This little article is without a doubt the most insulting and dismissive thing I have ever written about the hobby as a whole. So why did I write it? Was I having a bad day that day? To be honest, I can't remember. I wrote it, sent it in to the CCG and forgot all about it. Looking at it again months later I was surprised by its tone. So there it sits unused in the CCG library. I expect lots of bad mail if and when this one ever gets published! - Jonah
Delusional Reenactor Beliefs
Delusional Reenactor Beliefs
by Jonah Begone
I was walking by a park in the "business campus" where I work one hot summer day, and heard some electric guitars and a "Yeah, yeah, yeah" chorus wafting my way. Looking over at the performance area I saw four guys doing a Beatles impression - there they were: "John," "Paul," "George" and "Ringo," strumming and sweating profusely in what looked like nylon mop tops and fashionable lapel-less suit coats. "Paul" was leering at and playing to a babe who seemed to be mildly interested in the performance, no doubt thinking his impression extended to the real Paul McCartney's youthful good looks. (And slender physique - you can only conceal so much with a Hofner violin bass guitar.) It didn't. "Boy, is he deluding himself," I thought. (I must note that "Ringo" was authentically homely.)
It then occurred to me that many, maybe even most, reenactors also delude themselves. As far as I know, reenacting is the only hobby where the ability to look at something, like a telephone pole or a car, for instance, and completely ignore its existence or pretend it's something it isn't, is valued. This being the case, it apparently becomes easy to labor under the following delusions:
1. I look so authentic in my uniform - overweight as I am - that if I stepped back in time nobody would be any the wiser. - Phooey. The Ted Turner mega-bore "Gettysburg" featured reenactors as extras. The 50's TV series "Victory at Sea" featured real fighting men as extras. Spot the differences. I won't articulate them here, but Judge Burger's definition of pornography seems apt: "I can't define it exactly, but I know it when I see it." The vast majority of reenactors look like reenactors, not fighting men. I doubt Victorians would be any easier to fool than I.
2. Drill is fun. - Only for morons. But don't take my word for it, take Albert Einstein's: "The man who enjoys marching in line and file to the strains of music falls below my contempt; he received his great brain by mistake--the spinal cord would have been sufficient." (My thanks to my pard Mal Stylo for discovering this favorite quote. Here are more.)
3. Authenticity is an important feature of real art. - Try telling that to any of the Renaissance
masters who garbed the infant Jesus, Mary and interested onlookers in 16th C. clothing. Or an
actor performing Shakespeare's Richard II in modern dress. This stuff is properly called art, and
has been for centuries. Real artists are interested in effect, technique and conveying emotion, not,
like brush-wielding anal retentives, painstakingly rendering hob nails. I find it highly unlikely that a
hundred years from now art students will be discussing how the limited edition historical art print
masters delighted the public with authentically-rendered cartridge boxes and muskets.
4. My time spent researching uniform minutiae is worthwhile. - To whom? Is this knowledge really worth having? Why? Will it somehow illuminate or improve the human condition? Or does it give an important lesson for future generations? No. This mindset is illustrative of the tendency of 90's society to assume that all information is equally useful, what I call the "Internet Syndrome." (The Internet: Where one can find a carefully-researched episode guide to Gilligan's Island.) Those who care about Civil War era uniform seams and stitches might also be interested in the effort to translate the New Testament into Klingon. (As a lesser wit is fond of writing, "I am not making this up." This effort is sponsored by the "Klingon Language Institute," which might charitably be called the "We Have Too Much Free Time Institute.")
5. Reenactors are just as important as historians, indeed, we are historians. - I have yet to see any of the real historians whose works I enjoy reading appear at event weekends dressed in wool. One of them, Bruce Catton, once deplored turning wrenching, tragic historical events into merry free-for-alls. The professional study of history takes training, background, and hours upon hours of research and peer-reviewed writing. Reenactors don't do this. They usually miss the larger social implications of the American Civil War (a focus of the historian) for the seam threads and cloth content of uniforms (the focus of the hobbyist). It is far more accurate to state that reenacting can be an adjunct to the study of history.
6. "If you didn't know I was a female you wouldn't be able to tell from six feet or more away." (Also known as the Six Foot Rule.) - Every female dressed as a male that I've ever seen stuck out of the ranks like a sore thumb (or some other bodily protuberance). While I agree that there is an uncertainty principle in play, here - the absolute best cross-dressers would slide by me undetected and therefore render my statement to naught - it is nonetheless true that practically all musketpersons delude themselves. Why this should be insulting mystifies me. As far as male/female physical appearance goes, I say "Vive la difference!" One perceptive writer (a Reb, yet!), in a letter to the Washington Post, stated that the female musketman phenomenon has more to do with 90's in-your-face feminism than authenticity. Bullseye!
7. Allowing women to take part in reenacted battles is only fair. - To whom? The guys who reenact to get away from 20th C. pressures and annoyances (which could include in-your-face feminism)? No. Hardcores? No. Event sponsors, who must attempt to please everyone? No. To the women who take pride in performing a more traditional impression but who may get little credit from their more politically-charged sisters in gray or blue? No. To the spectators, who may wonder about, giggle at or get confused at the sight of femmes with weapons? No. To the honored dead, for whom we profess to do all this stuff? Well, I'll let them respond. (Silence.)
8. We're soldiers. - We are not. Real soldiers face unimaginable privations, hardships and danger that the great majority of reenactors cannot imagine, let alone endure cheerfully. Yet, I'll read an account of a reenactment tactical where the writer gushes on about how a ragtag body of office-bound hobbyists have become a "cohesive fighting force," or some other such overwrought metaphor - all in the course of a rainy weekend. Caterpillars can make such a dramatic metamorphosis in a short time; reenactors cannot.
