by the true event(s) of a real flight school called U.S. Navy Fighter Weapons School —  or TOPGUN — formerly based at Miramar Naval Air Station in San Diego. 

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Intellectual Property is highly desirable in Hollywood — even more so than true stories. The Public Domain refers to properties available for anyone to utilize, thanks to copyright expiration, copyright loss due to loopholes and mistakes, death of the copyright owner, or failure for the copyright owner to file for the rights or extension to those rights. Having a script based on intellectual property increases the chances of getting noticed. Disney does this all the time. Aladdin, Cinderella, Frozen, and so many others are all stories that exist in the public domain, but other famous stories, like Dracula and Robin Hood have also been made into movies. Important for budding screenwriters: Copyright has expired for all works published in the United States before 1923. In other words, any is free to use it in the U.S. without permission. So, while Nors gods are public domaine, having your character based on a comic version created by someone else is not. 

If something terrible happens to you—say, your dog is taken by an alien—it won’t be long before producers are knocking at your door to buy the rights to your story. At some point, they might also knock on the alien’s door (or jail cell) and offer them money to share their side of the story. Works based on true crimes raise questions about who should be able to profit from them. Discuss with your team: should storytellers be permitted to draw inspiration—and generate revenue—from the pain of real people? If so, should the revenue be shared in some way with the victims?


“I remember thinking, ‘Well, what you did to me was nothing like CSI,” survivor and victims advocate Patricia Wenskunas says. “But did you really get your ideas from watching some crime show?’”  

But on April 4, 2002, Kelavos her personal training showed up at her home, as if it were normal.  In a phone interview, Wenskunas recalls what followed: “[He] came into my home. Then he drugged me,

The genre isn’t exploding because it’s new. Historians trace the commodification of our cultural crime fetish to as early as the mid-16th century, when the practice of pamphleteering collided with increased literacy rates throughout Europe. Though readership was still limited to aristocrats with enough money and time for such diversions, gruesome stories of murder and assault. In the century that followed, sensational crime pamphlets and magazines soared with confessions of high-profile prisoners and details of the supposed evidence at witch trials.  How the genre got its name isn’t known precisely, but by the time Random House published Truman Capote’s nonfiction In Cold Blood in 1966, “true crime” was a widely accepted literary term.

Dr. Amanda Vicary, a social psychologist and chair of Illinois Wesleyan University’s psychology department, studies the proliferation of modern true crime. She says the genre has grown so rapidly in the past ten years, measuring its size and reach, at least in any quantitative sense, isn’t feasible. Vicary, like other experts in her field, pegs the start of the 2010s true crime boom to two projects: Serial (2014) and Making a Murderer (2015). Hosted and narrative by Sarah Koenig, Serial raked in an estimated 40 million downloads in its first three months of streaming, Making a Murderer is  a true crime crime documentary television series written and directed by Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos. The show tells the story of Steven Avery, a man from Manitowoc County, Wisconsin, who served 18 years in prison (1985–2003) after his wrongful conviction for the sexual assault and attempted murder of Penny Beerntsen. He was later charged with and convicted of the 2005 murder of Teresa Halbach.

It later became widely known that ahead of Making a Murderer’s release, victim Teresa Halbach’s family spoke out against the project in a statement. Similar statements were made by the family of victim Hae Min Lee following the release of Serial. Both cases, as it turned out, had been covered at length in the true crime space before — and the families’ wishes that their loved ones be left out of any future entertainment programs had gone ignored.


wrapped my face and head in Saran wrap, beat me black and blue, the whole time screaming that he was going to kill me. Then he threatened to kill my son.”  Wenskunas’ son was not home, and she was ultimately able to break free — leaping from a 12-foot balcony and fleeing to a neighbor’s house to call 9-1-1. The culprit eventually only got 120 days in jail and Wenskunas has made her experience central to her life’s work. She is now the CEO and founder of the nonprofit Crime Survivors Inc.

The true crime genre — the business of packaging, marketing, and making money off of stories like Wenskunas’ — is growing at a remarkable speed. In the digital age, true crime exists across virtually every medium, reaching more people than ever before. Documentary films, TV series, podcasts, Twitter accounts, Facebook groups, Reddit forums, and even YouTube and TikTok channels have been built around the subject.

