The Not Quite Adventures of a Professional Archaeologist and Aspiring Curmudgeon

Thursday, December 4, 2008

S.C.A. - Part II

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.


Kay said...

Tell me there are photos out there somewhere of you all dressed up….

I had a similar experience with WoW… people didn’t “get” that I had a life outside the game which was more important.

Evan Davis said...

I remember you blogging about this when it happened. I've never had the problem with one of my social groups embarrasing me with another. Lucky that.

Anonymous said...

Wow You must have been in some SCA clique from Hell...Arizona. I don't have such problems. I don't fight. I don't camp. I don't do all the events due to FM. Yet folk are always glad to see me when I do manage to show up.
Maybe it's because I brew meads and stuff?

Anthroslug said...

Anonymous (if that IS your REAL name), I suspect that there are folks who have had your very experience. However, I know that I have met many people at many different locations who have had one essentially identical to mine.

So, perhaps we've just met different classes of eccentrics - the group you hang out with sound like alot more fun.

Steve said...

Greetings, I'd like to say thanks for posting this, a rare instance of pointing out the SCA isn't really all that. I experienced everything you mentioned and a bit more...
My mother pulled me into this group and when I realized it tasted way too much like something brewed up by Rev. Moon, I bailed and begged my mother to do so as well. That was last spring. By October I had become such a threat to the SCA and what my mother had become, one of 'em called Adult Protective Services on me. Lied to 'em too, as if that wasn't expected. I suppose my choice of the word CULT was a bit too much for 'em. Oh boy, I went and said it again. I'm sure ananymous poster will take offence. While he or she brews an alcoholic beverage preperatory to allowing underage drinking to occur. And don't deny this Oh High and Mighty SCA person, you know damned good and well booze to minors is an accepted form of control in the SCA and widespread among your 'events'. I digress...
To my dismay they are VERY well connected and are as protective as water buffalo when it comes to one of thier own. My mother is no longer part of our family, she is now part of the SCA and they intend to keep her. Oh joy, several years of deprogramming to go here.
OK, so I think poorly of 'em, this is true, but the violence inherant in the group doesn't stop at thier list fields, it keeps on in real life. Be it through intimidation or cohersion, thes folks are pro's. They have some pretty darneed good lawyers too!
My battle with them has only begun. I highly suggest if you, the reader, decide to involve yourself with the SCA, be prepared. Save yourself countless letdowns and heartaches. Save yourself the countless dollars you will HAVE to invest in this group. And if anything is left, save yourself. IF you can. They won't let go.
To those trying to get out, do so with haste! Don't delete those threatening emails! Save 'em, 'cause over time they might be all you have to protect you from these bloodsuckers...
Thanks for reading and Have a nice SCA Free Day!
If life just isn't grand, the word used to verify this post is noesse. Sounds like noose to me! How appropriate, since the SCA's membership is ovverwhelmingly caucasion...

Pythe said...

Thanks for a good laugh, Steve. Your story is so beyond ludicrous I'm not sure how to respond other than to suggest that you may want to seek counseling.

The SCA has strict guidelines governing both the use of force and underage drinking. I have witnessed members removed from events for situations involving both issues. Those members often came under additional scrutiny by law enforcement, usually with direct cooperation from the event steward and local members. In the past, members have been permanently banned from all SCA activities, including business meetings, events and wars, for using violence. This holds particularly true in instances of violence during events and using the regalia of heavy combat.

In terms of drinknig by minors, the issue itself is a slippery slope. Any parties thrown by local groups or larger groups at wars that I have been involved in have made entrants show ID and be wrist-banded in order to be served by our bartenders, who themselves were of age. At the largest gathering, such as Pennsic and Gulf Wars, underage drinking is grounds for immediate removal from the event for its duration. In states where parents may serve alcohol to their children under supervision, this does happen at events. It's legal, cupcake.

I'm not sure if you have some sort of social anxiety or possibly (hell, probably) issues with your mother, but you certainly seem to be delusional. You are not that important. Neither is your mother. Few people if anyone in the SCA will care if you disappear from the group. It happens. ALL THE TIME. I urge you to seek some sort of help before you begin slandering the next group of people who are unfortunate enough to come in contact with you.

Anthroslug said...

While I can't speak to Steve's experience, I will say that, as obnoxious as I found many in the SCA to be, I never saw anything that was flat-out illegal (well, I did see a fair amount of underage drinking, contrary to your experience Pythe, but that is not unique to the SCA). I also didn't see anything as extreme as what Steve describes.

My own experience was that it was annoying enough to kill any pleasure I may have gotten out of it otherwise, but other than that, it was pretty inocous.

Pythe said...

I should have expanded a little bit more. I'm certain that underage drinking is not uncommon in the SCA, but also that it is no *more* common than it is in any place where teenagers gather. I think it would be naive of me to suggest otherwise. Really my point was that many groups choose to take reasonable precautions to prevent rampant underage drinking at SCA events, and that our organization as a whole chooses to punish flagrant underage drinking fairly severely. ( And getting booted out of an event 200 miles from home in the middle of the big vacation can put a rough edge on family relations for the next few months.)

I have no doubt that you encountered your fair share of idiots. My local area has a heapin' helpin' of our own to contend with. I think a strange sort of insecure pettiness is to be expected in a lot of SCA groups. BUT - big but - the good ones are usually keepers, and I've made some of my best friends and memories out of my relationship with the SCA.

I'm not even sure why I respond to these lunatics anymore.

Anthroslug said...

Plythe - I'm glad to hear that your local group takes that stance. I agree that it is probably no more common in the SCA than in other organizations, which was kinda' the point of my own comment.

I think that you hit the nail on the head about some of the "idiot members" being insecure, and therefore having trouble with those who aren't as enthusiastic. If I had enjoyed those aspects that I did find pleasurable more, I may well have continued to be part of it.

What I think most bothered me about it was that there was an acknowledgement of bad behavior by prosyletizing members, but nobody was willing to call anyone on it - which is a shame, as these folks can drive otherwise interested folks, such as myself, away. I thought it would be funny to write an essay for "The Crown Prints" on how to not drive away potential members, but I doubt there would be interest.

Anthroslug said...

That should have been "Pythe" not "Plythe" - sorry 'bout that.