Sometimes I want to quit this hobby.
It’s usually for selfish, petty reasons: for all I swear that I didn’t see the trash compactors and cars in Newport, spinning wheels, cast iron, and candelabra in dining flies made me nuts at Bennington. Why the difference? In Newport, the modern things were all backdrop and unchangeable. At Bennington, reenactors had choices.
Why would someone else’s cast-iron kitchen make me want to pack up my sticks and go home? Maybe because I’ve been very tired this summer. But more honestly, I have a streak of self-righteous grade-grubber: “I work hard at this, why can’t you?” was surely my internal whine as I surveyed the mess area at Bennington.
My emotional immaturity aside, I think that same “I get this, why can’t you?” is felt by a lot of reenactors/interpreters when they stand in their well-researched, hand-sewn, and agonized-over clothes in a Spartan camp watching the public interact with sofa-print-gown- or baggy-breeches-wearing cooks bent over cast iron in camps littered with slat-back chairs, folding tables, and candlesticks.
We feel unappreciated. We feel like no one recognizes our hard work. We are not getting the grade we deserve.
We need to get over it.
Don’t abandon the authenticity: abandon the attitude. Abandon the eye-rolling, the snubbing, the sneers, and the turning away.
Comparison is the enemy of contentment. Even when you think you’re better.
Stop playing the “I’m more authentic than you” game. It sucks. It makes people want to quit this hobby. It makes people want to skip events.
You want to have events where only people who meet your personal authenticity standards can play? Knock yourself out. Keep it private. In privacy, be as catty as you like with people who enjoy it, but keep it in the real world and not online. Online, it comes off as passive-aggressive cowardice.
Not everyone wants to play the same game. But no matter what the game is, it’s never fun to be the butt of meanness, and it’s not really fun to be mean—plus, it’s bad for your health, bad for the hobby, bad for the people around you.
We’re visual creatures: we can over-focus on what we see. We focus on the clothing being worn instead of the person inside those clothes. But really, it is the person who is important.
Individual choices don’t always affect a group. When choices do affect a group—cars in camp past stated removal times, weapons and fire safety violations—then I think anyone can and should speak up. But violations of published and easily accessible standards should be pointed out to event organizers, and not handled at the individual level. When there are no published and readily accessible shared standards, there’s nothing to enforce. So consider stepping down from the fashion police and enjoying yourself instead. I’ve been to very few events without redeeming factors.
All that iron at Bennington? Forgotten when I focused on what I was doing: cooking something new in camp, and forgotten even more when I shared the pudding and compote with my friends.
That’s why I don’t quit this hobby: it allows me to share amazing experiences with my friends, I learn new things all the time, and I get far outside my petty worries.
Patty B said:
I am sure it gets frustrating and I remember talking to one civil war re-enacter who felt the same way. But for people like my husband and myself I can honestly say we appreciate the hard work that goes into giving us a piece of our history. I remember the Confederate soldier who not only had his uniform made with authentic wool they used but only washed it once a year in cold water – much to his wife’s dismay! While others ordered pizza to eat at their tents, he ate in front of his pup tent exactly what the soldier would carry or “steal” off the corn stalks (he had permission from the farmer nearby). The ones that ate their pizza and slept in campers did not leave an impression nor teach us anything. Men like that Confederate and a young Union soldier, among many others had allowed us to go back in time to get a true feeling of what the soldiers had to endure. Although I know you did write this expecting a thank you – but thank you – it is your dedication and those like you that will preserve our history. What a legacy you are leaving behind!
Thank you Patty– it really is good to hear that it matter to the people who come, and that the work we do in museums and outside of them helps convey a real sense of the past.
Patty B said:
Excellent post. The more I talk to people in the hobby, and reflect on my years (growing up years included), the more I realize that people truly do approach participation from varying angles, have broad interests, and, often, don’t do this crazy hobby for the same reasons I do. I’ve learned to accept that I care more about authenticity than some others do–and that some others care more about some elements than I do. All told, you’re spot-on that the person you can best change is yourself. Moreover, we lead by example, and every positive change I’ve seen in my little corner of the hobby has been due to a few individuals stepping it up and inspiring others.
Rowenna, it’s a journey, I think, and we are all on a different path. I do like your “be the change you want to see” approach, and I think it does work. Some of us are more patient than others. But it’s up to each of us to control our reactions to people…and to remember that other folks’ impressions are not about us. Kindness never hurts, and can often do more without even remarking on someone else’s appearance or accouterments. At least I hope so– I won’t get a chance to find out this weekend. (We are missing Johnstown; too much work & homework.)
Its disheartening, as much as we want to believe in this other re enactors will always shame others to bring themselves up, bad mouth and snub. That’s what makes me want to stop, honestly. It gets so insanely bad, and I don’t understand why people can’t just….not be that way.
People do act badly sometimes. Insecurity, anxiety and factors we don’t understand can make people say astonishing things. I think a lot of reenactors and costumers (see here: http://historicalsewing.com/everybody-has-different-goals) are asking themselves and each other questions about how to improve standards while being helpful and even nice. I take heart from that, and try to behave well myself. It’s a start…
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