Have Yourself an Ambivalent Little Christmas


The Golden Age of Spam

Will the Real Renaissance Please Stand Up?

My Life of Crime

My Life of Crime, Pt. 2: The War of the Dandelions

Black (and Blue) Friday

Going Home

How Not to Celebrate a Holiday

Traffic Report Fall Down
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O, Holy Weekend

You Mean My Vote Actually Means Something?

Side Disorders

Lessons for Hurricane Preparedness as Taught By Example in Raleigh, North Carolina

You Mean My Vote Actually Means Something?, Pt. 2: Are They Gone Yet?

The Last Reality Show

It Builds Character

Sink the Flu

WTF (in C Major)

Intruder Alert

Kneel before Za

I Got Your Breaking News Right Here, Pal

Christmas in July...or April...or maybe even December


Why I Hate "The Little Drummer Boy"

Will the Real Renaissance Please Stand Up?

The Renaissance isn't what it used to be.

The Renaissance, for those of you in the mood for a five-second course in European history, was a cultural movement that saw the returned availability of classical texts to Europe and major advancements in the arts and sciences. It was also centered in Italy in the 15th and 16th centuries, with some notable developments (particularly in music) happening in the French region of Burgundy and some later developments in painting in the Netherlands.

But I recently attended a local "Renaissance Faire" and saw almost none of this. What I saw, quite frankly, was a 21st century Freak Showe.

I'm not blaming the organizers of the Fair(e) for this (this is a lie, but let's pretend otherwise for a few paragraphs). The problem was the people showing up. Some of us, self included, felt it would be perfectly appropriate (not to mention much cheaper) to simply wear normal clothes to the event. Others decided that since this was a Renaissance Faire, they should wear Renaissance Clothinge. That's a little bit on the geeky side, but I suppose it's no worse than wearing a football jersey at a football game when you're only a spectator. But some other people apparently thought they were going to a generalized costume party. There were, for example, the women in chain-mail bikini tops. Seriously. There were also what I can only describe as belly-dancing goths: they wore what looked like belly dancing outfits with the exception that belly-dancing outfits are generally colorful and these were solid black, and the skimpy clothing also allowed anyone who so desired to see their lower back tattoos and their navel piercings. You also had several people wearing a sort of gothic take on Victorian outfits, with all the lace being black and all the other colors being deep shades of red or green. Finally, in the non-goth category, there were also numerous people dressed like pirates (I'll get back to this).

But the winners were the fairy wings. A couple of the people wearing fairy wings were girls in their tweens. That's fine — I don't see any need for eleven-year-olds to be trying to act like adults. But I do see a need for women in their mid-to-late 20s to try to act like adults, and the women that age who were wearing fairy wings weren't. There was one woman wearing them who must have been six feet tall and must have weighed well over three hundred pounds. What was this woman thinking? I know what I was thinking. I was thinking "What is this woman thinking?"

But really, what should we expect? You can't expect the fairgoers (excuse me, that should be "fairegoers") to take the whole thing seriously when the organizers weren't. And believe me, they weren't. (I told you I was lying.) The warning signs were there before I even got inside the gate. When buying tickets — yes, I actually paid to attend this thing — I saw a sign indicating the credit cards they take. Could they simply say they take MasterCard, Visa, American Express, and Discover? No. They had to make some lame attempt at using faux-period language and put up a hand-painted sign stating that they accept "Master of the Card, Our Lady of Visa, New World Express, and Discovery". Honestly, people: It's not going to destroy the authenticity of anything to just put the normal signs with logos up, especially when I haven't actually entered the Fair(e) yet. And it's not like your sign is authentic anyway. Just put up the normal signs and be done with it.

There was also a sign informing us that "All Steel must be sheathed AND peace-tied", and furthermore "No Polearms or Black Powder Pistols". Even ignoring the obvious loophole ("No, the sword isn't peace-tied, but look! It doesn't stick to this magnet! I'm not breaking any rules!"), there's a major problem here, which is that they shouldn't be allowing any weapons at all. I don't care what historical era you're trying to recreate; events like this are full of geeks. Have you ever seen a geek get in a fight? They hurt themselves more than they hurt their adversaries. If one of these Fair(e)goers did lose it and try to hurt somebody, he'd probably cut his own left arm off. And that's assuming he's left-handed. For the safety of all concerned, they should just tell people "Leave your geeky-ass, Dungeons and Dragons wanna-be swords in your parents' basement!"