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Still, there’s no denying true crime has educational value — and, for better or worse, most Americans’ understanding of the justice system is forged in the entertainment space. In a 2017 study examining the real-world effects of crime-centric entertainment (CSI - effect), Vicary asked 323 of her undergraduate students how they might break into a home without being arrested. “What I found is that the kids who watched a lot of CSI-type shows were better at planning their crime,” Vicary says. 

With few exceptions, the sensationalized genre advances a profoundly inaccurate vision of the crime landscape — one that almost always disadvantages Black people. Not only does it portend a rising criminal tide entirely unsubstantiated by statistics, but it also skews our understanding of where crime happens and to whom. Black women, for example, are majorly missing from crime shows as victims of violent crime. In sociology, the phenomenon of disparate media coverage for white victims, as opposed to Black, brown, or Asian ones, is known as “Missing White Woman Syndrome", meaning a white woman goes missing and the media goes crazy, but a Black woman disappears and reporters everywhere pass up the story. 

But in the end, like so many others, audience must grapple with a vexing problem: When do empathy and explanation stray into exploitation? Is the entertainment doing the public a service or is it a vice? And how much do good intentions matter, if the end result has the potential to hurt more than help? To understand more, we urge you to read the full article. 

In Makoto Shinkai’s 2022 film Suzume, a deadly 2011 tsunami in Japan was implied to be one of many natural disasters caused by a large worm from another dimension. Even when the relationship between a film and a real-world tragedy is wrapped in fantasy, someone watching it might still be triggered to relive their trauma. Discuss with your team: should filmmakers avoid topics that might cause too many viewers to think about their own past suffering or personal losses? Or is this kind of self-censorship ultimately harmful to audiences? What about trigger warnings?

The anime director wove a message of healing from the 2011 Tohoku tsunami into his “massive entertainment spectacle”.

Makoto Shinkai’s new anime adventure “Suzume” is a coming-of-age tale about a teenager who lost her mother in the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and about the many ways natural disasters. Interestingly, there’s a chase scene between a talking cat and a man transformed into a walking three-legged chair.  The trailer. 


In “Suzume,” a high school student named Suzume Iwato stumbles into a high-stakes adventure when she meets Souta, a young man searching for mysterious doors among the abandoned ruins left behind by earthquakes and other natural disasters. It turns out that Japan’s earthquakes are being caused by an enormous, otherworldly worm who breaks out through the doors, and it’s Souta’s responsibility to find and seal the doors, at least until that talking cat traps him in a tiny piece of child’s furniture in Suzume’s room. As Suzume and Souta travel up Japan’s eastern coast to seal the doors and find a way to change Souta back to normal, the young girl finds herself making new friends everywhere she goes and draws closer to Souta. 

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Shinkai revealed that he created “Suzume” was a balancing act between fun and bleakness. Even 12 years later, the Fukushima nuclear disaster has left an indelible impact on Japan. One dramatic scene is when Suzume closes the door that lets the worm into the world by praying. It is like the Japanese custom of going to shrines and praying and also part of the grieving process. 

“Trigger warnings” — or the rather synonymous “content warnings,” “distress warnings,” and “content notes” — have become a ubiquitous feature of today's social media. From content creators to news media to stage performers, almost everyone has used them — or, at least, felt the pressure to do so. Yet, netizens continue to be firmly divided on the value of the practice.

However well-intended, its effectiveness remains largely under-researched and unproven. Some research does suggest that trigger warnings may be able to reduce distress — but only very, very marginally. In fact,  a 2018 paper, though, concluded that “trigger warnings” were not only largely

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 ineffective but also, in some cases, amplified the anxiety people reported in response to distressing material. Another study from 2021 noted that trigger warnings can ultimately prolong the adverse impacts of recalling painful memories; perhaps, because they tell our brains to expect something negative and, in doing so, worsen the distress we feel. Further, “trigger warnings are countertherapeutic because they encourage avoidance of reminders of trauma, and avoidance maintains PTSD,” says Richard McNally, co-author of the 2018 study and author of Remembering Trauma. Payton Jones, who co-authored the study with McNally, also believes it can be “invalidating” to trauma survivors when they’re told — over and over again — that the warnings are helping when, in reality, they aren’t.

