tibicen: (Default)
[personal profile] tibicen
This came up in a recent discussion in someone else's journal. I mentioned I'd written something to the point and, IIRC, posted it to the EK list many, many years ago, and would try to dig it up. If I ever did post it to the EK list, I can't find it now (though, tantalizingly, I can find flames from people responding to a similar-but-different post I made in 2000). But I did find a draft I was preparing for LJ way back when, that I never did post. So here it is, mostly unedited.



One of the most deeply embedded memes in the SCA is that of "fun vs. authenticity". I find that vexing because it's a false dichotomy. There's actually other choices that aren't even on that continuum.

Or at least one other.

But because that paradigm has such deep roots into the Scadian psyche, most Scadians are oblivious to other possibilities. Funnists and authenticists, alike, assume anyone not with them is with the other team, and thus are oblivious to the fact that someone might be on neither of those two teams.

Someone like me. I stand at a third pole. I'm an "atmospherist".

The highest value, wrt to SCA participation, of the funnist is fun. The highest value of the authenticist is authenticity. The highest value of the atmospherist is atmosphere.

The problem that we atmospherists -- which at this point means "I" unless someone else wants to join me under this banner :) -- have with authenticists and funnists is that they elevate authenticity and fun, respectively, over atmosphere.

Authenticists often irritate us because making an end of authenticity inclines one to tunnel-vision. Authenticists will show up at an event in perfectly turned out garb and talk about computers. Or will cook an exquisitely period feast in a t-shirt and jeans. Authenticists will pour a thousand hours of research and craftsmanship into a single artifact, then demand to be able to show it off in a high school gymnasium as part of a county fair, presented with a laminate-covered report and little 3x5 note cards.

Authenticists will raise their own ancient breed of sheep, sheer them with period tools, prepare the wool and weave it in a period fashion, cut it in patterns drafted from examining contemporaneous iconography, and sew it into historical garments... which fit on them as well as potato sacks and which have as much resemblance to the fit of the model garments depicted in the paintings as a an eggplant does to an ostrich, but it's authentic because it was made right regardless of what it looks like; and they will proceed to peacock around the event looking for all the world like an unmade bed, expecting everyone else to pretend they're dressed like a Medici. Authenticists will sacrifice pretty much everything to getting the authenticity of their chosen obsession to their level of perfection -- including the rest of the damn event, their fellow authenticists' authenticity, and the total authenticity of the rest of whatever it is they are doing!

But if authenticists are often guilty of sins of omission, funnists are given to sins of commission. Authenticists may fail to pay attention to anything except their hobby horse, but funnists will actively attempt to sabotage the Society in their self-indulgent voraciousness. If the funnist thinks it would be fun to have an Elvis impersonator at an SCA event, he will bring one. Actually, he has. Funnists will actively attempt to break the SCA for their amusement, like a two year old who smashes his toys for kicks and giggles. Funnists think violating the game is more fun than playing it. Wouldn't it be a kick if we brought an inflatable alligator into court? Wouldn't it be a kick if we made a 16th century outfit out of duct tape? Wouldn't it be a kick if we had an event were we do things as non-medievally as possible? It's the funnists we have to thank for actively kicking down what little we manage to build up.

And even if the funnist isn't actively trying to destroy the Society, their elevation of fun as a primary virtue guarantees that when someone points out to them that what they're doing is detrimental to the enterprise, the best you can hope for from them is a "So what?" -- and at worst the screaming temper-tantrum of a toddler whose bottle has been taken from him.

We atmospherists are into spectacle and festival. We want to go to tourneys and see or commit feats of prowess. We want to hoist tankards in taverns and revel until broke and hoarse. We want to tread the measures across floors and enchant the appropriate genders with glancing looks and gracious courtesy. We want to be awed by the solemnity of knightings and thrilled by the bravery of our host of warriors arrayed on the battlefield. We want to luxuriate in the plenty of our feasts, the sumptuousness of our garb, and the talents of our minstrels.

We're into style. We're into the gestalt over-all experience. We want to be carried away by the whole thing. We're into aesthetics, and whether things have the feel. We're just as in to things which hint, evoke, and suggest as we are into things which just are. We're into the subjective experience, as opposed to the objective facts. We're into the romance of history, and the archetype of the medieval. We're into the symbiosis of exoticism and haunting familiarity that is the medieval in the modern mind. We're into pleasure and delight. We're into that "sensawonda" that we inherited from our grand-fandom.

In short, we're into tele. Not the total step-through-time transformation of the re-enactor, but the simpler transport of children at play. We want to, for a space of time, bide in an environment beauty and delight. We are romantics. The fact that It Wasn't Really Like That does not bother us, nor does it bother us that evoking such a bubble world involves rules, standards, boundaries and discipline.

Atmospherists think the point of the SCA is, well, to play SCA. We want to do the stuff that you can do in the SCA and basically no where else. We have shown up at the baseball diamond with our bat and our glove, and we are neither interested in endless pitching drill to get exactly the right curve ball, nor are we interested in playing football, wrestling, or having to drive the jai alai team from the infield while we're trying to play. We get a little cross with funnists and authenticists who seem to have lost track of the point of getting all together and dressing up in medieval clothes, in their respective yens to do something else entirely.

