Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Authenticity of The Alternative Self (Or, How Flogging Fantasies and HistoryMobiles Make People Happy).

WHERE TO BEGIN? How about this: I'm thinking Renaissance Festivals might be fun.

According to scholars Hyounggon Kim and Tazim Jamal, the Texas Ren Fest is a hotbed of binge-drinking, promiscuity, role-playing, nude partying and posing for cameras (not all at once, please). Regular attendees say that the costumed-environment is a carefree world where everyone is an equal (as long as you are costumed) and judging is left at the gate. The regulars say that at the Ren Fest, they can finally be their authentic selves.

My questions is this: why not be your carefree self every day? Why let people control your desires? If it's legal, go for it. Want to wear a cape to the office? Do it. Want to wear a mask and leather boots? I won't stop you. Express yourself, my friend. The world would be a much more interesting place if everyone did.

But I digress. We're talking about authenticity. I question whether you can be your authentic self (existential or otherwise) simply by donning a costume a few weekends per year. The rationale seems to be that the people are not authentic in their workaday life. At least during the festivals, you can choose your persona. To me, it sounds like you are leaving one social construct for another. But hey, have fun!

My reading of Michael Frisch's "A Shared Authority" was difficult. The dang Google book program lopped off half the chapter. I glean, however, that Frisch was among the crew in charge of educating the masses in 1982 for Philadelphia's "Tercentenary" celebration.

The challenge was to provide information that people would appreciate and learn from. The solution? A HistoryMobile. Yes. Everything with "mobile" on the end is going to be fun.

The ultimate lesson learned, I think, was that people wanted to interact with history. The HistoryMobile brought information to people, creating a street-festival type atmosphere. People learned on their own, without the weight of a museum over them. Did they sacrifice the message through the presentation? You need to find that balance, I suppose.

In the end, who decides what is authentic anyway?

(The images are from Offagna, Italy, during their annual medieval festival).

1 comment:

  1. I love these pictures!!!

    And I totally agree with your take on authenticity.