Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog

Equity for Actors

with 5 comments

I’m having one of those days when part of me wants to write just to write, and part of me wants to take the tea into the living room and read something, even though I have nothing in particular to read.

I mean, I have stuff.  But nothing…oh, you know what I mean.

Anyway, I thought I’d through in something that puzzles me, and since Robert brought it up it’s been on my mind.

I first heard of Rich Iott Keith Olbermann’s Countdown program on MSNBC.    We tend to like Olbermann at my house, not necessarily because we agree with everything he says–there are moments, and then there are other moments–but because, when he’s going good, he can be very funny.

Greg, who wants Jon Stewart’s job when he grows all the way up, even owns the Olbermann bobblehead.

Olbermann took time in the program one day to spotlight Iott wearing a Nazi uniform, making the inference–the first of many–that Iott was wearing the uniform because he likes Nazis and wishes he could have been one.

Once the story got underway, it became clear that what had actually happened was that someone had gotten a picture of Iott in the middle of a war reenactment.  In war reenactments, people take the roles of various soldiers and others in a battle and then try to replay the battle on the ground.

There are war reenactment groups for almost every war out there.  Robert would know better than I would how they choose which battles to reenact–well, okay, reenacting Gettysburg seems rather obvious–but the fact is that what we’re dealing with here is an interest in military history.

Good reenactments have to be well researched and the people who take part in them have to know what they’re doing. 

What should also be obvious here is that in such reenactments, there must be reenactors on both sides of the conflict.  If you’re going to reenact a WWII battle, you’re going to have to have some people play Nazis.

Now, maybe it’s just because I’m the daughter of a man who knew the blood types of every soldier who fought at Gettysburg, but there never seemed to me to be anything bizarre or sinister about these things. 

On their weakest level, they’re a little silly.  On their strongest, they show an admirable interest in hands-on understanding of history.

But Olbermann is hardly the first person I’ve heard treat re-enacting as prima facie evidence of the re-enactors’ facism/racism/whatever.

There was, for a while, a woman who commented on this blog who seemed to think that everybody taking part in Civil War reenactments really wanted a return of the slave state antebellum South, and that all black people who took part in them were self-hating and themselves racists.

If you google Iott’s name, you’ll find a lot of bloggers and commentors on the net making the same kind of assumptions about Iott, and if you read through a few of those you’ll find that most of them are from people who had virtually never heard of re-enactments before.

And yet the concept is not difficult.  War re-enactors take the process more seriously than the kind of person who likes to re-enact Medieval jousts, but the principle is the same, and we don’t tend to assume that the guy playing the Evil Black Knight menacing the damsel is really an Evil Black Knight in real life, or that he wants to be.

I do, as I said, like Olbermann quite a lot, and my guess is that my politics are closer to his than they are to Iotts.

But this looks depressingly like an all’s fair in war situation–a place where the decision has been made that defeating conservatives for Congress justifies any kind of bad faith, smearing, and outright falsehood. 

If Olbermann honestly doesn’t know what re-enactments and re-enactors are, and why they do what they do, he had an obligation to find out before starting this thing.

If he does know, then he’s engaging in an elaborate form of lying.

And I have to run off and speak at a writer’s conference.

Written by janeh

October 16th, 2010 at 5:56 am

Posted in Uncategorized

5 Responses to 'Equity for Actors'

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  1. Alek, I’ll take “Olberman’s acting in bad faith” for $100. About five minutes with a computer turns up the Wikipedia article on “historical reenactments” with a link to “historical reenactment groups” and the logic which woould make Iott a Nazi would mean that the Jomsviking reenactors were hoping to loot Irish monasteries and the Regency reenactors are opposed to indoor plumbing.

    Iott reenacted, that I’ve found reference to so far, WWII US, WWII German, WWI US, American Civil War Union and American Civil War Confederacy. By Olbermann’s reasoning, in addition to being a Nazi, he must be a New Dealer, a Wilsonian, an abolitionist and a States’ Rights advocate.

    You ought to do five minutes of research before you call someone a Nazi on national television.

    Not a reenactor myself–the Army cured me of sleeping in tents–but they overlap enough with historical miniature wargamers enough that I’ve met a good few. As Jane says, the gamut from cowboys and Indians for grown-ups to a serious interest in history.