We Atmospherists think the Christmas Revels are[*] really onto something there. We tend to have a weak spot for banners and dangly sleeves. We think strange foods at the feast table is a feature not a bug. We like florid toasts and dramatic gestures, graceful bows and kissed knuckles. We're the last holdouts still addressing our fellows as "Milord" and "Milady". We're into painful earnestness. We love wit and seriousness, both. Our anthem is "Pastime with Good Company" and our hymn is "Belle qui tient ma vie".

Atmospherists understand the most reliable way to something seeming to be medieval, is for it to actually be medieval. We get along with authenticists that far. But we part ways with them in realizing that that is also often the least expeditious way for something to seem medieval. Where the authenticist is concerned with making one really period garment, the atmospherist is concerned with figuring out how to make everyone look a little more medieval.

We are both vexed with and disappointed in authenticists who fail to commodify their knowledge for dissemination to others. Yes, it's lovely you've redacted all these recipes, no, I am not going to redact them for myself, now when is the cookbook coming out? Yes, that's a lovely gown; no, I don't think all the newbies are about to go out and draft one of those from scratch; have you considered making simplified instructions to disseminate to beginners?

The authenticist thinks the atmospherist is one of his own clan, right up to the moment he, shocked, realizes the atmospherist is willing to compromise his works' historical purity to get his knowledge into as many heads and hands as possible. Then he, wounded, concludes the atmospherist is a funnist, and shakes his head in disappointment that someone with so much promise could go so far astray.

Atmospherists are wedded to the idea that this should be enjoyable. That they have in common with the funnists. But unlike the funnists they realize that humans have more capacity for enjoyment above and beyond mere distractions, capacities ranging from the most base sensory appetites through the most rarefied sensibilities of the heart, mind and spirit -- and of our pleasures from the most earthy to the most lofty, we atmospherists are unwilling to relinquish a single one. Fritos are not enough. T-shirts with belts over them are not enough. Yucking, insincere jokery, adolescent posturing of being too cool to get involved is not enough.

The funnist thinks the inventive, festive atmospherist is on his side, right up to the moment he proposes doing something gross and the atmospherist replies "That's not very medieval." At which point the shocked and indignant funnist goes back to his tribe with a new story about the horrible oppression they suffer at the hands of stuffy authenticists.

[* Er, "were". They've gone downhill in recent years. More's the pity.]


It's kinda pugnacious, though I think necessarily so in that it's trying to elbow aside the press of crowds which are squeezing out its space.
Anyone who is moved by this and identifies with the position would do well to write themselves a positive-assertion manifesto to rally the troops. I might even be moved to write such a thing on behalf of any gentles who wished to launch such a social movement, if they wished it.

Date: 2011-02-23 09:29 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] cvirtue.livejournal.com
This is very interesting. Thank you for posting your thoughts.

Date: 2011-02-23 10:34 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] etherial.livejournal.com
You would have loved the Ed & Meg Show.

Date: 2011-02-23 11:14 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] hudebnik.livejournal.com

Nicely put.

I was exposed at an impressionable age to Cariadoc's writings on authenticity, in which he pointed out that one of the most inauthentic things we can do at an event is discuss authenticity. A 15th-century person might conceivably have consumed cacao, or danced a dance that we've only documented to the 16th century... but we can be sure that a 15th-century person did not discuss whether a 15th-century person could have done these things. Accordingly, that sort of discussion breaks the atmosphere, the willing suspension of disbelief, much more than the cacao or the dance itself does.

Of course he (and I, and probably you) has also spent lots of hours outside events trying to figure out How They Did It, for at least three reasons: because he's curious, because period solutions to period problems tend to work, and because he wants to enhance everybody else's experience at events.

Date: 2011-02-25 03:30 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] fredrickegerman.livejournal.com
I suspect an awful lot of the Society got into it for the atmospherics.

But it occurs to me that a certain amount of ignorance makes the atmospherics less jarring. But even if we are willfully ignorant, we can still tell atmosphere done well from atmosphere done poorly. These two facts may, over time, have a tendency to impel people into the "fun" or "authentic" camps -- though in the latter case mostly due to people's tendency to hyper-focus on one or another aspect of their participation in the atmosphere.
(screened comment)

Date: 2017-03-06 08:30 pm (UTC)
jducoeur: (Default)
From: [personal profile] jducoeur
Mais oui. But conveniently, "Tibicen" is the logical attribution to use for the link anyway...

Date: 2017-04-04 05:01 pm (UTC)
stormsdotter: A blue shield with a silver winged lioness and a silver and blue double border. (Default)
From: [personal profile] stormsdotter
Oh hey, DW! I haven't been on here in ages.

I didn't realize there was a category for what I am. I want to have fun. I want to be as period as possible on my budget. I want to encourage others.

Thanks for sharing!

Date: 2017-04-12 08:10 pm (UTC)
sporky_rat: It's a rat!  With a spork!  It's ME! (groza novgorodskaia)
From: [personal profile] sporky_rat
Aaah, yes!

We have an event coming up that's definitely got some hackles up in the kingdom - Baronial Wars - which has a definite Star Wars theme.

But it's New Orleans hosting it. I don't think they know how to not be fun and atmospheric. (And sometimes authenticity is important too.)

I like finding out how it was done, how I can do it in a way that doesn't endanger my health, and how I can teach it to others in a way more simply.

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