Should Historic Reenactment be P.C.?

Can reenactment groups be both politically correct and historically accurate?

There is a proposal before the SCA (Society For Creative Anachronism) to allow same sex couples to enter the competition for a chance to be the royal couple.  This proposal brings into question the heart of what reenactment groups do—be as historically accurate as possible.  Can a group consider itself historically accurate if it allows same sex royal couples when no such monarchs existed?

Do we strive for historical accuracy even if it means being discriminatory?  How can groups be historically accurate while being politically correct?  Or do you sacrifice one for the other?  What is the higher goal, historical accuracy or being inclusive?

And how accurate is historically accurate? We make a lot of concessions to the “modern middle ages”. We communicate via email, our newsletters are on line, our cooks use gas or electric stoves and our seamstresses sometimes sew on sewing machines.  In the martial arts historical accuracy is sacrificed for safety. The armored combatants use flexible wooden swords and the fencers wear masks.  The occasional pair of sneakers is worn by a medievalist with aching feet.  So why not allow same sex couples to rule? 

This is a hobby, should we take it so seriously?  For those groups who consider themselves educational organizations and give lectures and demonstrations there is more reason for them not to play so loosely with facts.

 I realize there are more questions than answers in this essay and that’s because each group must decide for itself the answers. The answers will be formed in part by mundane laws, the moral compass of the group’s members and the group’s definition of historically accuracy.

