Sunday, September 27, 2009

A French actor, speaking German, playing an indian...

...all to feel attached to history.

While standing at the front desk at work the other day, I witnessed something I had yet to see in my tenure at the park: visitors (not volunteers, not reenactors, not there for an event) dressed in revolutionary clothing to come visit the park. This is apparently a fairly common thing at Gettysburg, as relayed to a friend who worked at the Eisenhower NHS for a summer. The visitors come all decked out in their appropriate clothing, although they are mostly a little 'farby' and I'm sure the 'real' re-enactors look down upon them.
Now, as the girl who gets back into her civvies as fast as possible when done at days up at Muhlenberg, this desire to walk around in slightly ill fitting, seemingly never fully clean clothes for giggles evades me. However, as enlightened by Kim/Jamal, this apparently provides people with some sense of belonging or attachment. While vafo is probably (I hope) more tame than your average ren faire get together, I would imagine the feeling of camaraderie still applies. Wearing a tri-corn hat makes them feel like they are connected to or are participating in the time period or event they are clothed for. I don't think this understanding will ever make me want to go out in public like that without pay, but I at least have a slightly better understanding.

(I diss on living history a lot, but I must admit, I would have much much better posture if someone made me wear stays every day. Back support without suffocation? Count me in)

One issue that arises from this, and living history/reenacting in general, is something not addressed by Kim/Jamal is whether this is making a mockery of history. Are these people searching for authenticity or are they belittling a very serious issue? For rev war/civil reenacting people are almost always portraying soldiers. Is the interest a matter of honoring those that died or suffered for a cause or is it a matter of demeaning something so serious as war and death? Do Rev/Civil war re-enactors feel like they are honoring because the event is so far in the past (and so deep in myth/legend), while WWII re-enactors (oh yes, they exist) are trying to remember the not so distant, bitterly disasterous and still very influential part of the world's history (for which the US, arguably, payed the smallest toll)? Do we only start to reenact things that are pretty and shiny and so deeply entrenched in our nations myths? Is that why Germans insist on re-enacting ridiculous mishmashes of Native Americans (a concept for which German does not have a word), because their main narrative only involves the stories of Winnetou and the books of Karl May?

I don't necessarily have an answer to that. I am inclined to lean towards demeaning. We only seem to reenact the traumatic parts of history that have shiny presents. Is that honoring a memory or belittling those forgotten? I don't have answers to these questions, but they are good things to think about.

(The few times I saw these guys at the Brandenburger Tor in Berlin, they had a didgeridoo. As in the Austrialian aboriginal instrument. It was fascinating.)

1 comment:

  1. Hmm this made me think! I've always been a huge fan of re-enactments (probably because I've never actually had to be in one) but, you're right, it does seem to trivialize traumatic events in history. I wonder how far removed from a war we have to be for it to be ok to re-enact? I'd imagine people would be pretty offended if more recent wars were re-enacted. Although, that's probably partially an issue of geography since more recent wars weren't fought in the U.S. I'll definitely be thinking about this for awhile-- thanks for the post!