I don’t live in the past—I only visit—and so can you!

In praise of the Authenticity Police

Let us get one thing straight at the beginning. The Authenticity Police is an honest and honorable term that describes the Authenticity Officer (or Inspector or Stitch Police or whatever your unit or organization calls the office). It is an office which sets out standards and inspects members and their kit to se if it is up to the standards before allowing them on the field. The Officer allows compromises, allows exceptions for a period of time and—most importantly—gives hints, information and resources for builing up to great accuracy according to the standards. It is my opinion that the AO is essential if you say that your organization is living history. There are too many LARPs which claim to be living history but to which I could be welcomed wearing a loincloth of fake fur, a horned helmet, Nikes and mirrored sunglasses. Is that living history? Not to my mind because, regardless of how accurate individual members might be, the group doesn’t care a hang about its appearance!

This brings us to a more questionable, gray area. That is the use of the tern Authenticity Nazi. So0me people, disliking the term “nazi,” decry it immediately. I’m uncertain whether they’d like Outfit Fascist, Authenticity Ayatollah or Costume Communist any better, though some might. The fact is that the distasteful term “nazi” serves a real purpose: It bathes that personal in an intensely despicable light, and that is what I feel an Authenticity Nazi is wallowing in! The Authenticity Nazi is someone who does not have the authority to criticize kit but does so anyway, wanting only to make himself feel better and offering no criticism. One of them told me, seriously, “I had to figure out what was correct, so they can as well.” Calling such a person “Authenticity Police” demeans the actual, productive police and minimizes the intensely dislikeable aspects of such a person. I will use nazi, then, to describe someone who goes against the what I perceive as te true spirit of living history—shared information and advice—and use it unapologetically.

As soon as you say that you are attempting to recreate the culture of another historical area, you are assuming a great responsibility. People are going to be looking at what you and your fellows do and what you present and think that it is an honest display and interpretation of the past. Even if some spectators merely regard it as an unimportant escapist fantasy, the participants should not and should dedicate themselves to the creation of the most honest representation possible. They should know that there will be others who regard it as an educational experience and who regard what they see as a portal into the past. These spectators—and, indeed, fellow participants—will be judging, consciously or unconsciously, the presentation by its worst efforts; as the old saying goes, “What you permit you promote.”

For that reason, every sincere reenactor should welcome the inspection of their costume and kit by more experienced and knowledgeable officers sometimes called “AOs.” whose job it is to make certain that the presentations and displays of their organization are as accurate and honest as they can safely be. The purpose of this document is to guide these AOs in their actions, telling them how to perform an honest & helpful task, to be courteous & polite and to help create an accurate and trustworthy appearance.

I learned the concept two decades ago in the Northwest territory Alliance—a RevWar reenactment organization. I went through classes to learn how to be an inspection, served as a peer adviser getting a unit ready for inspection and conduced inspections myself, on both sides, the inspector and the inspected. It taught me a lot, including what was the most important thing. You are not rejected the individual! You might be rejecting parts of his kit, and if he removes, replaces or improves that kit to fit the standards set forth for participation, he can participate. This philosophy continued into early medieval reenactment.

Unfortunately, there are many people who do not understand this philosophy. They see anyone trying to tell them what to do as despots, personally attacking them and destroying their “fun.” This simply is not so. We have already remarked on that, but I cannot stress that too much. I might also note that the AO is not invariably correct and that any person who’s kit has been rejected can appeal this rejection is they can provide two independent provenances that backs up their assertion and interpretation. Is that the horrible thing that so many are decrying as anal and running from? Rather, I find it reasonable, reassuring and not a little bit comforting. I want to put on the good, accurate show for the public, and the AO is helping me!

The form that is used for inspection by the NorthWest Territory Alliance—and has been altered slightly for use by Micel Folcland—may be seen at http://www.nwta.com/forms/IIF.pdf

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2 responses

  1. A couple of related points I’d like to see you tackle (or give your take on more like).

    1) Variations on historic objects or questionable interpretations of historic objects used by groups to solve purely modern problems or needs.

    2) Drift of originally understood interpretations / decision points into second and third ‘generations’. What were once one choice of many possibles now represented as ‘the truth’

    May 5, 2011 at 06:50

  2. Have you read the latest _Skirmish_? There was an interesting article by Bill Stott in which he notes a craftsman who made a totally new artifact, incorporating known motifs but making it original, which I consider a very fair interpretation. Within a few years, everyone was duplicating that exactly. It was part of his point that people were not doing research but just copying what fellow reenactors–wrongly or rightly–wore with their kit!

    Thanks for the suggestions. I’ll probably get around to them eventually!

    May 5, 2011 at 07:07

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