A couple of posts ago, I mentioned that there had been some trouble which caused me to resign from the Ren Faire History Snobs Facebook group.
Not only that, but several incidents have happened in the last few weeks to cause me to reassess my entire attitude, my public face, and the manner in which I participate in the faire community.
The group, and the group on Tribe.net before it, were often contentious. We enjoyed a bit of heated debate now and then. While we all wanted a better representation of historical reality at faires, sometimes we'd disagree over exactly where the line should be drawn between fact and theatre. Or maybe we'd clash over notions people had received through their experience at faire, which conflicted with what our independent research had shown us.
Sometimes we were highly critical of less enthusiastic faire participants who we felt had their priorities wrong. People outside the group often thought we were way too critical, and that our sniping amounted to unnecessary bullying, and in some cases that was true. As a moderator, I preferred that people refrain from focusing on and ridiculing individual or naming names. I occasionally had to admonish the group to "hate the sin, not the sinner".
But something shifted recently in the group. It seemed that the unity we shared had begun to fragment, and a kind of polarization developed. One one hand there were people who, while they didn't care for the commercialization and dumbing-down of their faires, they didn't care to challenge themselves, and clung to outdated notions and faire traditions. On the other hand were uncompromising precisionists, especially in the field of costuming, for whom anything except absolute adherence to period materials and construction techniques is unthinkable. I call them "stitch-counters".
These groups rubbed each other the wrong way, and simple discussion over the appropriate shape and manner of wearing a straw hat became a battleground that extended far beyond the initial topic. As the people on both ends of the spectrum got more dug in to their positions, the shouting increased, people stopped listening, and things started getting personal.
Due to my more moderate views, I ended up arguing with people on all sides of the conflict and I got pretty fed up with the whole thing. It had got to the point where the group was no longer a thing of pleasure, but a source of stress, and I dreaded logging in. I felt we had strayed from our purpose, and in a fit of pique I exited the group.
Soon thereafter, I got involved in a discussion on somebody else's wall about nasty attitudes and bullying by self-proclaimed experts in the faire and costuming communities. While many of the responses there reflected the annoying point of view that participation in a faire was supposed to be about something other than theatre or history, some of the responses there gave me pause to reflect on the impression made by immoderate speech, how much an unkind word can hurt, and how far the damage done may travel. I realized that due to my advocacy of historicity, I had been lumped-in with the overzealous, but socially-challenged precisionists in those communities, who take delight in nit-picking and tearing people down.
The next weekend, I traveled to RPFS to attend a reunion of court participants, and I was truly excited to have the opportunity to spend some time with old friends and mentors, some of whom I may never get to see again. While I was happy to attend the reunion, let's say I was less than impressed with what my beloved event had become. The contrast between the memories my friends evoked, and what I was seeing was jarring. Most of the faces there were new, and they really had no frame of reference for what it had been, or could be, and most likely didn't care anyway. This was their reality, and they did their best under their circumstances. There were yet some brave pockets of resistance, but I left at the end of the weekend feeling sad and defeated.
I had come face to face with the slickest of the commercial beasts that was methodically sucking the soul out of the faire concept, and considered whether or not I was fighting a losing battle, and that all my rage and frustration was for nothing, and might even be unhealthy for me. Between my disappointment at RPF, my abandonment of the Snobs, and the forces of laziness and complacency I observed in my friend's conversation, I wondered if my participation was even worth my while anymore. I wondered if my point of view had become obsolete, and that I was captaining a sinking ship.
After much reflection, I decided I needed an attitude adjustment. As the Champion of Historicity, many people in the community admire my courage and conviction, and look to me for leadership. My exit from the group had caused many of them to contact me personally and encourage me to return. They said the movement really required my passion, experience, and eloquence. They brought me around to soldiering on, but I realized that coming from a place of rage, frustration, and derision didn't help me or my cause in any way - that as the basis for my actions, it would poison them and be reflected back at me in the form of fear, hostility, and resistance. I realized that my efforts should come from a place of love and enthusiasm. I'm already an intimidating figure. I don't get it, but I'm told that my demeanor, reputation, and talents inspire fear in people, so it takes some work for me to reach them through all that. It doesn't help if it is compounded by an air of negativity, and a reputation for snark.
So, I've made a decision to dispose of the negative, and focus on the positive, and do what I can to aid the willing and those who need guidance, without looking down on them, or giving them cause to retreat in fear or embarrassment. I will cease to allow the unwilling to draw too much of my attention, nor tarnish my view of the show. There are areas in which I can effect change, and places I cannot, and I must learn to discern one from the other. I'm not sure if I will return to the snobs group, but I will continue my battle here, and wherever (and only wherever) my opinion is welcome or requested.