Not all experts agree. Others believe that it gives people a warning and a chance for trauma victims to take the necessary steps, including taking medication. Also, people might feel trauma fatigued and it gives people a chance to avoid the anxiety. So, who benefits? For many others, though, using trigger warnings could simply be a mindless replication of trends — rooted in either virtue signaling, or the fear of being “canceled" in a "woke" sensitive society that is constantly being monitored on social media. 

Also released in 2022, The Woman King told the tale of a West African kingdom, Dahomey, which battled a rival kingdom that collaborated with white colonizers on the slave trade. Critics were quick to note that, in the real world, Dahomey itself had profited from enslaving people and selling them. The plot dropped this complexity in favor of clear lines between good and evil. Research other movies that have sparked similar controversies—such as Braveheart, Pocahontas, and 300—then discuss with your team: is real history too complicated to reconstruct for popular audiences without taking misleading shortcuts? Is every work of historical fiction really a work of alternate history?

The Woman King premiered in 2022 tells of a real historical story few people were aware of: an army of African women warriors called the Agoodjies from the kingdom of Dahomey in present day Benin during the 18th to 19th century. According to critics, "This movie is absolutely worth seeing. But it’s best viewed with the awareness of its significant alterations of history. " The film features a star-studded cast including Viola Davis as General Nanesca and John Boyega as King Ghezo and is directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood. Despite the awareness it raises for an inspiring period in history about female strength and African culture, critics and historians have also called to boycott it for its misrepresentation of the African slave trade.

Julius Tennon, a producer on the movie and Davis’ husband, "It’s history, but we have to take license. We have to entertain people." Personally, we think most of the global audience is unfamiliar with this topic, and it widens our appreciation for African culture, however, a movie should not be the only way that students learn history. After all, movies are made for entertainment, and history is not.     


The criticism against the Woman King including:

1) Far right conservatives condemns it for glorifying Black women murdering White men.

2) Historians condemns it for how it depicts the savagery of Dahomey, especially the annual rituals (aka human sacrifice)

3) Even modern day slave descendants criticize the movie for how it shows an African kingdom that was actively involved in slave brutality.

4) Inaccuracies of King Ghezo as anti-slavery, when slavery was perpetuated by the Agoodjies capturing prisoners of war.

5) Simplifies history as good versus evil for the sake of entertainment, African women against Portuguese slave traders. 

Braveheart is an American epic historical drama film directed and produced by Mel Gibson, who also portrays its central character, Sir William Wallace, a late-13th century Scottish warrior who led the Scots in the First War of Scottish Independence against King Edward I of England. It's a very epic movie, but probably not an accurate way to learn history as there are many inaccuracies and Wallace has been overtly glorified. 

Randall Wallace, who wrote the screenplay, has acknowledged Blind Harry's 15th-century epic poem The Acts and Deeds of Sir William Wallace, Knight of Elderslie as a major inspiration for the film. In defending his script, Randall Wallace has said, "Is Blind Harry true? I don't know. I know that it spoke to my heart and that's what matters to me, that it spoke to my heart."


Blind Harry's poem is not regarded as historically accurate. While the movie based some historically inaccurate events from Blind Harry (e.g. the hanging of Scottish nobles at the start), there are large parts that are based neither on history nor Blind Harry (e.g. Wallace's affair with Princess Isabella). Many critics describes Braveheart as a film that "almost totally sacrifices historical accuracy for epic adventure". It has been described as one of the most historically inaccurate modern films." despite winning 10 Academy Awards, including costume design (completely wrong) and screenplay. 


Produced by Walt Disney, Pocahontas is an American animated musical historical drama film based on the life of Powhatan woman Pocahontas and the arrival of English colonial settlers from the Virginia Company. The film romanticizes Pocahontas's encounter with John Smith and her legendary saving of his life.  The film's historical inaccuracies and artistic license received polarized responses. Pocahontas' real name was Matoaka. "Pocahontas" was only a nickname, and it can variously be translated to "little wanton", "playful one", "little brat", or "the naughty one". Pocahontas was around 10 or 11 at the time John Smith arrived with the Virginia Company in 1607, in contrast to her portrayal as a young adult in the film. Historically, there is no evidence of a romantic relationship emerging between Pocahontas and John Smith. Whether or not Pocahontas saved Smith's life is debated.


