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Salvo 10.26.2021 5 minutes

Dark Gods at the Renaissance Fair

Staff and Patrons in Costume at a Renaissance Festival – 35

How Hatred of History Hurts Us

At first, I thought it must have been some satanic holiday. 

As we passed beneath the coral plaster archway emblazoned “Renaissance Fair,” the first group of people we encountered were teenage girls wearing fishnet stockings, corsetry, animal horns, and goth-punk makeup—like Eyes Wide Shut, but slightly less nudity. As we pressed through the crowd, we faced a barrage of men in cat costumes alongside women in “slutty nun” costumes. The paid entertainers, with the exception of one harpist, wore gypsy dresses, much closer to those of a modern prostitute than the average women living through the high noon of the middle ages. 

Perhaps we should have known the event would be more friendly to freaks than families. Instead, we suffered under the delusion that there may be some value, educational or recreational, to be gleaned from an event that purported to represent a rich moment in history. Upon reflection, that wasn’t a well-formed assumption.

For half of all Americans, history began in 1776, and for the rest, it was 1619. Even if a given person picked out of the Ren Fair organizers or attendees couldn’t pinpoint a specific year (and, chances are, the majority could not), the basic attitudinal divide in America boils down to one or the other: was the world set into motion through liberation from Church and Crown, or was it set onto its foundations by evil white men riding on the backs of black slaves? Whichever basic perspective the American implicitly assumes, the principle is the same: America is the beginning and the end; pre-enlightenment thought may as well be prehistoric; Liberation is the meaning of life; Europe is a source of great evil. We may squabble, but we’re all liberals, moving in the same direction, at different rates, as far from the so-called dark ages as we can shoot. The acceptable portrayal of pre-enlightenment history is thus limited to either joke or fetish. It’s not in us to take European Christendom seriously as historical fact, let alone as the true foundation of Western civilization. To do that would be to undo our own axioms.

But the historical ignorance wasn’t even the most disturbing part of the event. Why, in lieu of historical truth, do we get sex pests and demon cosplayers? One explanation could be “nerd culture:” the consumer habits of self-fashioned quirky people, who may be attracted to the idea of a Renaissance Festival simply by the fact of its fairly unique status in the American mainstream. Nerds love anything they imagine to be niche, and believe they self-differentiate by personally assuming whatever brand aesthetic they deem nerdy, in the same way that the goths of the nineties and early 2000s believed they railed against conformity by conforming to the aesthetic of Marilyn Manson. 

Nerd culture and non-binary culture share in the basic assumption that uniqueness earns them favor. So they share a quest to self-fashion ad absurdum. Lonely and deeply atomized people confuse group membership for love on the internet. Ever thus. Overlap between those groups, as well as shared presence at such an event, doesn’t surprise.

A far more sinister explanation for the weird sex stuff can be tied back to the original problem of the American Ren Fair: hatred of history. Scratch the surface of hatred of European history and you find plain and simple anti-Catholicism. One struggles to imagine a public event, say, an “Ottoman Bazaar,” where you’d find women dressed in sluttified Burkas. This is the way to undercut a religion that, prescriptively at least, makes sexual continence its center. The hubris of those who continue to make such statements is revealed by their own clear unhappiness.

Whatever the pure opposite of inspiration is—that’s the feeling you get in an American Ren Fair. A country that hates its own history will always fail to properly represent history, no matter the place or period. A people suffering identity crisis—nationally and personally— will wear their broken hearts on their sleeves. In this sense, historical accuracy isn’t the core problem. The core problem is a lack of love.

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