25 April 2012

Confessions of a Farb: some thoughts on historical reenactment

From Wikipedia:

Farb is a derogatory term used in the hobby of historical reenacting in reference to participants who exhibit indifference to historical authenticity.

It is downright creepy how seriously people take this issue. There are articles out there on how to convert the poor benighted farbs to authenticity.

Nearly all of the effort for authenticity is centered on the externals.
In a way, the farbs are more historically accurate: they order clothes that look to them like the fashions they've seen the governor wearing, and go about their business. I assure you no 18th century gentleman spent hours online researching what type of seam to use in his outfit.

It seems to me that the point of trying to live in the 18th century is to get in touch with what it felt like to live then, not what it looked like -- which is only a means. The reenactor knows this subconsciously: although he has just spent more time determining what to wear than he will ever spend in the clothes, he endeavors to assume the identity of a person in touch with all the inspiring ideas of the age, not a fop.

There is living an authentic 18th century life for a day... and it is so, so tempting to go down that road... and then there is looking at what constituted an upright life in the 18th century, and endeavoring to follow the good example of any 18th century figure who set one.

Confession. If I call myself a farb, it is only because there is no getting around the farbiness of living in the 21st century. Were I actually a historical reenactor, I'd probably be up there hand-spinning with the worst of them... only, it is not my top priority.
I have only one life, and it is in this farby century, but no one else will take responsibility for it. I am not going to spend it beating up wool in a washtub until it turns into felt.
"If they had had it, they would have used it" is a bad rule for reenactment, but not necessarily for life.

Sometimes you have to visit another century in order to appreciate the potential of your own.
I believe that is the point of historical reenactment... of any fantasy, really. 

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