But more importantly, the organizers of the Fair (I am officially done typing that idiotic and historically dubious "e" at the end of that word) do their damnedest to make certain this thing isn't an actual Renaissance Fair.

Remember what I said about the Renaissance being centered in Italy with some other developments in Burgundy and the Netherlands? Now, take a guess where (and when) this Renaissance Fair happened. Here's a hint: It's about a thousand miles and a hundred years away from 14th-century Florence. Give up? It's Elizabethan England. And there's the problem. Ladies and gentlemen, Elizabethan England was not the Renaissance. The Renaissance, as I just said, was about a thousand miles and a hundred years away. You might as well create a Civil War reenactment that takes place in Winnipeg and features President Kennedy. But they still set the Fair there.

Now, you may be asking at this point what it means for the Fair to be "set" in Elizabethan England. What this means is that they have someone dressed as Queen Elizabeth I, complete with a retinue of guards who won't let you come within ten feet of her, wandering around the fair and occasionally looking at the vendors' wares. That must have really pissed off the vendors: how the hell are you supposed to sell anything when no one can come to your booth? I kept wondering what would happen if someone ignored the guards and tried to walk up to the "queen" anyway. I didn't bother, though. I'd have probably gotten thrown out of the fair, and my wife would have made me wait in the car for several hours while she finished enjoying the day.

There was also apparently some weird storyline for the Fair that was told in random scenes in random places, but I didn't see any of it. There was a description in the program, and apparently it had something to do with a female pirate demanding to hold audience with the queen, and the whole thing culminates with them actually having the audience. That, by the way, was why so many of the guests felt it was appropriate to dress up like Captain Jack Sparrow (sometimes literally...there was one I dubbed "Captain Jacqueline Sparrow" because it was a very convincing Jack Sparrow outfit but for the minor detail of the breasts).

Swashbuckling pirates. In Elizabethan England. Yes, I'm well aware that there were in fact pirates in Elizabethan England (there have been pirates since before the Roman Empire and still are today), but let's not fool ourselves. The inspiration for this theme is obviously the Pirates of the Carribean movies and the Golden Age of Piracy in general. The Golden Age of Piracy was roughly a little over a century after the Elizabethan era — and let us not forget that this puts it a little over two centuries after the Renaissance. So now we've got a 15th-Century name for a fair with a 16th-Century setting and an 18th-century character. I'm glad they didn't continue this trend, or else the pirate would have been using slang from the Boer war and dressed like a flapper.

Remember those vendors I mentioned earlier that "Queen Elizabeth" was irritating? Se must have been quite curious indeed about their wares, because most of them didn't manage to have anything to do with the Renaissance or Elizabethan England or the Golden Age of Piracy. If the Fair was begging for people to fill the booths, that would be one thing. They weren't. I checked out the website, and it has a section for vendors which quite clearly says vendors need to apply early because space is limited. That tells me there's plenty of people wanting in, and the organizers can afford to be a little bit selective to make certain everything matches the period(s) they're aiming for. So what did we get?

We got more belly dancers (at least they looked like authentic belly dancers instead of goth belly dancer wanna-bes). We got purveyors of henna art. We got a guy selling Appalachian music. We got countless booths of Celtic kitsch. We had people selling "Elf ears" (I guarantee these same people go to sci-fi conventions and sell them as "Spock ears"). We had people selling Native American dream catchers, for crying out loud. Now that I think about it, the vendor selection was even less authentic than the outfits the fairgoers were wearing.

But in spite of all this silliness, there was one vendor that truly stood out: the astrologer. Remember what I said the Renaissance was? A movement which saw major advances in, among other things, science? And we're going to celebrate this movement by having a booth with astrologers. Good grief. What's next, celebrating the civil rights movement by holding a minstrel show?

In fairness, I should point out that there was some nifty stuff there and I did in fact enjoy myself for the most part. There was an exhibit on raptors. There were some entertaining shows from acrobats and magicians. There was a fencing competition where the contestants were wearing real armor and wielding real weapons. (I'm sure that was as choreographed as a pro wrestling match, but it was still cool.) And best of all, there was a greyhound coursing demonstration. That, of course, was worth the price of admission all by itself. So in spite of all the goofiness, I did have a good time.

And when it was over, I got in my car, and put a CD of music by Josquin des Prez in the CD player as I drove through the city streets. It was the most authentic Renaissance experience I had all day.

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