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Tom Miccio December 28, 2012 at 11:24 PM
Can a group consider itself historically accurate if it allows same sex royal couples when no such monarchs existed? The group would then be a Social Club as opposed to a historical Society. My group 's only deviation from the historical record is that we are integrated. The Army didn't do that until 1948
Frances Avnet December 29, 2012 at 02:49 AM
Thank you for your comment Tom. It would seem that most historic reenactment groups have made deviations from their historical time period for various reasons. I'm curious as to what weapons your group uses? If guns, what substitution do you use for bullets?
paul December 29, 2012 at 02:59 AM
Frances Avnet: Should Historic Reenactment be P.C.? Maybe it is me but: OK humor me what does the P.C. stand for....
Chris Wendt December 29, 2012 at 03:06 AM
Re: "What is the higher goal, historical accuracy or being inclusive?" You cannot have it both ways, but rating or ranking of one goal versus another would be at the discretion of the beholder. Basic honesty should prevent producers of reenactments from perpetrating rank fraud on their customers, by, for example, trying to pass-off as historically accurate a situation which is significantly materially at odds with the true course of history. However, I would not extend any prohibition to the use of actors in opposite gender roles, such as Mary Martin's portrayal of Peter Pan. I also don't think the viewers would ever need to know or to be properly concerned about the sexual orientation of any players staging any reenactment, as long as the characters being portrayed were authentically presented. Alex Haley's "Roots" is a good example of fidelity to history which juxtaposes painfully true events and behaviors against the backdrop of our shared if sometimes inglorious history, with today's sanitized ideas of political rectitude. Contextually appropriate, the "N" word used prolifically in Roots has been rendered ever more poignant by its having been removed from the acceptable vernacular for about four decades, now. The principle character, Toby, a/k/a Kunta Kinte could only properly have been referred to a "African" because that's what he was born as, and what he was when he died. A tribal African, sold into slavery, who was owned by white American slave owners.
Theo January 01, 2013 at 01:49 PM
As someone involved in the 19th century base ball program at Old Bethpage Village Restoration, we pride ourselves on being as historically accurate as we can. That would include language, equipment, playing by the rules of the day, hiding any 21st century items away, etc. However, we do have some females who play ball which would not have been the case in 1864. If someone who was Hispanic or Black wanted to play, we would not exclude them either despite it not being historically accurate.
Chris Wendt January 01, 2013 at 03:02 PM
@ Tho re: "...we pride ourselves on being as historically accurate as we can." The auxiliary verb, "can", implies ability, in this case, the ability to be historically accurate. However, your stated custom willingly violates historical accuracy concerning gender, race, and ethnicity. I am not disagreeing with your position about those things, but I think the cultural norms of the period, especially concerning gender roles and color, are vital to understanding how far our society and culture have come during the past two centuries, which could better be accomplished by strict adherence to the way things were back then, when re-creating it. Perhaps it is governmental regulations that have impeded your ability to actually be completely historically accurate in a County park?
paul January 01, 2013 at 04:47 PM
Should Historic Reenactment be P.C.? Maybe it is me but: OK humor me what does the P.C. stand for....
VL January 01, 2013 at 05:23 PM
politically correct.
VL January 01, 2013 at 05:28 PM
What are the chances that at an SCA event someone would take issue with a same-sex couple representing a/the king and queen? Period-believed bawdiness is acceptable, the historical dress of many participants are not accurate (fabric/manner sewn/decorative embellishments)...there are many parts of the typical SCA which are simply and evidently not "accurate." So why not? :) Side note: Shakespearean actors were all men, and this was accomplished to entertain, which for the most part...the SCA is the same.
Frances Avnet January 02, 2013 at 02:53 AM
I wonder if the fear of being sued for discrimination is a factor not just in Tho's case but for other groups as well?
Frances Avnet January 02, 2013 at 02:54 AM
Thank you all for your well thought out comments. Have a Happy New Year!
Thomas Nathan January 02, 2013 at 03:10 PM
We are talking about a bunch of adults playing dress up for the day. Who really cares.
paul January 02, 2013 at 03:11 PM
Thank you. I was not sure. She should have spelled it out... Perhaps that would have been Politically Correct..... ;o)
Chris Wendt January 02, 2013 at 03:50 PM
Thomas, if we are talking about that, then what is your opion concerning the question posed at the top of the blog? There are historical preservation societies in Seaford and Wantagh and numerous other LI communities, that are not affilitated with the SCA. In addition, the Seaford Manor School has held historical re-enactment encampments for their students. I think there is room for discussion about the concept of fidelity or accuracy in historical recreations of different kinds and in many places.
Thomas Nathan January 02, 2013 at 04:35 PM
@ Chris My answer is still the same - these are adults playing dress up for the day. I dont really care who they include or dont include that is their choice. Do we really care that when people dress up to play fake soldier they are integrated or not? Do we care if the nationality of their opponents is correct? These are guys who dress up and play in the woods. Let them do whatever they want.
Frances Avnet January 03, 2013 at 02:56 AM
Tom, If the adults were just playing dress up for the day, there wouldn't be an issue. Keep in mind that sometimes a group will lecture at a library or give a talk to a classroom full of children. Even if a group appears at a festival there still is a strong educational component present. People will come up to ask questions about pirates after my pirate group preforms. They expect us to know about how the weapons were used, what pirates ate, did they really say Arr? With such expectations, can we as reenactors play with facts?
Frances Avnet January 03, 2013 at 03:06 AM
Now for an update: the SCA's Board of Directors has decided that competitors for the royal couple must be couples of the opposite sex unless current royalty has elected to permit the competitors to be of the same sex. Basically they are allowing each individual "Kingdom" (The SCA has divided the U.S. into several different "kingdoms") to decided for themselves.
Chris Wendt January 03, 2013 at 11:17 AM
So the SCA has decided to adulterate their own standards of authenticity by implementing democracy among their Kingdoms? How anachronistic.
michael mirra January 08, 2013 at 02:42 AM
I don't think pc means to distort historical recreations. If some groups were discriminated against & excluded, that is accurate to portry things the way that they were when portraying history. The historical presentation is pc in that it portrays the event in the exclusionary reality that existed & therefore portrays the people in the past as the exclusionary people they were. I wouldn't worry about people feeling slighted. I think the people that are portrayed in a bad light are the exclusionary people being represented as the exclusionary idiots that they were. Display them as the bigots they were in a true representation of the times that is recreated in the acting out of the times being portrayed.


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