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Hugo Chavez! (South) American Re-Enactor!

He was a revolutionary, ignorant, and playing a role..... He isn't alone.

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, March 06, 2013.

If you've ever found yourself interested in history and visiting historic sites, you will come across the American Re-Enactor. These are the folks who dress in period costumes and affect speech patterns and language of the era in question. They sometimes are paid for their services, and they act as hosts or information centers for those puttering about old forts or villages or, more often, in reconstructions of those forts and villages. Sometimes, on the appropriate anniversary of battles, hundreds or thousands gather to re-enact the conflict with lots of noise and color followed by food and relaxing beverages. Specific historic figures are portrayed. It's dubious history but often fun for families.

Others, though, take it many steps further and start living lives as historical characters. They make the clothing they wear everyday and are experts on sewing, cloth, button, exact colors, and military manuals of the time. At some point, they substitute the imagined life of another but specific person for their own, and live it night and day within wide parameters of accuracy and possibility. Some, in my experienced, are clearly crazy, but obviously so, and nobody is probably endangered.

But left un-laughed at, uncontrolled, and not medicated, too many of these otherwise relatively harmless folk start referencing themselves as Living Historians, granting themselves false academic status and importance, and forming organizations for their protection and elevation. What in the past would just be viewed as a bunch of actors specializing in certain historic periods are now to be viewed as assemblages of authority and knowledge. And some of them are very good. Let's face it, doing Shakespeare is, in a way, often historic re-enactment, not of the Bard's subject, but of the Bard's time and world view. Atop this, there are very good people who pursue this, and their performances can actually be inspirational. And a very few are actual historians. Very, very few.

But the vast majority of Living Historians are anything but. I admire Ted Turner, but his movie Gettysburg was populated near exclusively by re-enactors and the sad truth came to the big screen. Despite being shot on the battlefield in Pennsylvania with every shoe and button accurate, every weapon researched, it turns out that Gettysburg, like most Civil War battles, was not primarily fought by morbidly obese, fifty year old white men so out of shape their cheeks quiver just walking. It turns out that soldiers in the field did not often have unsullied uniforms, nor does it seem that in the age of black powder and forty thousand men and tons of horses kicking up dust that crystal blue sky would always be present for an illuminating background shot. In short, whatever was going on is not accurate historical representation. It's grown men playing soldier in dead seriousness, and no more historically accurate than elementary schools celebrating Presidential birthdays.

That's embarrassing, so they call it historic re-enactment, presented by historians, somehow. Show respect. Something, anything to deflect attention from their pear shapes, glasses, and white teeth, all there and lovingly re-enacted by men older than the expected life spans of the people they supposedly portray.

But, I've begun to realize that these may not be the saddest case of re-enactments and the mentalities that demand them. For example, since Hannibal wiped out the Romans at the battle of Cannae, where he cleverly surrounded his foes by unexpected dexterity and slaughtered them all, in every war since soldiers have tried to replicate that victory, and in some cases pursued a re-enactment against their own needs and to no point centuries later. Naval warriors tried to replicate Nelson's Trafalgar or Admiral Togo crossing the T of the Russians. A lot of people died pointlessly due to the rarely admitted or even unrealized devotion to reliving a past event.

Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan President who would provide an empty chair at cabinet meetings so the ghost of Simon Bolivar might be comfortable, died this week of that cancer. He had assured his people, to whom he was truthfully devoted, the cancer had been defeated several times. He had sought treatment in Havana which, if nothing else, allowed him photo ops with the Castros and to sing the praises of the Cuban Revolution which he also greatly admired. Today, his successor is muttering that maybe someone, hard to say who, gave him that disease.

I wonder how much more history is distorted by an un-selfaware re-enactor trying to replay scenes from the life of one admired, and that the devotion to re-enactment is just a longed for reboot of a literary franchise, just with an updated cast starring themselves. It describes the GOP's actions and attitudes towards issues settled by the Civil War as well as Chavez doing Castro at the microphone.