When does being as historically accurate as possible become a negative in living history? I think it’s a grey area between not having fun, and hampering your interactions with the public.
I love the middle ages, and I love being in a late medieval living history group, but the big downside to doing the middle ages is the social structure. When the group members are hanging out, not doing an event, we’re all equal, tax paying adults, yet the situation changes when we’re at an event.
As it is in most living history groups (I’d guess) the people with the most money and stuff are at the top of the group, and everyone else falls down below to make up the pyramid. (Reenacting wise, not talking about group politics) This pyramid then comprises the rigid medieval social structure.
I’m a jobless college student, who can barely afford the gas it costs to get to an event, so needless to say I’m towards the bottom of this social structure. I have an ok archer kit, but it’s not the $10,000 + suits of armor 3 other guys in the group have. As such, they’re the “gentlemen” and I’m a mere yeoman. I have to serve them at the table. They get to wear nice clothes, eat fancy food, and tell me what to do around camp.
While it’s ok, it’s not nearly as much fun as it would to be one of those gentlemen, dressed head to toe in steel, the stars of the show. The sad thing is, I know how much fun it is, I did 100 years war living history with another group for 6 years before my current one where I had my own suit of armor. I got to dress up and be the badass one, running around doing demonstrations, pretending to be a statue just to scare little kids, etc… It was amazing! But now I’m just an archer. My lower standing in the camp is historically accurate. I can afford less stuff, and so the people who have more stuff order me around.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s still really fun to dress up and stand around in camp. My favorite part is acting as camp sentry, that way I get to put on some armor, wield a big pole ax, and look intimidating.
As for hampering your ability to talk to the public, I think there is some point when being perfectly accurate is ridiculous. If I wanted to really show how a yeoman plucked from the 15th century would act if suddenly dropped in a 21st century event I’d be running around freaking out and killing people because he wouldn’t know what was going on.
But that’s an extreme example. How about this one, I can’t see shit. I wear glasses normally, I can read things up close fine, but get more than 6 feet away and you become blurry. (Not much of an archer am I? ~_^) I just recently got contact lenses. For the first time in 9 years I will actually be able to see at an event! But then, contact lenses aren’t historically accurate. Should I not wear them despite the fact that nobody can tell and I’d be having trouble getting around camp?
What about deodorant? This is one I’ve often thought about. Should I not wear deodorant? Even if it’s unscented? Am I trying to replicate an authentic smell of a lower class medieval yeomen archer, who’s in the field on campaign? How do I even explain that to the public? “Hi,….. don’t walk away! I smell like shit for a reason!” Erm…yeah….
Should I stay in character, try to fake an accent? Speak in middle English or Latin? How will the public understand me then? They won’t learn anything. I also can’t scream at the women in camp, or hit them, even though a male in the middle ages probably would have gotten away with that no sweat. (Not that I’d want to)
While I do think trying to being as historically accurate as possible is a good thing, there are limits. Lets face it. Life back then sucked. People got sick, died, were underfed and over worked. You were trapped in an extremely rigid social class while the people at the top milked you for all your worth. History is often romanticised by the movies and in books, when in reality it was hell.
Reenactors are in the wonderful position of being able to dress up, go play, and come home to a hot shower, tv, Nyquil, and the Bill of Rights. I guess that’s what makes the past fun. The fact that you can go and experience it, but in the back of your mind you know that if anything goes wrong, you have the safety net of modern society to catch you.