Friday, November 6, 2009

Living History--A Cautionary Tale of Differing Perspectives

One thing that I notice while reading other living history enthusiasts' blogs and discussions on forums is the propensity toward discussion of method, level of authenticity, merits of first-person vs non first-person interpretation--basically, subjects of implementation. Sometimes these veer toward berating one side or the other ("First person is hokey!" "First person is the only way to present ourselves to the public" "I spent fifty hours hand sewing my underdrawers and you should too!" "No, I shouldn't!" "I don't wear underdrawers!"), but mostly these discussions are thoughtful, respectful, and give great ideas. I recently enjoyed reading The Doctor's post on how he created his persona and developped his accent, for instance.

The trouble with being involved at the administrative level of a reenacting organization, as I now am, is that you realize just how difficult it is to put any of these fabulous thoughts into practice from a "top down" approach. For example, I often hear that camp appearance--making sure that modern items remain out of sight at encampments and that camp furniture and personal mess kits are appropriate to the period--should be a higher priority. I've read embarassing accounts of events with which I've been invovled of participants eating out of plastic containers--definitely a no-no in terms of maintaining an authentic atmosphere. The problem comes in in asking the organization to do something about it.

For one, many of these requests are not universal. Though 99% of our organization would agree that eating out of a plastic containter shouldn't happen at events (99% because, as one learns at a board meeting, there is always dissent), there are other objects--like non-period eyeglasses or shoes--that aren't universally shunned because of the cost or discomfort involved in keeping it correct. Other disagreements are over the culture participants feel we should foster--some want 24 hour authentic events, while others want to break out the tennis shoes, modern camp chairs, and historically incorrect guitars and songs after the public leaves. Each side has its points--and though I'm apt to be a hardass and insist that our camp be 100% right during public hours at least, cost or discomfort be damned (after all, I'm already wearing shoes with no arch support and a pair of stays that leave a mark--who cares if I sit on the ground, too?) not everyone agrees.

And that's the crux--it's a volunteer organization. We can't afford to lose members, in my view, over whether they can wear their modern glasses or bring out their CampBuddy chair after hours. Even on things we agree about, implementing rules is as effective as herding cats. Which is why, in the end, I'm grateful for those not in board-member-roles who are putting ideas and even the occasional (justified) chastisement out there--they're the ones actually in a position to change things. So thanks.

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