Some “Viking reenactors” standing there at an event in biker boots, spex and talking on a mobile phone will look indignant and angrily castigate you if they hear you calling them fantasy. “We’re historical” they insist. “We don’t have dragons or spells!”
Too bad they are as accurate in their definitions as they are about their kit…
What is Fantasy? Many of the popular contemporary definitions associate the term only with High Fantasy. For example, Wikipedia notes that it is a
A genre of fiction that commonly uses magic and other supernatural phenomena as a primary plot element, theme, or setting. Many works within the genre take place in imaginary worlds where magic and magical creatures are common.
In other words as long as you don’t have to deal with dragons or magic or shapechangers, you are not doing with fantasy. A convenient definition that allows you to be as farby as you want as long as you’re not farby in one certain way. However, good living history is seldom what is the most convenient.
If you look at the standard definition for fantasy, it is somewhat different and much more relevant. Fantasy is “The faculty or activity of imagining things that are impossible or improbable.” Although at its core, it means that all living history—no matter how accurate—is fantasy, I find such a definition to be a straw man, much like whining retorts of, “But you use a car to get to events and get vaccinated and use modern dental care…” Many might call me an extremist on the subject in many ways, I consider that too extreme, and acceptance of that terminology means the validation of farb. But for me, it means that farby living history is fantasy.
More precisely, a knowing farb is fantasy. And when I call a half-ass reenactment fantasy, I am saying it is farby and has participants are not willing to improve as a whole. All good reenactment has rules governing their accuracy—authenticity regs is the preferred term—and those who ignore these rules are farbs (those who have no rules at all regarding accuracy are farbs as well). Those who refuse to adopt any authenticity regs for their society are farbs. As a RevWar friend once noted, “What you permit, you promote!” And in so doing, many of these societies are promoting fantasy!
Something that is fantasy is not necessarily bad. Two-Gun Bobby Howard is often fantasy. “The Long Ships” is fantasy. Steampunk is fantasy. Dagorhir is fantasy. Cosplay is fantasy. Skiffy cons are often fantasy. Loads of things are fantasy, and the person writing it, producing it or participating in it freely admits that it is fantasy and not history or anything else, even if it contains things that are historical or factual.
If a person says he is doing fantasy and then does fantasy, is there anyone who is hurt? I somehow don’t think so. But when someone dresses in a fantasy style and then insists that he is recreating history, that he is historical, that he are reenacting or recreating history, I think that is akin to someone saying he is vegetarian as he bite into the bloody steak. I have no respect for him, not because he exhibits fantasy but because he then claims it is not fantasy. Ignorance is one thing and can be corrected; not necessarily hypocrisy!