300 is a 2006 American epic historical war action film based on the 1998 comic book series of the same name. It is a fictionalized retelling of the Battle of Thermopylae in the Greco-Persian Wars. The plot revolves around King Leonidas played by Gerard Butler, who leads 300 Spartans into battle against the Persian "God-King" Xerxes and his invading army of more than 300,000 soldiers. The movie is somewhat in the fantasy realm, so inaccuracies were expected. For example, other Greek poleis joined the 300 Spartan men and totaled somewhere between 5,000 and 6,000 total Greek troops. Cambridge professor Paul Cartlege praised the film for its portrayal of "the Spartans' heroic code" and of "the key role played by women in backing up, indeed reinforcing, the male martial code of heroic honour", but he expressed reservations about its "'West' (goodies) vs 'East' (baddies) polarization".

The Apple TV series For All Mankind combines archival and original footage to forge (pun intended) an alternate history of the world, one in which the Soviet Union landed the first person on the moon. Consider this newsreel from the show, recapping the late 1990s and early 2000s. Discuss with your team: does it have the quality known as verisimilitude—that is, does it feel real? Does it seem better or worse than what happened in our own world, or just different? Would there be value in constructing “living alternate history” museums for people to visit?

For All Mankind is an American science fiction TV drama on Apple TV+ that illustrates an alternative reality where the Soviets won the Space Race. Life seems similar, yet not exactly the same - verisimilitude. Is there a value to creating an alternative history museum so visitors can seriously reflect on the impact of historical events? We think it might confuse young people who are not familiar with real history. But, these type of alternate reality shows are definitely intriguing. Watch the video and see if you can identify some of the distortions from the news montage.

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Across a wide tapestry of novels, the Canadian writer Guy Gavriel Kay has explored a history much like our own, but with a twist of the fantastic. The Earth is the Earth, but there are two moons for the Soviets to land on. All roads still lead to Rome, except Rome is Rhodias, so all roads lead to consonance instead. Kay’s method: to describe the world through the eyes of the people who lived in any given era. “If I write about a time inspired by the Tang Dynasty and they believed in ghosts, I will have ghosts in the book,” he says. Read this excerpt from his recent work, All the Seas of the World, then check out the interview here. Discuss with your team: how different are the roles of an historian, a writer of historical fiction, and a writer of historical fantasy?


WSC loves this guy. He was in last year's curriculum too! Kay is a fantasy master who sets his stories in historical times. His most notable works are "The Fionavar Tapestry", a trilogy set in King Arthur's time and "Tigana" set in a world similar to the Renaissance Italy. His novels range from Spanish Reconquista to Tang Dynasty China - an interesting range.  They are full of mythology and legends, which link our understanding of historical times with a world of imagination through dynamic characters and vivid stories.  Here is an interesting interview with him talking about writing style and aspirations.

Set in the same Renaissance Mediterranean-inspired world as  Children of Earth and Sky and A Brightness Long Ago, Kay's new novel follows Rafel ben Natan and Nadian Bint Dhiyan, merchants and privateers on a mission to assassinate the khalif of Abeneven. The page-turning excerpt introduces the young assassins and their conflicted history, stuck between religious war and culture of Middle East and Europe. 

A historian's responsibility is to report history as truthfully as possible, with facts and interpret first-hand accounts. There should be no bias and the purposes are educational and informative. A historical fiction writer adds a story that links the facts together or tells a side of the story often forgotten. In that sense, the fiction writer does fill in the gaps or inspires us to reflect on the conditions through a personal lens. However, as the purpose of the novel is to entertain, no matter how accurate the setting or historical events, the truth could be twisted or exaggerated to attract and appeal to the readers, such as more action, romance, and complicated relationships.

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Master storytellers do this seamlessly, linking the fiction and history together for a deeper artistic appreciation. Check out his interview about how he comes up with amazing characters and plotlines. He explains how historical fiction starting in the 1950s began to cover minorities (people often less covered by history, written by mostly White men), meaning female roles and lower-class citizens.  To get information on these characters, authors would search historical records and other uncommon means to find clues to build out their story. He gave the example of discovering that tailors had higher status than other craftsmen because they were able to enter the homes of aristocracy and he decided to set his main character's father as a tailor who would someone by coincidence find favor for his son.  

