The Terror and the legacy of Empire

2 of 5

– The Terror _ Season 1, Episode 4 – Photo Credit: AMC

Exploration vs. Colonization

For that reason, it’s difficult to disconnect the ideals of exploration from the violent realities of colonialism. Cultures ‘discovered’ by western civilizations all too often end up exploited and oppressed by them. And so, stories glorifying the age of exploration often enough end up glorifying colonial attitudes as well, while ignoring or demeaning the experiences of the people whose ideals hurt the most.

Narratives strictly from the point of view of European explorers by definition turn entire continents and nations into nothing more than a faceless homogeny of the alien Other, which must either be either conquered or tamed; and made familiar to the explorers who sought out the unknown in the first place.

It is, in a sense, an act of consumption —  of taking knowledge, culture, language, and resources, and re-purposing them within a new organism (or in this case, society). And in the same way, the civilizations which are fed off of are rarely left wholly intact.

What makes The Terror so important is the fact that it engages with something any self-aware piece of media about western expansion needs to recognize: the idea that a foreign agent invading, ‘dominating’, and stripping a land of its resources is inherently an act of violence. What makes the show special is the sensitivity with which it handles those issues.

This show constructs an anti-colonialist narrative demonizing the men who lost their lives to pursuing those ideals — blaming not the explorers themselves, but rather the societal pressures which put them on a collision course with the place that claimed their lives. The same ideals which are echoed and celebrated when we look back on that history today.