Last week, there was a lot of discussion about the cover photo, some of it quite heated. Here is a portion of a post I made on the topic:
Originally Posted by LibertyHallVols
I wondered if I was the only one seeing these things, or if I was simply the only one declaring them publicly. When it comes "this end" of the hobby, discussions on improvement center around either getting guys to show up at events or recruiting. As a result of this, I started a thread
asking people what they felt that the must urgent or important improvement areas were for the P/C/H/A end of the hobby.
Some of the replies were what I expected to see:
The customary "if only we could get guys to support our events", mixed with the "can't we all just get along" posts wanting the P/C/H/A end of the hobby to fold itself back in to the mainstream, like C.A.R.T. dissolving and its teams going to the Indy Racing League (sorry, I'm a Hoosier... you'll have to deal with Indy 500 analogies).
However, most of the posts seem to echo my own observations, as well as some new ones that also seem to ring-true. What follows is my attempt to reflect back what I read in that thread. I am curious if the following is an accurate description of the issues, problems, and areas for improvement on this end of the hobby.
We are currently comprised of messes and freelancers, scabs and sub-groups of sub-groups. Organization is almost totally lacking outside of the ad-hoc companies and battalions formed at each event. This end of the hobby was formed this way and this is how we have remained for the last 10 to 15 years. While its nice to be tied to no one, we are also required to be loyal to no one. You can see the negative effects of this weaving its way through most of what follows.
If there is one are where we can truly experience the life of a Civil War soldier, it is drill. However, drill gets short shrift on our end of the hobby. Little if any time at our events is set aside to practice this skill and very little is dedicated to it in terms of bandwidth or column inches (for those who still like print media). Folks, the mainstream of the hobby puts us to shame at drill. As they have done for 40+ years, weekends (that's plural) are set aside each year solely for drill at both the company and battalion level.
Officers and NCOs on our end of the hobby are also determined on an event-by-event basis. An experienced officer on our end of the hobby might lead a company twice each year. Sergeants are usually identified early in the event planning, but are frequently named on Friday evening. The end result of this is that individuals have little chance to gain real depth of experience in these positions. Rather than remembering our mistakes at the next event and correcting them, the experience goes cold for months or years. Working releationships between battalion commanders and company captains cannot form because there is little chance for the same colonel to work with the same set of captains. The same could be said for the working relationships between a captain and his sergeants. When an orderly and a captain get to know each other well, they can anticipate each others' needs and compensate for each others' weaknesses. Don't you think this happened during the war?
Not walking the talk - Are we more hype than substance?
Many of the posts called out this concern either directly or indirectly. Folks talked about first person dying on the vine at events advertised as "immersion", in favor of modern chats catching up with friends, talking about gear, etc. The place for "gear-chat" is on-line, on the phone, or in the parking lot, but not after an event goes-live.
One of Charles Heath's mantras was "Get Beyond the Gear". To me, that means (1) not focussing too much on one element of one's impression - the "materials" to the detriment of the "man" and the "methods", and (2) when we're at an "authentic" event, we all have "authentic" clothing... so, why talk about it? DO the bloody event!
Don't get me wrong on this. I LOVE to chat about the weapons and gear more than most! I've spent entire events chatting up this stuff with pards... I am guilty as charged on this. The hobby functions because each of us gets geeked-out by different nuances and minutia of soldier or civilian life of the period. We bring the knowledge we gain to the hobby for the benefit of all. For me, by way of an example, I've benefitted greatly from Jeff Clagg's knowledge of 19th Century agriculture and food preservation. I would probably never have sought out that information on my own, but learning from Jeff is always fascinating and fun.
However, when we as a group collectively turn our attention to only one "leg" of the three that comprise our impressions, we move away from the ideal to which we all strive. Those with a passion for field craft (for example) need to share their knowledge. The same holds true for all of us, no matter where our interests lie, be they drill, campaign histories, civilian life, or whatever.
Those with less experience need to listen!
Whenever I finish any project, there is a moment when I take a step back and view my work. The bigger the job, the more pride I feel in my accomplishments. The same holds true for every reenactor once they finally get their uniform and kit together and attain some level of proficiency at drill, camping, etc. I think this is probably doubly-true for reenactors who cross over to the P/C/H/A end of the hobby.
Is it "wrong" or "bad" to feel proud? Heck no! Gathering together a top-line kit is not just a heavy financial investment, but it also requires a good deal of patience, persistence, and (if you're doing it right) research. There aren't too many vendors left out there to allow you to pick up your credit card and be fully kitted-out within a few phone calls and/or internet transactions and a week waiting for stuff to ship. For those that have "crossed over" from the mainstream, you have to eat a little humble pie and admit that you've been doing some things wrong, and that can really be hard for some people.
The problem is that sometimes folks feel that they have "arrived" simply by crossing over. The truth is that your "arrival" is not the end of your journey, but merely the end of the beginning (all apologies to Winston Churchill). I think it is good to pause and congratulate yourself on reaching that "end of the beginning", but then you have to keep going. If you rest on your laurels and allow your accomplishments to be marked only by some cool ambrotypes, the next cool piece of kit, or having your name on the registration lists of the "best" events, then you're achievements become an empty shell.
So, please keep an open mind, open ears, and ask lots of questions. ...the greater the expertise of the person you're talking with, try to ask open ended questions to get them talking. If that doesn't work, ask something specific, then keep probing. In my experience, experts love to talk about their areas of expertise and teach others. The conversation will be fun for both of you. None of us know everything, so we all need to keep learning and listening to experts. But, for the newly-converted, this is an imperative!
A little humility please
A lot of this speaks to attitude, which was another recurring theme in that thread. That pride that we feel can easily be misinterpretted as arrogance or elitism. If we're not careful, those interpretations can be correct. I think we need to tread carefully when it comes to the mainstream of the hobby. The mainstream of the hobby is not comprised of bafoons and yokels happy to dwell in ignorance. Yep, those stereotypes are just as real as the hardcore elitist a-hole, but painting all mainstreamers with that broad brush is disrepectful and unfair. There is a wealth of knowledge among the mainstream, and I think a lot of us would be surprised about the depth of knowledge these folks have. We are all finding fun, fulfillment, and friendship in our own way. Reenacting is not a competitive sport. If it was, we'd all be losers. The only accomplishments worth noting are those of the veterans of the war and those guys are all dead. Anything we achieve in the hobby is laughable when compared with their struggles, suffering, and accomplishments. We can grow who we are and what we do without tearing others down or treating the mainstream (or anyone, for that matter) disrespectfully.
Tolerance for each other on this end
The internet is great, because it allows folks from all over the world to seek out others that share their interest and points of view. The internet is terrible because it is an imperfect medium for communication and can cause misunderstanding, and also because it can allow us to filter out anyone that doesn't share our points of view.
Another theme here is regional. The hobby is different when you cross the Appalachians. It is also different when you cross the Mississippi. Among other difference, the concept of "For Us By Us" changes as you cross those boundries.
Given the history of how we all formed in the first place (breaking off from the larger "mainstream" of the hobby):
If we cannot come to some agreements on minimum standards and expectations, and if we cannot break the cycle of schisms due to personal conflict, are we in danger of sub-dividing ourselves out of existence?
I don't want this article to come across as though we are falling apart. However, much like a rocket ready to drop its first stage, I think now is a good time for us (as a group) to take a hard inward look and figure out what it will take for use to keep rising. If a rocket doesn't drop the first stage, it will fall back to earth. We've come along way since the 1990's, but its starting to look like the rate of ascent is slowing way down.