The following is a guest blog posting from Chris Fischer, an individual who has been involved with living history both professionally and for a hobby. Mr. Fischer gives some fascinating insights that bear consideration in regard to historic personages appearing at living history/reenactment events.
Having been involved in Living History most of my life, as a hobby and a profession, and its use as an interpretative educational tool as a teacher, coupled with an odd hobby and fascination with human behavior and in a relationship over 10 years with a therapist as well as being a teacher and having to attend several hours of class work on child psychology, I have some very different views of these people who dress as REAL historic “celebrities” and will list them. One problem is that these people who dress up as Hitler, Patton, Custer. Lee, Lincoln, etc. do so more often than not for one of two reasons. One is idol worship, some that are fascinated with or respect.
The other reason is simply just a sad cry for attention. “If I dress up as the cool kid from WWII, then all the WW2 people will think I am cool”. It RARELY has anything to do with history, interpretation, alternative views, the dark side of the story or anything else. AS teachers we learn a lot about negative attention (a key part about Attention Deficit disorder is not necessarily they can’t keep attention, but were usually deprived of it too).
Going to the Reading Airshow as Captain America is nothing more than an attempt to get yourself in a lot pictures with kids and co-eds. Showing up as Hitler or even Allgemeine SS you already know is going to start controversy, in other words you KNEW you would draw negative attention as soon as you cam e up with the idea to wear that outfit in public. They really don’t “teach” much about history, they just stand around and wait for people to come up and ask to hold Patton’s Revolver while you strut around with way too much fake bravado!
This leads me to a second topic line. To portray an historical figure is exclusively the realm of theatrics, not interpretation. I once worked at a historic site where we had one historical character portrayed. Why? Because of the reasons I noted above. The general public wanted to meet THE Colonel, have their picture taken, sip tea with him, etc. Depending on who was assigned that duty on what day, you got very different interpretations of the historical figure.
Oddly each person regularly slated to portray that person would argue that theirs was the most accurate depiction! Its like the most recent “Lincoln” movie and everyone praising Daniel Day Lewis for nailing Lincoln…the problem is all the critics seemed to overlook that Lincoln died 150 years ago, before the advent of motion pictures and even sound recordings. Mr. Lewis was never able to interview the man nor look over his mannerisms in film nor study his speech patterns from recordings…so it becomes very arrogant and presumptuous to say that he “nailed it”…this is my point.
In my personal opinion, I think it is disrespectful to portray “real” people. There is no way the interpretation can be accurate. I don’t care how many books your read, original letters, diaries, or films you watch you ultimately were never that person and never able to truly know and express their inner feelings ans secrets (people back then rarely wrote anything incriminating in letters or diaries). It is a person wanting to take on the “celebrity” status of someone else so that they can be popular or respected.
Every movie depiction of our friend Adolf is even a little different. Take it a final step further, I refuse to watch the documentary I saw the other day online about “humanizing” Himmler! Yes he was a family man and the home movies of him playing with a puppy are cute, that does not negate what he did and authorized. Same goes for Adolph. The one time he went to the death camp and watched the gassing through the windows he was physically ill from it…did his “humane” side take over? No, he cleaned himself up and played “out of sight/out of mind” about it.