In the eyes of us jaded 21st-Century future folks, the past always seems like a more innocent place, filled with ice cream socials, long walks in parks, and playing games to distract one another from the Plague. Back then, people were at their happiest when they could indulge in some sweet, wholesome fun for the whole family. But activities that we might consider boring or lame weren't always as wholesome or innocent as we picture them. Pick even the tamest weekend activity out of the divorced dad's guidebook, and you'll find that the nearest equivalent in olden days was a horrific, inhuman distortion of what we have today. For instance ...
6In Elizabethan England, Instead Of Going To The Zoo, People Watched Bears Fight To The Death
Zoos don't get enough credit for what wondrous, insane places they are. A mere few hundred years ago, if people wanted to see a bear, they had to rub themselves in salmon and take a one-way trip to the nearest woods. Now the weirdest, fiercest creatures are hanging out right here in our cities, next to the good Starbucks. But in Renaissance-times England, people weren't satisfied with simply getting to look at a dangerous animal like a bear. Instead, they wanted to see it in its natural, predatory state. That's why they chained them to stakes, unleashed packs of vicious dogs on them, and cheered as they watched the blood flow. Ah, the simple pleasures of going to the zoo.
via Elizabethan Era
All bears grow chains and stakes after cubhood. It's only natural.
In England, the baiting of bears (and bulls when they'd run out of bears) wasn't some secret underground thing, like modern-day dog fighting. Instead, it was a pastime enjoyed by all. Contemporaries described it as "pleazaunt," and the government declared that it was "a sweet and comfortable recreation fitted for the solace and comfort of a peaceable people" -- the kind of "peaceable people" who enjoy animal blood sports.
It was part of the fabric of English society, and beggars and noblemen alike visited the special "bear gardens" to watch bears fight for their lives against packs of giant mastiff hounds. It was even popular with the monarchy, as Queen Elizabeth I once vetoed an attempt by Parliament to ban bear-baiting on Sundays, because how could one possibly honor the day of the Lord if not by viciously slaughtering a few of His noble creations?
via Elizabethan Era
"Medammit." -- God
Occasionally, when Elizabethans got bored with the repetitive bear murdering, they decided to get more creative with their inhumanity. While visiting London in 1544, Don Manrique de Lara, third Duke of Najera, wrote about watching an ape tied to the back of a pony getting attacked by dogs, finding it "very laughable" to see the ape screaming in terror as the pony was being ripped apart -- because that's exactly what someone who has a name like a Zorro villain would say and think.
Eventually, the bears became quite the celebrities. Shakespeare even wrote a bear in as a deus ex murder machine in The Winter's Tale, and makes numerous references to bear-baiting in The Merry Wives of Windsor. Shakespearean theater and bear-baiting actually had a very close relationship. Paris Gardens, a popular London bear-baiting arena, was next to the Globe, Shakespeare's home theater, and prominent theater folk like Philip Henslowe and Edward Alleyn were Masters of the Game. In fact, in compliance with decrees from the Privy Council, theaters would shut down on Thursdays and Sundays to encourage people to spend more money on bear-baiting, which is like if Congress passed a law that Netflix had to shut down on Sundays so that we'd all watch HBO pay-per-view bumfights.
"It's not TV. It's the downfall of society."
Bear-baiting wasn't banned until 1835, though not without earlier resistance from Parliament. Part of the disgraceful delay was because people suspected the ban was a conspiracy by Methodists and Jacobins to deprive people of their fun so that they'd be susceptible to anti-nationalism. If your patriotism only gets activated by the smell of fresh bear blood, we're on the side of the Jacobins. Maybe try fireworks instead?
5Racism Turned Mardi Gras Parades Into Massive Street Fights
Quick: What do you think of when you hear the words "Mardi Gras"? Bright colors? Authentic bayou cooking? One of the last bastions of carefree excess?
Tulane Public Relations
You were thinking of boobs, weren't you?
Mardi Gras feels like it belongs in another time. It is the one big American celebration which prides itself on letting people be free from the confines of modern morality, a moment in time when the rules become less important and people get to do whatever feels good. Unfortunately, in the early 1800s, that feel-good vibe in New Orleans was to be violently racist. Even after the end of slavery, black people were excluded from Mardi Gras festivities. As a response, the black community began holding their own parades. The African-American Carnival was quickly established, and was dubbed "the parade most white people don't see" -- except that they were less like normal fun parades and more like vicious street gangs.
To celebrate their new American heritage, the oppressed black community turned to their Native American counterparts for Carnival inspiration. Each black neighborhood created its own Indian tribe, like the "Yellow Pocahontas" or "The Keepers of the Flame," and dressed accordingly during the celebrations. One of the most important parts of being a Mardi Gras Indian was the costume, which they originally adorned with bottle caps and fish scales, but over the years became more and more elaborate. Today, a proper Carnival Indian costume can set their wearers back thousands of dollars and dozens of hours of sewing. "Kill 'em dead with needle and thread," became a saying in the later years of the parade, denoting that even when armed with knitting needles, the Mardi Gras Indians were always out for blood.
Tulane Public Relations
Now you don't need to scale the cages at the zoo to get your ass kicked by an angry peacock.
The Mardi Gras Indians took their cosplay very seriously, creating hierarchies and positions mirroring the ceremonial ones in the white Mardi Gras -- the difference being that these roles had a very real, combat-oriented purpose. There were roles like the "spy boy," who served as a lookout to spot other gangs, or the "flag boy," whose job it was to relay messages between the spy boy and the "big chief" in order to logistically optimize the violence. Once two tribes met on the streets, a massive brawl quickly ensued.
Works Progress Administration
"Ax boy" usually won.
By the 1970s, most of the remaining big chiefs decided to put the violence in the rear-view mirror. The costumes remained, but the tribes had put an end to their fighting, instead choosing to showcase the tribes' spirits by competing to have the most elaborate costumes and performing sacred dance battles.
Zada Johnson/ Tulane University
The spirit of his tribe and Hulkamania go on.