9. Reenactors abhor war. This sounds great coming from the spin control people, who must
normalize the hobby to uncomprehending journalists and publics, but if someone would have
asked me at age 18 if I abhored war, I'd have had a different answer. It fascinated me, and,
indeed, I once wrote a paper for school explaining why war was an important and essential part of
foreign policy. (She had to give me an "A" for originality but made a point of talking with me
after class, to verify that I was indeed not a Visigoth or Vandal.) The people who claim "There
are no winners in a war" or "Wars are a total waste" overlook the facts that we have subdued
many a bully and won our independence by bloodying our hands. Okay, okay, I'm a little wiser
now and won't carry this argument past the point of logic. However, I suspect there are many
reenactors out there - especially young ones - who would leap at the chance to enjoy a good war
first and decry it later.
10. I command soldiers. - Wrong on two counts. First, those guys ain't soldiers (see above). Secondly, as any present or former commander or officer can assure you, respect, experience and command are all intertwined in a mutually meaningful way. There is no Uniform Code of Military Justice for a reenactor who decides to leave an event before it's over, for instance - and this renders any "commands" of a "commander" to mere persuasion. Unlike life in the real military, reenactment commands are tacit requests only. (And thank goodness for that!)
11. Men with some military experience make better reenactor commanders. - While it is true that the intelligent guys with some real military experience and a thoroughly-grounded sense of themselves make excellent commanders (in a hobby where it cannot be said that anyone really commands), the fact of the matter is that the requirements for a good reenactment commander are entirely different than for a military commander. As stated above, we may liken reenacting to a Montessori branch of the armed services, where it is required for commanders to ask us to do things, and for us to decide whether or not we want to. (For instance, fixing bayonets and standing at attention during a lightening storm, or fixing bayonets while at close quarters during a reenacted battle - two casebook examples from Jonah's Book of Boneheadedness.) A good commander understands this, as well as the difference between fun and pointless effort.
12. I intimidate the public when I walk around with my musket - especially when the bayonet is affixed. - Oh yeah? Just try intimidating a teenager (a class of people who are about as easy to intimidate as city pigeons), for instance, let alone an armed officer of some sort. You think you look and act like a rough and rugged, armed two-fisted warrior. Onlookers think you look and act like a guy with an antique firearm who shoots blanks and acts like a buffoon. One memorable proof of this was when I witnessed a squat female Honduran Burger King manager rout a group of youthful Confederates who decided it would be a keen idea to stack arms in the dining area. It was remarkably easy for her to do, and she displayed little fear or trepidation in doing so. ("No! No! No guns! They go in cars! Take dem out!)
13. My forebears expect me to revere them and their cause. - This aspect of reenacting - the crazed ancestor-worship cult - is the weirdest turn reenacting has taken in the last ten years or so. Mal Stylo thinks Ambrose Bierce himself couldn't have scripted more bizarreness into the hobby than it has managed to acquire on its own, and I agree with him. I have no doubt that our Celestial Forebears are wondering why we aren't putting more time and energy into fixing what's wrong with the government and society, rather than running around playing soldier on the weekends (a remarkably childish activity, but I have commented on this before). Here's a thought: Perhaps the dead, assuming there's a life after death, of course, and that there are all sorts of nifty features and activities in heaven, simply don't care about the Civil War anymore! Has anyone considered this possibility?
14. Every Civil War fatality is a "hero." - The term "hero" gets overused these days. One ought to think hard about applying it in ceremonies in which the characteristics of the person whose remains are being buried are not known. There have been, are now, and will always be a lot of scumbags in the military service.
15. Reenacting is a wholesome hobby. - Others may claim this, but with the vulgar joking, bawdy behavior, transvestitism, passing of gas and rampant adultery I've witnessed in my years in the hobby I don't believe it. What's more, wholesome hobbies don't lead to the kind of divorce cases I have seen, either. Think about it: Whatever the merits of the armed service, have you ever heard it referred to as "wholesome?" Why should reenacting, which models itself on the military, be called this?
16. The public wants to hear about what a louse Abe Lincoln really was. - The only audience for this kind of thing are rabid Rebs who aren't aware the war is over. If you expound on this topic before a hapless member of the public, that person is likely to think you're a nut case. (Especially when the case is presented in the bad grammar and sentence construction all too typical of the literary school.) Who is Joe Public more likely believe, his slender, earnest young Miss Crabtree-style grade school teacher or a bearded guy reeking of sweat, tobacco and mental instability?
17. Farbs make us all look silly. - Nope, the very opposite is true. Hardcores make us look silly. Witness the now legendary 6/2/94 Wall Street Journal article about hardcores. What with peeing on buttons and re-creating bloating, the attitude of the reporter is understandably disbelieving and disrespectful. Think about it: Farbs are more like the uninitiated public who attend reenactments as spectators. What's more, the distaste for the inauthentic is a learned behavior which supports a class system within reenacting. The public don't know about this until we tell them - even then, they still don't care. In your heart of hearts, ask yourself this (and be honest!): Which is more down-to-earth, a guy dressed like some kind of movie star or a guy who sleeps in the woods for a week desiring head lice? (Mal Stylo claims this whole farb vs. hardcore thing is like saying a clown with a green nose makes a group of clowns with red noses look silly.) What we need in the hobby are more mainstreamers; non-fanatical people who won't scare other non-fanatical people away. If they're somewhat less authentic, big deal. At least you don't have to listen to long political diatribes (Left or Right) from 'em.
So what's the point? Well, the next time you squelch that God-given B.S. alarm most of us are born with, think again. The only person you may be fooling is yourself.