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The Living History "Flash Mob"

Lately I have been pondering the situation of the "civilian re-enactor". This is someone who chooses to portray a non-military person at public history events. This civilian often finds him or herself marginalized at events that are really all about soldiers marching about and playing "bang you're dead" or gunfighters doing what ever gunfighters do, as well as also target shooting or playing "bang you're dead".

Further, the civilian is often, by choice and situation a free agent without the support provided by an established group. This can be very isolating, and seriously degrade one's quotient of fun, with nothing much to do and no one to talk to.

Modern technology however offers an interesting opportunity to mitigate the negative aspects of wanting to portray the ordinary man, woman or child of the era while increasing the fun and impact of our activities.

A modern phenomenon is the "flash mob", where a group of individuals use email, texting, social networks, cell phones and the like to create collective action. Often it's things like political protests or stunts. However, this same model of the flash mob can be applied to our hobby, and allow the benefits of a supportive group of like minded people without the complexity and constraint of formal organizations.

I would like to suggest that we who portray historical folk embrace the model of the "flash mob" and use technology to make our mark on the world.

ImageHere's the scenario: a local historic house is holding "Pioneer Days". They say the theme is 1880s Old West.

The word goes out through the Social Network and a bunch of folks, in excellent and appropriate costumes show up at the event. While these folks are not "part" of the event, and so don't have to carry out any duties they find onerous or boring, they show up when they feel like, they do the things they enjoy (dance, song, picnicking etc.) for as long as they care to do them, and then leave when they feel like it.

If done properly, this mob adds significantly to the event, does not create cost or problems for the historic sites which we all treasure and support, and leaves everyone feeling good about things. It can also, if it grows sufficiently, create its own events. A bunch of people in costumes have as much right to picnic in a historic site as any other members of the public, and don't need special event permits, insurance etc.

This is already happening to some degree. I am part of group of picnicking friends who like to descend on events, and I often see other folks, often in quite splendid attire, strolling around events at which they are just guests.

I think however, with a little more coordination, this could become a genuine phenomenon, and not only lead to more general fun being had, more chances to show off the wonderful outfits we have assembled, but it will also raise the general bar of living history in this town.

I would suggest a few general guidelines for being a historical "flash mob".

Be a good guest:

  • Wear a costume appropriate to the location and the event theme
  • "Represent"--wear a good costume and don't spoil it with modern sunglasses, ice chests etc.
  • Maintain a high standard even if the "locals" don't--but don't be a jerk about it. Nice people in good costumes encourage others to raise their standards. Jerks in good costumes have the opposite effect.
  • Be open and friendly to the public
  • Be respectful of the local management, docents and volunteers. Support their activities and don't deliberately detract from or undermine them.
  • Don't have a sense of entitlement. Pay full admission and don't expect special treatment.
  • If you have an "act", clear it with the management.
  • If you have tents to pitch, clear it with the management.
  • Be family friendly if kids will be present
  • Don't carry a weapon unless it has been explicitly stated to be OK.

For folks who portray Victorians, all of this falls under the heading of "good manners" and should therefore be second nature anyway--and I would like to say that I have seen very few examples of costumed "party crashers" who broke the rules listed above.

This is an idea that I would like to put forward, and I hope that the new Facebook Group I have created, called "The Benevolent Society of the Golden West" can help this along.