March 18, 2016

The End of Reenacting is Near!!!

This post is in response to an article that has been making the rounds on Facebook.  This article entitled "Join or Die," or ones like it surface every few years and bemoan the end of reenacting. The article is well written, enjoyable and a great insight into the hobby but it has people crying yet again that the sky is falling. The End is Near!!!

There are always lots of reasons given for the decline. Some say it's video games and computers and young kids just aren't into reenacting anymore so there are no reenactors taking the place of the reenactors retiring. Others claim it's the Mainsteam vs. Hardcore authenticity debate: The crotchety stitch Nazis can't have fun while there are Yahoos in theater costumes playing coyboys ruining their experience and vice versa. Still more claim that group and event politics have people running to the door and a new hobby.  The recession, people work on weekends now, the new authentic items are too costly, flags and guns are too controversial and the list of causes goes on and on.    

But here's the thing. There hasn't been a decline. Reenacting is as hot as ever. Computer games like Call of Duty and Assassin's Creed and movies and shows from Fury to Downtown Abbey have people donning the clothes of the past like never before.

So what is causing this supposed decline?

The luxury of choice and skewed data. From the beginning all the way to the early 2000s reenactors were limited. There were a few big events each year and anyone who was anyone attended. It's these big events where people are drawing reenactor numbers from. Back then, reenacting primarily meant Civil War Reenacting or Revolutionary War reenacting.

But in the 2000s, the internet really took hold. People started hearing about smaller, alternative events that were only known to locals before the internet. The internet also fostered communities of reenactors interested in reenacting new and different things. There are now reenacting groups reenacting any conceivable conflict, including WWI, the French Revolution, Viking Wars, Korea and even Vietnam, sorry Dad.

There are so many event options and so many time periods to reenact now that the numbers are not less they are just spread out. The new reenactor typically reenacts more than one time period and the new complaint is of conflicting events. They want to be at all of them but there aren't enough weekends in a year.

For instance, the weekend of the Civil War Neshaminy event this year, a reenactor in the PA region can also attend Kerr Park's WWII event, Fort Frederick's 18th Century Market Faire, the Civil War living history at Gettysburg, and more. You can attend a reenactment somewhere on the eastern seaboard every weekend of the year and many of those weekends you will find conflicting events.


Where's the proof it's booming?

Commercial enterprises are manufacturing for reenactors and history minded. You can now buy an array of commercial sewing patterns designed by reenactors for reenactors. Stores like Joann Fabrics have also started stocking historical items like corset coutil and false whalebone. The number of historical video and computer games are soaring as are historical films. In case you were wondering in 2015 alone there were at least these war films released:

A War
Little Boy
An Act of War
The Last Rescue
Eye in the Sky
Land of Mine
Hyena Road
The Midwife
13 Minutes
Brothers of War
Beasts of No Nation
Battle for Sevastopol

Historical clothing and facial hair has made it into mainstream fashion which has prompted the reenactor game "Reenactor or Hipster." Reenactments are featured on popular TV shows and it's near impossible to meet someone who doesn't know at least one reenactor. The internet is full of resources for reenactors by reenactors and articles about reenacting. There are so many new and good sutlers and vendors. There are tons of online social groups based around reenacting. As I'm typing this Facebook has alerted me that 82,523 people talking about "Reenactments." But the most compelling evidence is just looking at event calendars. It's truly a good time to be a reenactor!

Reenacting is Changing

That being said, just because the hobby is thriving doesn't mean we aren't losing reenactors or that reenacting isn't changing.  A lot of Civil War reenactors claim that new people just don't want to join anymore but the fact of the matter is most young people are opting for the more popular WWII. Obviously reenactor numbers fluctuate around war anniversaries and popular culture and the Civil War time period has seen a drop lately.

Reenacting does have its problems and a lot of these problems do cause numbers to drop at certain events or from certain organizations. These problems would take another blog post. Yes, reenactors do leave the hobby. Yes, we should be concerned that people do. There are all sorts of problems in  the hobby but too many of the issues come down to people being ugly to other people. The hobby isn't going anywhere but good people are. Instead of worrying about reenacting dying, we should worry about making reenactments a place people want to be.      



