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

TO EDUCATE AS WELL AS TO ENTERTAIN

To my mind, the main purpose of reenacting is not merely to entertain but to educate. I realize that for many reenactors and for many societies this is not a popular view. They are doing things, they tell me, for fun, to honor their ancestors and things a little bit wrong is not a serious matter. To a generation raised on fantasy novels, on fantasy films and on fantasy comic books, this is often a foreign concept. If they are wearing something that is a little bit different from modern dress, that often seems to be enough, but to my mind that is not enough at all! Perhaps the most significant thing learned from a recent weekend was that any so-called reenactor who wears or uses something that is out of period, that is imaginative or fanciful and not based on solid research is actually performing an act of misinformation. Any of the MoPs who look at them tend to think that they are all absolute accurate in their garments and gear, that they have all done exhaustive research and that they all have the highest integrity. The MoP might therefore assume that the average Norseman of the period wore black, wore spectacles, wore turtlenecks, wore leather loafers and wore a belt at least five inches wide. As I waited at the table set up before the showing of “Vikings Live from the British Museum” at a local theatre, one of the curious asked how much I liked “Vikings.” I replied that I did not like the inaccuracies, and he looked surprised. “Like what?” I replied, like the clothing. He then asked, “What do you mean, what they wore was not accurate? What did the Vikings normally wear?” I stood and stepped back. Something like this, I said. Trousers, an under tunic and an over tunic. In linen in wool, and certainly not leather leaving the arms or chest bare. He nodded and said, “Oh. I see what you mean.” I would have been unable to do this if my clothing was not accurate, and I would certainly have felt responsible for miseducating him. So whenever you are presenting a display for the public, not a bufu (By Us, For Us) event where you can present as much fantasy as you want, you are obligated to make everything as accurate as possible, just to educate the MoPs properly. You are dealing with people who are not members of your society who are looking at you, who are judging your presentation and who are trusting that you will be able to learn from you. You must make certain that you dress in the most accurate manner, that you use the most accurate gear, and when you must compromise the accuracy—generally for safety reasons or because the actual thing would be too expensive—you must note the deviation from true accuracy. For example, in my laece cist, I have the copy of a whip that was used to beat out the demons that caused madness. The original was made of porpoise hide; but because that is now illegal, I worked with my leather supplier for a likely alternative. I used lamb leather, which was grey, light and smooth enough that it stood in good stead, but I always mention this to the curious MoP. Most MoPs will readily understand this, appreciate the candor and as a result of this honesty, learn something they did not previously know. Unfortunately, it seems as if some reenactors do not want to educate people; that is too much like school. They just want to entertain people as well as possible and to receive as much applause as they feel they deserve. In one of the most disturbing conversations I had recently, a participants told me that she did not want to do reality-based reenacting because that was simply too difficult, that it was disagreeable, that she was doing this just to have fun. I do not know if she was denigrating research entirely or just the research that a good impression required, but it left me shaking my head. In my mind, I was thinking that she should not call her society a medieval one, that she should go do steampunk or cosplay at a science-fiction convention. Because the idea of dressing up and presenting yourself in quasi-accurate clothing and saying that this clothing is an accurate representation of the clothing of the time portrayed—when they are not—is not proper. Even surrounding yourself with articles not of that period is unsettling to me; and I hope that I do not do that in my impressions! For me, being surrounded by fellow reenactors who share this belief is a relaxing and enjoyable experience. To have the little points of inaccuracy in the portrayals is to me very unsatisfactory and something that I hope I never do regularly again!

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2 responses

  1. An excellent article, i went to comment and like on your FB thread but couldn’t 🙂 Oddly enough it is something I am in the middle of writing a blog post about as well. As you say, public shows are for us to educate people as well as entertain, we are not meant to be perpetuating the History Channel “Vikings” image.

    October 22, 2014 at 05:11

    • Thanks. Dunno know why you couldn’t comment on FB. I’ll have to check my settings, since FB sometimes changes them and do not tell me :\

      October 22, 2014 at 06:38

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