Rants and Raves

Opinion, commentary, reviews of books, movies, cultural trends, and raising kids in this day and age.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Life in the past lane

Yesterday I finally took my family to a Society for Creative Anachronism event. I'd promised Monika I would since we first went to the Norman, Oklahoma Medieval Fair.

I hadn't played SCA in about twenty years, since I got serious about my Masters degree study then went to live in Poland after I got it. It was a great chance to look up some old friends, and old is no idle adjective these days! We bought Monika a very nice period dress for cheap and got Jerzy a costume too. I went in a Kendo/ Kenjutsu outfit complete with Samurai sword.

The nice thing about "Anachronism" is that with my Celtic persona I just had to explain, "I've been traveling."

There are actually quite a few medieval recreation groups in Poland and some of Monika's friends were involved in them. However, so far they don't form a nationwide organization but are mostly local and sometimes cooperate to put on large-scale events like the yearly recreation of the Battle of Grunwald (1410, Poles and Lithuanians versus the Teutonic Knights). Polish groups also do worthy projects like adopting a castle or national historical site and work on their preservation and upkeep.

Great fun was had by all. The baby got fussed over a lot. (Old-timers would expect to meet Malcolm with a beautiful girl on his arm, and were not disappointed, though this was not quite what they expected!) The boy found a plastic sword and a friend with one who enjoyed whacking them together and playing pirates. My wife was delighted, "He gets to be himself for a change!" Nobody gets irritated when kids are rambunctious at SCA events. As well as old friends, I got to meet the children of old friends. Playing SCA is a family tradition for many.

There are drawbacks of course. SCA is a very time-consuming hobby, I probably won't ever get back to the level of activity I had in younger days. And for some, SCA is a substitute for upward socio-economic mobility, their ambition is absorbed in their hobby circle. A friend of mine once remarked that this was probably the largest collection of above-average-bright underemployed people you could find. Though that seems less evident these days and the level of maturity seems markedly higher than I remember - perhaps a function of age, both the organization's and the populace's.

But, it has a lot of things to recommend it, such as:

- People making their own entertainment, rather than sitting in front of the box and waiting to be entertained. There's lots of crafts activity and things like period dancing.

- Large events are usually at campsites where kids can run free with other kids, while everybody keeps half an eye on them. Strangers stand out because they are not in costume.

- Since the subject material is so broad, everybody can become an acknowledged expert on something. Monika became an expert to a fellow who wanted to create a Slavic persona and needed a name. He was delighted to find that Kazimierz (Casimir) means "disturber of the peace" and together they decided he was Kazimierz Niedzwiedz ("bear").

- People tend to create a persona that is a reflection of their ego ideal. For some, this kind of role-playing can help them become more like the person they want to be. (Of course, there are also some for whom their ego ideal is a creep too.)

- Manly sports for part-timers. Combat sport for young and old with rattan weapons and (a new development since I've been gone) rapier matches with steel rapier foils and dagger, buckler, mailed glove etc. (Something I had been urging for some time, it was once a feature of fencing schools before the First World War but fell into disuse. It's also something women are better able to participate in.) There are tournaments for rank and office, but it still remains something folks do just for the love of a good scrap with friends. It hasn't succumbed to the level of seriousness to the point where it is no longer a game, sportsmanship goes out the window and the older and less fit can't play anymore.

There are lots of choices to make among recreation groups. If we ever live in the Rocky Mountain states, I'd love to get into a Mountain Man group. My father was in a Revolutionary War group and there are very large Civil War groups in quite a few places.

The best thing about all this is, it's a family thing. Kids play an active part in it - and best of all, they learn that fun can be had away from an electical outlet.

I know that this is not just an American institution, but I wonder if there is any historical precendent in the pre-modern age for this kind of entertainment?

Lord Malcolm Wandersfar, aka Malcolm Longsword, aka Malcolm the Morally Handicapped


  • At 4:04 PM, Blogger David said…

    I've been playing in the SCA since I was 17. I'm 43 now...

    "I know that this is not just an American institution, but I wonder if there is any historical precendent in the pre-modern age for this kind of entertainment?"

    Medieval re-creation began shortly after the end of the Medieval period. Knights and tournaments had periodic revivals from Elizabethan to Victorian England, as well as on the continent.

  • At 5:03 PM, Blogger Steve Browne said…

    Interesting, I had forgotten that. But did they form permanent associations to host such events? And one difference that occurs to me is that this is a largely middle class passtime.

  • At 7:03 AM, Blogger David said…

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  • At 7:04 AM, Blogger David said…

    You're right. The SCA represents a change from nobility/rich folks re-living the pageantry of how they thought knights and damosels lived back in the day, to people in the middle class (originally mostly hippy types) re-creating some of the more fun aspects of the Middle Ages. That makes, I think, for a very different flavor.

    Turlogh O'Rourke, MSCA, OTC, OM

  • At 5:07 PM, Blogger Gilmoure said…

    I see the SCA as a continuation of the pre-Raphelite interest in medieval culture and integrity. Of course, it's also a self-sustained costume party that feeds on geeks and misfits (I got started back in '80).

    While modern culture has celebrated the individual, it's also fostered a sense of being out of control and maybe even having a pointless existence. The SCA seems to provide a venue for mattering in life. So, yeah, I can see it taking someone's ambition and channeling it away from RL. I see a similar thing happening in the computer world. Luckily, computer skills are still able to bring in a bit of change.

    Gilmoure the Trimarian


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