"I write history with a quarter turn towards the fantastical," Kay shared. In his new book he returns to 15th century Italy, leading to the Italian Wars, and particularly the feud between military/mercenary captains Federico da Montefeltro and Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta, who worked hard to avoid conflict for the sake of economy.

A quick summary: It begins as a narrative recollection by Guidanio Cerra, an aging councillor nicknamed Danio who in his youth was admitted to a prestigious school despite being a tailor's son. This leads him to meet the chief steward of nobleman Count Uberto, and later a woman named Adria Ripoli. The latter is daughter of a duke, and plans to assassinate The Beast. From Danio's recollection the plot shifts attention to a healer named Jelena, and subsequently to a political conflict between Folco Cino d’Acorsi, who is the uncle to Adria, and Teobaldo Monticola di Remigio. Danio's narrative describes the military and personal clashes between Cino and Monticola.


Take a yellow brick detour to explore El Otro Oz, a musical adaptation of The Wizard of Oz featuring a Dorothy (Dora) struggling to accept her own Mexican heritage—and her dog Toquito. Compare the music and storylines of both versions, then discuss with your team: is retelling old stories from new cultural perspectives a worthwhile pursuit?

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This bilingual musical and New York Times Critic’s Pick by Mando Alvarado, Tommy Newman, and Jaime Lozano, returns in a reimagined production! Click your heels together tres veces (3 times) and take a transformative journey with this salsa, merengue, and Mexican folk-infused musical inspired by The Wizard of Oz. As her fifteenth birthday approaches, Dora, a contemporary Latiné teenager, struggles with her family’s ideas about tradition and dreads her impending quinceañera! But, when Dora gets swept away to a strange new land, she learns how to celebrate her unique rhythm and embrace her cultural identity.

From the highlights, it seems like an exciting and action-packed show. However, the combination of cultural conflict and Oz's traditional finding yourself theme doesn't meld well. It seems distracting, as if purposely mixing two ideas to attract more viewers. A good classic sometimes should be just left alone.

Consider Ray Bradbury’s 1950 short story, “The Veldt”, about a family whose nursery brings whatever they imagine to life—like a Star Trek holodeck with its safety protocols disabled. Things don’t end well for them; the moral seems to be that people need more real-life experiences and less dependence on technology. Discuss with your team: does the story’s message still feel relevant nearly 75 years later?

"The Veldt" is a science fiction short story by American author Ray Bradbury. Originally, it debutted as "The World the Children Made" in the September 23, 1950, issue of The Saturday Evening Post. The theme of over-reliance of technology and the breakdown of moral is still very relevant today, or even more so, as the young generation grows up with social media and AI. In the story, the Hadleys, a mother and father struggle with their technologically advanced home "HappyHome" taking over their role as parents, and their children becoming uncooperative as a result of their lack of discipline and addiction to a virtual reality nursery that fulfills all of their fantasies. 

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The parents, George and Lydia, wonder if the automated house's functions have rendered their roles as parents superfluous. They are also perplexed that the nursery seems stuck on a wild African veldt in which lions eat what they believe to be animals. They decide to turn off their HappyHome and move away to the country, but their addicted children resist and begs them to visit the nursery one last time. When George and Lydia come to fetch them, the children lock their parents into the nursery with the pride of lions, and the two realize that the screams belonged to simulated versions of themselves. Shortly after, David comes by to look for George and Lydia. He finds the children enjoying lunch in the nursery and sees the lions and vultures eating carcasses in the distance, which are implied to be the parents. 

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The Holodeck in popular sci-fi series Star Trek is Hollywood's answer to virtual reality before it was a real thing. For a look, see this clip.  But, Hollywood goes one step ahead and gives it the power to recreate items that humans can actually interact with. The holodeck consists of two main subsystems, a holographic imagery system and a matter conversion system (TNG Technical Manual). The imagery system, with the omnidirectional holodiode (OHD), provides a projection of light and can be used to display

objects that are not supposed to interact with the holodeck users and are usually "far" away from them. A second version of the OHD can be employed to project a forcefield, thereby allowing interaction. The matter conversion system, on the other hand, is used for anything that is likely to be touched, eaten, drunk or taken out. This explains why some objects created in the holodeck just disappear when they are taken outside, while others continue to exist. In Trek Next Generation: "The Big Goodbye", for instance, the mobsters who tried to leave the holodeck vanished a few meters outside, whereas the holographic lipstick remained on Picard after he left in the same episode.


