Monday, April 30, 2012

Ren Faire History Snobs

RFHS card, Number 0000j
Way back in the depths of time was an online social network known as People from all sorts of offbeat communities gathered and communicated there: burners, faire folk, etc.

I joined several faire-based discussion groups, and participated regularly. I started getting involved in conversations  in which I ranted about the cheapening, dumbing-down, and commercialization that had been creeping into the faires. Some people were in agreement with me, but others had a very strong reaction against my opinions. Folks got very defensive, and in some cases downright abusive to me. It seemed that daring to criticize the events was the moral equivalent of eating babies for breakfast.

There were countless excuses for why people didn't think they should be bothered with a more faithful representation of history, but what it all seemed to boil down to was that for many participants, the faire was never about that. It was always something else: a chance to be with their friends and families, a place to dress up funny and live out fantasies, a place to engage in countercultural activity. Illustrating the world of the sixteenth century was way down on their list of priorities.

“It's just faire - it doesn't matter”

“Who are YOU to say what it should be for ME?”

“We can never truly recreate the 16th century accurately, so we shouldn't really try.”

“They had open sewers in the streets, is that what you want?”

“Reading is too much to expect.”

“We're volunteers - we don't have to do anything.”

I'll admit that my reactions to the resistance were often heated and not entirely dignified, but I felt strongly about my views. I continued to get shouted down, and told in no uncertain terms that I should just shut up and let everybody experience the faires in their own way. Besides, I wasn't the boss, so whatever the company decided (however beastly) was the way it was supposed to be. For calling out the lazy and disinterested, I was accused of being elitist and snobby.

I decided I didn't need to argue with those people any more. I formed my own group, ironically titled “Ren Faire History Snobs”, and began to invite like-minded people there, where we could vent our spleens about the horrors being inflicted on the faires in a place where we didn't have to defend our ideas. It soon took off like wildfire. It turned out there were a whole lot of participants (and ex-participants) who felt the same way.

And so, the group went on growing. What was initially a place to vent (and vent we did, heartily) eventually became a place to conspire about what we could all do in our own spheres to improve the shows, or brainstorm about the one we would do ourselves if we had the resources. Many members were historical experts in their own fields, and had plenty of information to share with the rest of the history enthusiasts. While on other faire-based forums people talked about how cool their night life was, or what a great time they had getting hammered the previous weekend, we were having discussions of substance on how to bring our knowledge to the streets of the faires, and on the finer points of interactive theatre. People new to the faire experience turned to us for knowledge because they wanted to “do it right”. One industrious member even issued snob cards, so we could all be card-carrying snobs.

But, all good things must come to an end. Tribe, due to functionality issues, went on a long, slow decline, and people left it in droves for newer, more reliable alternatives like Ning and Facebook. Maggie Secara, author of “The Compendium of Common Knowledge”, started a snobs group on Facebook, which took some time to catch on, but with some improvements to their group formats, it took off and became much like the old days of Tribe.

I have been using the group as my primary way of furthering my goals, getting my word out in the community. Unfortunately, events have conspired in such a way that have caused me to abandon it. This blog will now be my outlet.

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