Bodice Roses, Mac, and Crack: or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Ren Faire

Published on November 29th, 2007 in: Current Faves, Issues |

By Jessica Melusine

The Renaissance Faire phenomenon seems to be trickling slowly into the cultural milieu: from being snuggled away as a craft fair in the woods to an excuse to watch jousting or a chance to go play pretend with a parking lot of cars outside. In Notorious C.H.O. Margaret Cho asks “What’s this weird connection between fans of Star Trek, S&M, and the Renaissance Faire?” King of the Hill has done a jolly episode featuring Peggy Hill versus the evil king of the Arlen Faire (the always dazzling Alan Rickman). People share Faire pictures on Flickr and even The Simpsons has a chuckle that it is [sic] “where those chubby nerd couples go on dates.”

Ouch.

Meanwhile, many hipsters and scholars of the grotesque and bizarre are drawn to the world of carnival culture, with its promises of pickled punks and tattoos that, despite a history of hokum, seem to have more street cred of the bizarre. There is a lot to deeply love about freak shows and the world of the carnival, but there’s a whole realm that exists parallel to our own. It has its own language, rules, and customs that somehow aren’t as cool, smack too much of Dungeons and Dragons or the SCA, and well, just aren’t terribly hip. When folks like Warren Ellis post presumably gross-out photos of girls at the Faire bobbing for roses in cleavage, it’s certainly understandable if any serious student of alternative culture might want to run away screaming. (Besides, how dare those chubby folks dress up and wear costumes? I mean, who do they think they are?)

They’re missing a good time.

run at the ren faire

Faire culture is alive with clashes. There are dribs and drabs of authenticity and non-authenticity and as any freak-show scholar would tell you, Faire culture makes it part of the peculiar magic—except going to a sideshow or a circus has become respectable again and the Faire isn’t really, not yet. However, circus and sideshow guru and historian James Taylor has discussed some Faire performers in his Shocked and Amazed! series, so perhaps the Faire will be getting its due as a special wonderland of excess. Like the sideshow, the modern Renaissance Festival appears to be a strange and delightful hybrid of real and unreal that at its best exists to overjoy and overwhelm the senses.

My local Faire, the Maryland Renaissance Festival, attracts a wide variety of clientele; it’s second only to the Texas Faire in size and boasts a mix of computer programmers fleeing their cubicles, bikers, pagans, and families of all classes and types. Like a carnival, it is a space outside time itself where the everyday rules don’t apply and the audience is willing to suspend disbelief. Of course they didn’t have fried macaroni and cheese in the Renaissance era but it doesn’t make it any less delightful to nibble on it while watching aerialists hang in silks from the trees.

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