    Worth noting–and Wikipedia doesn’t–as a hobby, this is largely a post-WWII phenomenon, with the same man (Brigadier Peter Young) prominent in the founding of both. I suspect they relate to growing peace, prosperity and individualism–people for whom war was a historical thing and not a prospect, who had weekends off, and who could afford a decent set of kit. (Buy a good replica Napoleonic uniform with Brown Bess musket and personal gear, and you can blow $1,000 pretty quickly. Confederates get off a bit cheaper, but think of the guys buying and maintaining a WWII vehicle.)

    Perhaps if Olberman–and Eugene Robinson, who was spouting the same nonsense–could put out a list of government-sanctioned hobbies?


    16 Oct 10 at 8:31 am

  2. Equity for the Reactors

    Well, I am going to take the opposite stance, although I agree that a re-enactment is just a re-enactment.
    The Nazi uniform stands for something, it is a symbol. In the same way the Confederate flag is a symbol. As humans, we have visceral reactions to symbols. I know that I still have a negative reaction the Nazi uniform. I understand that others will be less reactive to it. We all have different tolerance levels. Those who have ancestors who were enslaved or recent relatives who died in the concentrations camps may have strong reactions to the nazi uniform or confederate flag. I can understand. I have Irish ancestors who were driven out of Ireland by the potato famine. That historical event makes me feel anger and sadness. The point is, the famine is historical in the larger sense but personal for me and other descendents.

    In my opinion, when one wears the Nazi uniform you are doing more than just an historical re-enactment. You are inciting a reaction. And thank God for that, because it keeps the conversation alive and perhaps that will allow us to remember what was evil about the Nazis and allow us to avoid falling for such evil again


    16 Oct 10 at 9:57 am

  3. I’ve never really understood why people feel emotions on behalf of their ancestors – that is, ones they never knew. I can understand perfectly well feeling anger and resentment on behalf of ancestors (or other relatives) I did/do know, and (assuming I’ve done what I can) I think it’s essential to remember (a) I am not the primary victim, the relative is/was and (b) eventually, I have to forgive an move on, or I’d go crazy.

    Like almost every Newfoundlander of my generation, I waxed indignant about the various cruelties and indignities inflicted on the early settlers here, some of whom were certainly my ancestors, although the paper trail gets kind of confused about the mid 1800s. Even then – before I learned about all the grey areas, and how some of our favourite childhood tales had either never happened or didn’t happen exactly as told – I wasn’t inspired to indignation or anger by present-day Brits, or re-enactors or even, to be honest, by the people who actually gave the orders all those years ago, and who are now long dead and gone. It happened (or parts of it did), it’s over, and all told, I’m perfectly happy that my ancestors stuck it out, and had descendants.

    And I wish I could be optimistic enough to believe that ANYTHING would prevent humans from falling for another charismatic leader with a penchant for genocide. All we can do is kind of shift the odds a bit by trying to keep our countries stable and sort of central politically. I don’t think uniforms come into it one way or another.


    16 Oct 10 at 11:38 am

  4. This column from the NY Times has some bearing on the topic. You may find it worth reading.


    I was raised Jewish but am now ab agnostic. I’m not bothered by reenactors wearing German or SS uniforms.
    I do despise the Nazi government but I can recognize that the Germany soldiers fought well and bravely.

    Admitting that the German and Confederate soldiers were brave and skillful combat troops is not the same as admiring the cause they fought for.

    I think Christians have a saying “Hate the sin and love the sinner.” I’m prepared to apply that here.


    16 Oct 10 at 3:59 pm

  5. jd said it better than I could.

    For myself, magazine ads for reenactment groups bother me a lot less than the familiarity of the international news. The North Koreans prate on national purity, “Hinduvushtu” (sp?) thrives in India, the Han Chinese dust off historic land claims and the Arabs circulate the PROTOCOLS. The bad ideas of 1900-1950 Europe weren’t driven from the earth so much as displaced south and east.

    I wish people would transfer some of their anxiety from worrying about old uniforms to worrying about old thinking. The uniforms are dead ends, but the political ideas have predictable–and dire–consequences.


    16 Oct 10 at 4:48 pm

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