WHAT YOU PERMIT YOU PROMOTE
For years, I tried to “lead by example.” This is a euphemism for making certain your kit is top flight and encourage everyone else to make theirs better as well. But you know, in that “historic” organization, there might have been one or two who spiffed things up—and were outrageously proud of their improvement, but not enough to get out of the organization—but there were many many more who dug in their heels and de-spiffed because, as my wife noted, they felt threatened or insulted. Many indignantly rationalized their farb by saying that they needed it, that it was comfortable, that other people did it.
I was in that organization since 1972. In 1984, I published a book on its failures after talking with friends and reading Professor Anderson’s seminal volume on serious living history and realizing where it failed. My standards had increased. In 1989, I got into AWI living history, and it opened a whole new curtain. From then on out, my perspective was greatly different. In the pre-Internet early 1990s, I tried and failed to form a more accuracy-focused living history group that covered some of what that original organization covered. After a health crisis, I cut down on activities, concentrating on an effort where I thought I could make a difference. It didn’t and, afterwards, someone came up and thanked me for taking over the job until they could find someone else to do it. The fact that I did it for three years made it sort of an extended “filling in” but that seemed not to penetrate his conscious.
After that, I started looking around for a serious living history group that covered the era. At that time, a lot of top-notch foreign groups were expanding into the States, including one that I had belonged to briefly in the mid-70s (but that floundered from lack of interest) as well as Regia Anglorum, which started in 1986. I had considered joining an independent Stateside group but was warned that it was going to wink away; sure enough, it did. Then I ran into a Regia encampment at Gulf Wars. I fell in love immediately. Everything that I had learned in AWI living history was being duplicated. That started me on my current thrust.
I was surprised at how much that original group came to grate on my nerves. Members patted their backs and repeated nonsense. The organization’s emphasis of bureaucracy over accuracy—which I had long complained about—became paramount. A long-time and high-ranking member chided me for wanting history, noting that the only reason that the group even mentioned “history” was because the federal government wanted to give it a tax write-off. A member of the group publicly said that he hoped I died a painful death because of something I said about accuracy. A high-ranking member of that group very conspicuously insulted me and ignored my contributions while leading by example. Several members asked for information, which I freely gave and for which they never thanked me or even acknowledged the receipt of the information. And the straw that broke the camel’s back, a new officer doing a job I had done for thirty years and for which I got a university degree, told me to step aside and let her handle it; when I asked her what qualifications she had, she returned, “I don’t have to tell you. That’s my job.”
There are no attempts, not even a desire to make things uniformly accurate and to tighten up the nonexistant accuracy regulations. The idea of hours or areas to be accurate is totally beyond most members, and many times, members recruited from that organization must go through length “re-programming.” Many see the organization as a bush league, to seduce new members, but they ignore the fact that continued membership becomes either a romantic ideal, a family or a reason for driving people away from medieval reenacting altogether
I am amused and puzzled by the “freckles” in that group. That comes from my observation if good living history is a tan, then that organization is freckles. There are spots of sheer genius, things that impress friends from Regia, but they are content to ignore the white spaces between those freckles. Cynicism leads me to believe that their accuracy might help them stand out in a farby organization while they’d just be part of the crowd in a serious organization, but that is cynicism. I’m certain there are other reasons for clinging to the group even if I cannot see them.
Yes, that organization has more members. If quantity is more important than quality, then it rings the bell. At an early meeting, our group announced that we wanted quality over quantity, and we have turned away a number of potential members who though that we’d lower standards to gain their membership.
I still have friends in that organization. I have many more who have left for one reason or another. A good many do other eras of time in serious living history because that organization has spoiled most people’s perception of medieval reenacting that organization even likes to use the name of the organization to mean “medieval.” But when people from other eras see the work we do to create a consistently accurate image, they are impressed and have complimented me on it. They prefer the quality to the quantity, and coming from people I respect and admire, that makes me more than happy!