Although the holodeck has proven helpful in solving engineering problems or criminal cases, its principal purpose appears to be recreation. Anyone of the crew of the Enterprise-D or Voyager seems to be allowed to use the holodeck any time, and without any special precautions. Even children repeatedly enter the holodeck all alone. This is deemed possible because the safety protocols preclude the creation of any objects or any situation that may be hazardous or even lethal. The safety protocols, however, fail frequently, thereby putting the users in great danger. 


There is a common pattern to most of the above incidents and often "expectedly/unexpectedly" three malfunctions almost always occur at the same time:

  • The holodeck program can't be terminated.

  • The holodeck doors can't be opened.

  • The holodeck safety protocols are offline


Most of the above incidents under the following assumptions.

  • Each object in the holodeck library needs at least one model on which the holographic recreation can be based.

  • An object can be represented by a physical model that emulates all aspects of its working principle in the real world. 

  • A replicated weapon in the holodeck does not qualify as safe.

  • The holographic modeling may be limited to the look and feel of the object, which could be accomplished by projections and forcefields. 

  • The safety protocol usually enforces the use of simple and safe projection.

  • The holodeck knows what could be possibly dangerous because there is a category of objects in the library labeled as "potentially dangerous".

  • Whenever new objects are added to the library, the human user usually decides whether it may become dangerous. In addition, the holodeck would take into account empirical data. 

For the poems (and one speech) below, consider how each reimagines something or someone from the past or the present day. Discuss with your team: when is poetry the best medium for better understanding that which no longer exists, or could exist but doesn’t yet?

This is a cautionary poem about the dangers of unintentional accidents and kids just playing. It describes a mother busy baking and children playing trying to reenact a science experiment. Although the poem ends before the "electrocution" we assume the child is injured or dies. The happy and idyllic tone makes the tragedy all the more surprising. Yet, it seems like an excuse, instead of remorse.

Yeats is considered one of the most influential poets of the 20th century and he won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1923. "Think where man’s glory most begins and ends, And say my glory was I had such friends." This is the closing lines of this eulogy/poem that describes Yate's experience going through the Municipal Gallery in Dublin and seeing all the historical figures and recalling how they lived. It is full of nostalgia and thankfulness for the friends he had over the years.


"VI. (An image out of Spenser and the common tongue). John Synge, I and Augusta Gregory, thought All that we did, all that we said or sang Must come from contact with the soil, from that Contact everything Antaeus-like grew strong. We three alone in modern times had brought Everything down to that sole test again, Dream of the noble and the beggar-man.


VII And here’s John Synge himself, that rooted man, ‘Forgetting human words,’ a grave deep face. You that would judge me, do not judge alone This book or that, come to this hallowed place Where my friends’ portraits hang and look thereon; Ireland’s history in their lineaments trace. Think where man’s glory most begins and ends, And say my glory was I had such friends."

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Sandburg was an American poet, biographer, journalist, and editor. He won three Pulitzer Prizes: two for his poetry and one for his biography of Abraham Lincoln. His poem Buffalo Dusk has a nostalgic theme of a time when buffaloes roamed, and Native Americans dwelled on the Great Plains.  The poem follows a symmetric structure that mimics of cycle of change and the loss of the environment caused by American settlement.


John Milton Hay (October 8, 1838 – July 1, 1905) was an American statesman and official whose career in government span almost half a century. Beginning as a private secretary and an assistant for Abraham Lincoln, he became a diplomat. He served as United States Secretary of State under Presidents William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt. Hay was also a biographer of Lincoln and wrote poetry and other literature throughout his life. He was posted in Spain as a diplomat.

The poem "My Castle in Spain" describes a man's longing and homesickness for a castle in Spain. It is full of riches, history and culture. Yet, the these are nothing compared to the woman, the Queen, who dwells there.  Ironically, he moved to Spain after Isabella II was deposed and participated in the Spanish American War. He compares her to the virtues of beauty, wisdom, purity and honesty. Sadly, the woman is "unconscious" as she waits for his return. Perhaps he is a soldier in one of the tragic wars that Hay's witnessed, and she is the dutiful love that died waiting for his return, which was all too late.

