Things I Wish Reenactors Would Stop/Start Doing
At the risk of sounding bitchy or starting a flame war, I have a few gripes with the reenacting hobby that I feel need airing. I absolutely love reenacting, and after sixteen years in the hobby I’m not going to be leaving it any time soon, but as with everything, I feel that there’s always room for improvement. Some things bother me more than others, and though I am far from perfect myself (and indeed have been guilty of some of my own complaints in the past), I feel that the hobby as a whole would be greatly improved with a few changes.
So, here are a few things I’d love to see change in the reenacting hobby:
(Note: These are non-period-specific, and some apply more in some eras than others.)
STOP: Washing your clothes so damn much!
START: Letting your clothes show wear. If you must wash your reenacting clothes, wash them by hand in a sink or bathtub and hang dry them.
I have a confession to make: during my first five years in the reenacting world, my clothes were never washed. Not once. Most reenactors get the same wear out of their clothing in three years that their real life counterpart would have gotten in two weeks. As a result, many reenactors are far cleaner than they should be. I’m not saying that everyone should look like they’ve just woke up in a dung heap, but Vietnam fatigues should look like they’ve been through a few rainstorms, petticoat hems should look like they’ve been outdoors, and shirts of all eras should look like they aren’t reacquainted with Chlorox every week. Your clothing should have an appropriate amount of wear, be that what it will, and should be correctly washed when you do so. Also, if you’re doing a military impression of any era or an early period civilian impression, let your clothes get some wear on them. Let them hang from a tree branch for a week, drag them around on the sidewalk a bit, etc. You don’t have to (nor should you) destroy your clothing, but at least break it in a bit!
STOP: Using historical misogyny as an excuse for modern day misogyny.
START: Thinking about the real reason that you’re treating women the way you are.
This has become such a problem in the hobby in recent years that I actually am soon going to be posting a series of entries by female reenactors, detailing the treatment they’ve experienced at events. There are many, many different reasons that misogyny is such a problem in the hobby, but what makes us female reenactors really pissed off is when guys try to excuse their behavior by saying that “it’s how it was”. There are plenty of ways to stay in period-appropriate gender roles without being an asshole.
STOP: Mindlessly following the instructions of those around you.
START: Giving extended critical thought to why you’re doing something the way you’re doing it.
Are you doing what you’re doing, wearing what you’re wearing, or acting the way you’re acting because it’s accurate, or are you doing it because it’s easier/cheaper/faster/it’s what your unit does? For all the mocking of farbs by hardcore reenactors that goes on in the reenacting hobby, I see those same reenactors making the same mistake that causes the farbs to be farbs – not stopping to give concerted, committed thought to why they’re doing something.
STOP: Thinking of history solely as a series of wars and conflicts.
START: Thinking about how to bring reenacting into the civilian realm.
If historians relied solely on reenactors to paint a portrait of history, future scholars would assume that history was just one big battle after another. I do recognize that reenacting did get its start as a form of wargaming and a way of recreating historical battles, but are you going to tell me that the hobby hasn’t evolved at all in the last two hundred years? I wish that more reenacting groups would think a bit more about how to recreate more than just military life. Some groups definitely do this, but they are few and far between, and I’d love to see it become more common. Groups can do period dinners, picnics, dances, parties, even treks and hunting or camping trips. Adding in these kinds of activities not only makes the hobby more inclusive, but it also allows reenactors to gain a more nuanced understanding of the lives they portray.
STOP: Being so judgmental and fond of pointing fingers.
START: Trying to educate and help out.
I’ve had my fair share of fingers pointed at me, and I’ve pointed my finger at my fair share of other reenactors, and you know what? I don’t do it anymore. It smacks of middle school elitism. If you’re so bothered by something inaccurate, try to help the person see their error and fix it (and who knows, it may actually be you who were mistaken!). I know that many farbs just simply don’t care, but at least you’ve tried to improve the hobby, rather than just talking behind yet another person’s back.
STOP: Only doing impressions that are group oriented or that you know people already do.
START: Doing impressions that you’re interested in.
Every reenactor I’ve ever met has at some point, usually in a trailing, wistful voice, told me about an impression that they’d “love to do if only someone else would do it with them”. You know what? Fuck that shit. If you think an impression is cool, then do it. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about reenacting, it’s that it’s very much a field that responds well to the “if you build it, they will come” tactic. If you’re passionate about an impression, you’ll probably do it well, and nothing attracts reenactors to a new impression like seeing someone doing something cool and doing it well. Want to portray a Depression-era Okie refugee? DO IT. Want to portray 13th century Russians? DO IT. If you do it well, word will spread and before you know it, you’ll have people asking if they can join you. The flip side of this is that if you do choose to do an unusual impression, don’t get pissy when someone else thinks it’s cool and starts doing it too. You don’t have a copyright on history, and imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
STOP: Turning after hours at every event into a historical frat party.
START: Having more period after hours activities.
Most reenactors say that they really love how much more of a “period experience” they have after hours, and frankly, I have to laugh every time I hear it. Almost every event I’ve been to, both public and private, turns into drinking sessions around the fire and drunken antics, ending with folks stumbling into their blankets at the end of the night. Especially in a military setting, that’s about as far from an accurate depiction of camp life as you can get. Not only does it create an uncomfortable environment for those who don’t or can’t drink, not only is it unsafe for that many people to be that intoxicated while being around weapons and fires, but it’s also counter to our stated goals of “experiencing history”. I’d love to see groups start having more period activities in the evening like we used to have in my first reenacting unit – card games, small amounts of drinking, fireside discussions, repairing clothing and equipment, and for larger events, maybe even an informal dance or something similar.