so i saw your post about fire weapons and you said flaming arrows don't work bc of totally logical reasons. i was wondering why they're so common in tv shows and movies if they don't actually work? historically, were they ever actually a thing people used?
It’s called Rule of Cool. They look good, they look neat, they look dangerous, and they make the audience go “oooh”. Hollywood is a terrible place to look if you want reality, Rule of Cool is the decision making process behind 90% of all combat in all movies ever made.
The most important thing you can ever learn when looking at and consuming any entertainment media (or any media, really) is that unless specifically stated it’s relationship to reality is tangential at best. Real violence, for example, is fast, brutal, confusing, often boring to watch, and provides little in the way of entertainment value. They just aren’t fun to watch. You know what is fun to watch on screen though? The crazy ass Flynning duels from the Errol Flynn movies. Those big, huge, wide sword movements which make zero sense from any rational combat perspective but are easy for the viewer’s eye to follow.
Television, movies, and even books are about creating an entertaining experience, that is their primary goal. Any relationship to reality they have is at the direction of whoever is in charge of production and dependent on how much they cared about being faithful to what they’ve drawn inspiration from. This isn’t just combat either, the vast majority of ships seen in science fiction would be unable to function in space because they’re relying on rules that require either liquid or an atmosphere.
Movies want to convince you that what you’re watching is real, so you embrace the setting. They want cool fights, not real ones. That’s their stated goal: entertainment. Never trust entertainment to show you reality.
However, that doesn’t mean these movies and television shows and novels are lacking in value. They have entertainment value.
There are entire subsets of weapon categories fabricated wholesale by Hollywood purely because they look good on screen. See the swords wielded during the Golden Era of Hollywood for reference. They aren’t “real” weapons, they’re fabricated. This doesn’t change the fact they are perfectly suited to their purpose which is to look good on screen.
Audiences have become obsessed with “realism” and “realistic” more as a means of pointing out why one piece of media is superior to another when in reality neither of them are connected to a world that actually exists. In fannish conversations, “realism” has about as much weight as “chemistry”, it’s a vague definition used to discourage conversation or alternate approaches that violate a specific worldview.
Unless the creator has specifically stated an intent toward historical accuracy (and is backed up by historians), you can assume nothing you see on screen is “real” or has a basis in reality. Outside, you know, the stunt team and the specialists they hired to put on the performance.
Entertainment is built on being enjoyable and fun with just enough basis in reality to convince you to buy in and suspend your disbelief. I just happen to like knowledge because the more I know, the better I am at creating and choreographing convincing falsehoods.
Writers are liars. Our primary purpose when telling stories is to entertain, and a flaming arrow to the neophyte’s eye seems a lot more deadly than a regular arrow. Also, flaming arrows mean the prop team gets to figure out how to “safely” set thatch roofs on fire.
The director gets an epic fire filled scene of rampant destruction to sell to the audience and the prop team gets to have lots of fun.