  1. Excellent, well thought out, and accurate commentary on reenacting today. I am in full agreement, for I also see many of our CW reenactors moving to the more "cooler machines" of WWII, which is an era that is too close for me to do - my parents were of the WWII era and I just can't see reenacting my parents, you know?
    Anyhow, thanks for posting.

    1. Thanks Ken. I do think WWII is still too soon. I do however have two WWII dresses for the sole fact of there are friends I can't see anywhere else and there are some really amazing local demonstrations. I can't deny that that the kids are interested in it and as we know once kids are in the wormhole we'll see them in older wars later. :)

  2. Jesse Marx is a terrible author and used my company. He made his article full of inaccuracies, he shadowed my company for two events and the entire time he was shady. In the article He claims people said things they never said and misquotes people throughout. This is not good journalism it was lazy to a high extent. Beware journalists intending to join your units.

    1. Thanks for sharing! If any of your group wants to elaborate on what really happened I'm sure everyone would love the insight. I was just happy to see an article that doesn't paint reenactors in a negative light.

  3. Having been a Revolutionary War reenactor for 40 years now. I am quite encouraged that the advocation will continue when I can no longer don my redcoat. The number member of the regiment under the age of 30 out numbers those of us over 45. Young people come from local fife drum corps to discover a wide world or reenacting. Young people join and though either necessity or "hey this is fun, mon and or dad join as well. So when comes time for me to retire to my estates in England, I can sit back and watch the reenactors I've trained, fought beside and led into a hobby that educates and that is so much fun. In spite of the button counters, Stitch Nazis, Hard core and Progressives nay saying.

    1. I agree. I know so many young people in the hobby now.

  4. So far I've seen a mix but we'll see.

  5. I've literally blogged about this exact phenomena. The people complaining about this are almost always people who have only done Civil War reenacting for the past ~40 years and have never even considered *attending* another period event.

    They also tend to be Confederates, which is...I don't even know.

    If they'd ever attended a WW2 event they'd see what they saw when they first got into the hobby--a sea of young men(and women!) thirty and younger, with only a handful of older folks(usually the ones on the tanks and jeeps, and often civil war reenacting vets). I personally do a *slew* of eras and constantly try to add more to my roster--there are so many events to go to and things to try that I can't imagine the hobby dying out in my lifetime.

    The people crying about this are only partly right--reenacting isn't dying, but *Civil War* reenacting is declining--and it's not because interest has waned but because the same people complaining gatekeep the hobby into oblivion. They either go hardcore-or-bust and discourage new reenactors who can't always afford that level of commitment from 'go' or, more commonly(and I suspect why so many are Confederates), they've turned the hobby into a "good ol' boys'" hangout--a bunch of old white men sitting around a campfire swilling apple pie moonshine, talking modern politics, and heckling anyone who disagrees with them. They don't perform period activities, they don't do anything physically demanding or interesting, they're *never* in a first-person impression, and they don't even bother to drill properly or practice safe battlefield procedures. They spout off Lost Cause nonsense and likely account for a sizable percentage of the reason reenacting is viewed as a largely white, male, hobby.

    I was in such a unit for quite some time when I was first getting into the hobby. They promote based on popularity, not skill or capability, they always fight with linear, easy-to-remember, low-effort tactics(even in late-war engagements that should be trench warfare, or events with twenty reenactors where a line just looks sad), and they then have the gall to complain that no one's joining anymore.

    It's no wonder that so many reenactors are fleeing American Civil War events for more diverse, energetic, and interesting reenacting periods, like Second World War, Vietnam, and First World War. Too soon or no, they're relatively new eras to reenact, and a combination of youthful exuberance and low turnout means that they're often extremely well thought-out, with interesting tactics, displays, and scenarios, without the sedentary set-in-their-ways BS that plagues Civil War reenacting. So new reenactors join those eras(which are often cheaper, besides--a Civil War musket can cost two, three, or four times as much as, say, a Mosin-Nagant or Kar98K, even if the latter's an original and the former is a cheap Italian repro), the old farts get older, and the moaning gets louder.

    I guess what my complaining's trying to get at is that I wish they'd take a long moment to ask 'well why *is* this era dying? is it, perhaps, our faults? what are we doing wrong?' and then work to fix it.

    But that would require a degree of self-awareness I'm afraid most of these men don't possess.


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