This is Part 2. For Part 1, go here, or you can go to Part 3
Once I had moved to Lompoc, I was introduced to the next S.C.A.: The Society for Creative Anachronism.
The Society for Creative Anachronism, for those who are unaware, is an organization dedicated to pseudo-historical recreation – as members often say, they celebrate “the Medieval Period as it should have been, not as it was.” Members dress in home-made armor, beat the crap out of each other with rattan sticks weighted to feel like swords, assume the titles of nobility, and don’t tend to invite plague rats to the festivities – historical accuracy be damned in the case of the bubonic sickness. I believe that the drudgery and duties of serfdom are contracted out to Halliburton.
Many of my friends have been members of this group, and one of my closest friends had been inviting me to events for years – despite the usual response of “umm, I’m really not interested, please stop bringing it up.” Living in a more isolated location, I felt lonely and a bit depressed, in all, the perfect conditions for cult recruitment. I will leave it to you, the reader, to decide whether or not I was lucky to be approached by the historical violence crowd instead.
Seeing the need to increase my social interaction, I finally agreed to attend an event. I had been part of the renaissance fair scene in my earlier, geekier life (yes, I was once even geekier than I am now – try not to pass out at that thought), and I had been assured that the Society for Creative Anachronism was rather different from the rather cliquish and often petty ren fair crowd, and thus might be more enjoyable for me.
At first, I did have fun. I had gotten involved with a group that fenced. That is, they fought with small swords (thus resulting in lighter armor and less concussions than the rattan stick folks), they didn’t sell stolen car radios…that I am aware of. It was fun for a while, a good way to get some exercise, social interaction, and a healthy place to blow of the stress and aggressions that came with a grad student’s life. And, at first, most of the people I associated with at the regular meetings were fun, easy-going folks. This began to change, however, as the months wore on.
The Society for Creative Anachronism holds regular events, some of them known as “wars” at which members meet, engage in mock-combat, and do various courtly things, all without any lepers present. I attended a few of these events. When they were close to home, this was fine, as I could return home at the end of the day and get some rest. When they were away from home, they required camping – an activity that I loathe under normal conditions, and dislike even further when I am surrounded by loud party-goers who prevent me from getting any rest. As a result, after my first event away from my home area, I only attended those within driving distance of my apartment. This resulted in getting harassed by many of the other folks in the group, including having a long-time friend repeatedly inform me that I was “lazy” for not attending such events, and “proselytizing” when I responded to questions as to why I was not attending them (more on why this was rather ironic below).
In addition, the cliquishness and often pettiness of SCA folks was different from the Renaissance Fair people in one basic way – it was even more pronounced and much, much worse. I later asked my friend what they had meant when they told me that the SCA was different from the Ren Fair people (and they always said this in response to my complaints about the social behavior), and she said that she had meant simply that the SCA people never left costume – how this in any way addressed the concerns that it was always stated in response to is beyond me.
Then three things happened in quick succession that pretty much killed any and all interest that I ever had in this group. The first was that I didn’t attend an event because I was attending a professional conference that was scheduled for the same weekend of the event. I was harassed by several members for my decision to attend the conference instead of the SCA event. The second was that I had a party at my apartment to which I invited a few members of the group, two of whom were extremely adamant about getting other guests to come and attend some SCA events despite the guest’s stated disinterest (creating problems that I had to spend a lot of time defusing after the fact, and that I still get teased about to this day). The third was that many members (a minority, to be certain, but a rather large minority) began to routinely pester me about the fact that I had not invested as much time and effort into the organization as they saw fit – I was treating it as a hobby and not a lifestyle and they found this distressing.
As this continued on, I found that while everyone agreed that there were obnoxious zealots in their midst, the most zealous routinely failed to see their own obnoxious behavior, though they were aware of that of others (when I called one proselytizing SCAer on their rather rude behavior, they stated that they were respectful of others and didn’t try to push people who weren’t interested, unlike “some other” SCA people – a claim contradicted by the regular behavior of this individual).
So, put simply, by not making this hobby into a lifestyle, I had managed to upset a sizeable minority who made interaction with the group rather distasteful. In addition, if these folks saw me around and about while I was with my professional colleagues, they tried to turn the situation into a recruitment opportunity, thus embarrassing me and annoying my colleagues.
And then there is the most common form of advancing in the organization: fighting. For all of the talk about the importance of studying the arts, crafts, and history of the Middle Ages, the group was really organized around the mock combat. In and of itself, this is fine – but if you are going to run a sports organization, just admit that this is what you are doing. Certainly, one could gain rank by other means, and some people did, but what I saw was that most people who came to any level of reputation did so through the fighting. It was rather like being back in high school, and seeing the academically-oriented clubs take a backseat to the football team.
So, I walked away. To be fair, those people who were friends of mine before I got involved are still friends (and are, thankfully, less likely to try to recruit me now), and a few of the folks I met while involved with this SCA are still friends. Nonetheless, the behavior of something in the neighborhood of 35%-40% of the members I came into contact with turned me off for life. And I have spoken with folks who have encountered the SCA in other cities and states, and found that my experience is fairly common.
Coming soon - Part III, in which I become aligned with the people who invite Stephen Colbert to orgies.