Robert G. Ingersoll was a politician and prominent orator. He made an astonishing $3,500 a night for his brilliant and witty speeches exposing orthodox (religious) superstitions. His very cool 3 stanza poem talks about going to the grave of Napolean and imagining the former glory of this military genius. In paragraph one he describes a "gold and gilt tomb - fit almost for a dead deity." Then in stanza 2, with a series of 13 "I saw him -" he captures Napolean's achievements and failures.


"I saw him walking upon the banks of the Seine, contemplating suicide. I saw him at Toulon—I saw him putting down the mob in the streets of Paris—I saw him at the head of the army of Italy—I saw him crossing the bridge of Lodi with the tri-color in his hand—". In the final stanza, he reflects about Napolean's personal losses of love and how his acts resulted in widows and orphans. He compares Napolean to country peasants who enjoy nature and dies loved by his family and children. In the final lines he exclaims how all that glory is worthless - "I would rather have been that man and gone down to the tongueless silence of the dreamless dust, than to have been that imperial impersonation of force and murder, known as 'Napoleon the Great."

Well-known in her native Poland, Wisława Szymborska received international recognition when she won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1996. In awarding the prize, the Academy praised her “poetry that with ironic precision allows the historical and biological context to come to light in fragments of human reality.” Collections of her poems that have been translated into English. Readers of Szymborska’s poetry have often noted its wit, irony, and deceptive simplicity. Her poetry examines domestic details and occasions, playing these against the backdrop of history. In this poem she describes the poignant moment of frantic victim captured by photography as if suspended in air during September 11 terrorist attack. 

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Toa Payoh is a town in Singapore and one of the places to go through a dramatic transformation from village to urban center in the last 100 years. Koh Buck Song is a prominent Singaporean poet, popular columnist, and political writer with many achievements.  Many of his poems talk about Singapore unique culture and modernization. In this poem he seems to eulogize the loss of the "good old days" and how it is hard to keep up with the pace of development. 

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According to, Norman Dubie is a "poet's poet" and one of America's best kept literary secrets. While many contemporary poems are written in a confessional style, a few of his poems are written from the point of view of famous people in history.  Here is the link to the Encyclopedia article that gives a summary of the powerful poem. The poem takes the point of view of Nicholas II, who addresses his mother, Maria Fyodorovna Romanova. He is the heir of the Romanov family and the last Czar of Russia.


The setting is after the royal family is being held by the Bolshevik revolutionaries. The narrator describes Ilya an imaginary character who assembles a "choir of mutes". This is an oxymoron and symbolizes the Czar's powerlessness during the revolution and subsequent World War I. In the poem the Czar regrets Russia going to war with Japan because Ilya dies and was lost to the family. His account humanizes Nicholas II,  as later he proclaims his newfound happiness now that he is not Czar.  He finds happiness in reconnecting with his estranged wife and teaching fractions to school children. The end of the poem foreshadows the execution of the Czar's family, hinting that this may be their last letter.  

The theme of the poem shows how the idea of class is as much a psychological as a social structure and how people’s perception of class is ingrained in their behavior. There are many conflicts in this poem that strike at your heart, from the revolutionary soldier calling the Czar "Great Father" to the Czar's daughter flirting with the soldiers and he sees nothing wrong with it. The paradoxes fill us with confusion and reflection.

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Margret Atwood is one of the most prolific and highly regarded writers of our generation with many books of poetry and novels. Many people know her because of the TV series "The Handmaid's Tale" about a dystopian future.

“This is a Photograph of Me” opens The Circle Game,  Margaret Atwood’s 1964 collection of poetry. As the speaker of this free verse poem describes a blurry photograph to the audience, the image's implications continuously transform. This poem also has a bleak and tragic tone about the photograph of a person who drowned. The tragedy lies in how obvious yet unnoticed the death was in the photo and how people are caught up by the world which is 'smeared', 'blurred', 'distorted' and overlooked. As such, the photograph becomes a means of exploring the malleability of history and truth, particularly with regard to the suppression of marginalized voices. In doing so, it sets the stage for the rest of The Circle Game, which centers female perspectives and experiences that have long been subsumed under male-dominated histories. The poem’s short, uneven lines and stanzas mirror the fragmented, ever-changing nature of history. For more details and analysis.  It is one of those haunting poems that evokes emotion with a sense of loss and revelation - simply timeless.  

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