I’m 99% sure the world coolthentic was invented by me. Although you never know, because language is funny like that. If the word offends you… good. Coolthentic, coolthentic, coolthentic. Sod you.
I think the positive aspects of authenticity in re-enactment is a drive for standards, for making things better. High costume standards arise from a communal understanding that people should aim for that – and for a credible vision of what can can achieved. Authenticity gives you a way of pushing for that without making it about the individual “Your costume is not authentic you need to improve X” vs “Your costume is shit you need to improve X”. The first is impersonal, the second is not.
Of course authenticity comes with its own flaws and I’ve lost count of the number of reenacters I’ve spoken to, both participants and craftsmen, who have been frustrated by the constraints it imposes on creativity and the sense in which it comes down to pedantry over vision. And most importantly of all, you can take the bullying out of the language, but you can’t take the bullying out of the species. I’ve heard plenty of accounts of authenticity officers being quite “unpleasant”.
Plus… it’s not appropriate in LRP because… fantasy. Our authentic source material was made up by an Oxford Don in 1950. Is it seen in HBO’s Game of Thrones? No – then it isn’t authentic is it? Doesn’t make much sense really. Once you know it’s all made up – (all of history is made up in a sense) – it’s hard to invoke the same degree of giving a shit. It’s certainly hard to put history on a pedestal when it’s not history we’re recreating.
Hard… but not impossible. And I think there is value in trying. The reason why historically authentic costume looks good in LRP when stuff made out of poly-cotton, polyester and polyps does not is because it resonates with us. We’ve seen historical looking costume in books, in films, on TV. It’s familiar. It’s possible that in 20 years time, enough crap BBC productions will mean that the next generation of LRPers think of black leather jackets when they think of Robin of Sherwood. But the rest of us are always going to shudder when we see a black leather coat in a medieval fantasy LRP game.
Why? It’s got magic. It’s not real. It’s fantasy. What you complaining about? We complain because it looks terrible – what looks cool in your local nightclub does not look cool in a medieval LRP game. And that’s the goal for LRP – to look cool. That bit is *easy*. The hard bit is knowing what will look cool and what won’t – especially for those of us like me for whom looking cool is like flying by flapping our arms. I don’t understand costume – I don’t understand visuals – I got just enough to know that I look an idiot – not enough to know why.
To work out *why* I need to understand some very simple ideas. Ideas like “If you’ve seen 20 historical films with knights in tabards like this, then your subconscious brain remembers what the tabard looks like, even if your conscious brain doesn’t.”. Or even more simply – make it “authentic” to a relevant period of history is a very very easy way to make it look cool – because your brain and the brains of people around you will look at it and subconsciously think “That looks right – that looks like what I expected to see”.
Critically a representation of a tabard made from a curtain with a hole cut in it over my head does not cut the mustard in terms of looking cool. It can *represent* a tabard sure… but it doesn’t look like one. The letters b-i-r-d arranged together represent a bird – they don’t look like one, no matter how hard you tell yourself that they do. Looking cool in LRP is about striving to achieve the visuals, not about representing the visuals. And that means creating costume that feels familiar.
That sense of familiarity, of fitting your expectations is the starting point for looking cool in LRP. Talented costume makers/designers can go beyond that point, extending the visuals in ways that feel original but look familiar. Those of us for whom the rules of clothing are a closed book written in Latin should generally avoid this leap into the unknown.
Why is history the only source if we’re playing a fantasy game? It’s not, of course it’s not. The Peter Jackson films have a striking impact on what we think orcs should look like in LRP – just as Games Workshop did before Jackson (I prefer PJ to GW aesthetically). But if you turn up playing an orc in a fantasy medieval LRP game wearing a top-hat and a leather coat you will not look cool. That’s not what our brains expect to see when we think of orcs – so it doesn’t look convincing, familiar, resonant – when we see it. And that means it doesn’t look good.
To look cool – you have to be authentic to the source material of LRP – which is one part Hollywood, one part HBO, and one part History. I don’t give a toss how you stitched it, but I want to look cool – and I want *you* to look cool. And the right ideas about authenticity will help you achieve that much better than people saying “It’s fantasy mate, it doesn’t matter”.
I don’t know what the goal is in re-enactment – and I don’t care. Cuz it ain’t my hobby. My hobby is LRP – specifically the type of LRP where people try and make it look good (not everyone likes this type of LRP, that’s ok, not everyone likes beer). And that means coolthentic – striving hard to make the costume, the kit, the sets, the visuals look as authentic to the source materials for the setting as possible. Not so it will look “right” but so it will look cool.