Reenacting: A Hobby for Every Generation

by Jonah Begone

Put down Lee's Lieutenants for a minute. Have you read Generation X by Douglas Coupland? It's a book that describes the much talked-about group of people born between about 1961 and 1980. Coupland's name "Generation X" has caught on to describe an entire generation of Americans. Sprinkled throughout the book's margins are neologisms, Gen X statements of belief and behavior. To me these suggest nothing so much as reenacting. (Jonah Begone's First Rule of Writing is "Everything relates to reenacting in some way - or can be made to.") With that in mind, consider this foray into Gen X mores and morals:

"Air Family: Describes the false sense of community experienced among coworkers in an office environment." ...or in a reenacting unit. One tale comes to mind: A prominent reenactor - no longer a Living Historian but a Dead one - told members of his unit (with a straight face!) that he wanted to be buried under an obelisk, with members of the regiment placed under the sod in a circle around the obelisk. When a real family member (a wife) heard about this comradely plan, she issued the following verdict: "Over my dead body!" Only time will tell, but there haven't been any obelisks for reenactors that I know of.

"Anti-Victim Device (AVD): A small fashion accessory worn on an otherwise conservative outfit which announces to the world that one still has a spark of individuality burning inside: 1940s retro ties and earrings (on men), feminist buttons, nose rings (women), and the now almost completely extinct teeny weeny "rat tail" haircut (both sexes)." In the reenacting world these take the form of Southern-motif belt-buckles. The most prominent AVD used by reenactors goes not on the clothing, but on the truck bumper: "Heritage, Not Hatred. Fly it!"

"Historical Overdosing: To live in a period of time when too much seems to happen. Major symptoms include addiction to newspapers, magazines and TV news broadcasts." I submit that it is impossible for reenactors to historically overdose. As if the issues of the day aren't contentious enough, we re-fight the battles of State's Rights and the Constitutionality of Secession and Slavery. If that's not enough we can move conversationally onto the military careers of men dead 100 plus years ago and antique military campaigns. Far from Historical Overdosers, Reenactors are Historical Binge-eaters (without the vomiting).

"Historical Slumming: The act of visiting locations such as diners, smokestack industrial sites, rural villages -- locations where time has been frozen many years back -- so as to experience relief when one returns back to the present.'" The funny thing is we reenactors don't experience relief when we get back to the present. We experience depression!

"Now Denial: To tell oneself that the only time worth living in is the past and that the only time that may ever be interesting again is the future." The version of this appropriate to reenacting is: "To tell oneself that the only time worth living in was during the Civil War and the only time that may ever be interesting again is the past."

"Obscurism: The practice of peppering daily life with obscure references (forgotten films, dead TV stars, unpopular books, defunct countries, etc.) as a subliminal means of showcasing one's education and one's wish to disassociate from the world of mass culture." I remember a conversation once, when I was but a new reenactor, that was based entirely on the organizational structure of the Army of the Potomac during the Chancellorsville campaign. It was light-years removed from mass culture and went something like this: "The 110th Pennsylvania? Hmmm. I believe they were in the 1st Brigade of the 3rd Division of the 3rd Corps. I used to reenact them a couple of years ago. When we started doing 2nd Rhode Island we had to change uniforms, of course... But I'm pretty sure they were in the 1st Brigade. I think the commander was Franklin." This was all from memory, mind you, and in my early days I used to admire this facility. Now I recognize it as rampant obscurism. (Button-whizzing is an example of obscurism made real.)

"Recreational Slumming: The practice of participating in recreational activities of a class one perceives as lower than one's own: Karen! Donald! Let's go bowling tonight! And don't worry about shoes... apparently you can rent them.'" Having grown up in a blue collar family, I would be the last to point a finger at others' low-class activities, but it must be admitted: An activity that involves guns, sweat, beer, throwing up into campfire pits and tubby bearded guys who drive pickups and wear exclusionary costuming (reproduction uniforms being like bowlers' team shirts) is recreational slumming for, uh, most of us.

"Ultra Short Term Nostalgia: Homesickness for the extremely recent past: God, things seemed so much better in the world last week.'" " ...when I was sitting in the mud with my pards discussing how we outflanked them guys across the field. Now I'm in this office staring into a CRT. I wish I could be smelling wet wool, campfires, leather, sweat, tall grass and black powder right now!"

"Vaccinated Time Travel: To fantasize about traveling backward in time, but only with proper vaccinations." Not sure where reenactors stand on this one, what with em coming out in favor of head lice and bloating in national newspapers. As for myself, however, my fantasies used to involve not only a universal resistance to disease but a paranormal disregard for flying lead as well. "Lookit that! What's with Colonel Begone? That minie ball done flew rat through him! Ahhhhhh!" (Sound of observer being struck down by canister to preserve the secret of my uniqueness and longevity.)

There you have it, a painless toe into the turbulent, water-filled mosh pit of Generation X - without having to endure The Smashing Pumpkins - arranged and related for you in terms of reenacting. Next time: Uncle Jonah explains the Depression and the sage social observations of the Little Rascals, and why greasing Wheezer is like cleaning a musket. (How was that for obscurism?)