How Ren Faires Changed the Counterculture

Well Met: Renaissance Faires and the American CounterculturePersons interested in understanding festivals and other “temporary autonomous zones” might find insights in a new book from New York University Press, Well Met: Renaissance Faires and the American Counterculture by Rachel Lee Rubin.

From the publisher’s description:

In order to understand the meaning of the faire to its devoted participants,both workers and visitors, Rubin has compiled a dazzling array of testimony, from extensive conversations with Faire founder Phyllis Patterson to interviews regarding the contemporary scene with performers, crafters, booth workers and “playtrons.” Well Met pays equal attention what came out of the faire—the transforming gifts bestowed by the faire’s innovations and experiments upon the broader American culture: the underground press of the 1960s and 1970s, experimentation with “ethnic” musical instruments and styles in popular music, the craft revival, and various forms of immersive theater are all connected back to their roots in the faire. Original, intrepid, and richly illustrated, Well Met puts the Renaissance Faire back at the historical center of the American counterculture.

Business Opportunity for the Next Generation

Tattoo removal. It‘s starting to take off (pun intended).

The psychological motivations for tattoo removal (change of lifestyle and relationship status, changes in body and skin over the years, upward mobility in society and employment, etc.) are a constant, and will lead to an even larger market for tattoo removal than currently exists today.

And some related critiquing:

By enlarging ourselves with tattoos, we’re belittling ourselves in the process. It’s a sign of our low expectations that having control over flesh decorations is considered to be the limit of our capacities as an individual.

Kind of related—how do you as a priest dress to be counter-hip so that hipsters will “relate” to you? We’ve been down this road before. Anyone remember “folk Masses” with tambourines?

Be authentic. Be real. Invest in a chain of tattoo-removal clinics. That is all.

Pagans Preparing for Collapse

Archdruid John Michael Greer and the Four Quarters Sanctuary figure in this article on “doom time religion.”

Based on my limited experience, a strong religious emphasis might hold a communal group together. Otherwise, the people you need are not always the ones who want to live in the commune. The hard workers don’t want to have to carry a bunch of parasites and wannabes who think that “communal living” equals “easy.”

Pentagram Pizza for May 18th

Twelve words for for bloggers, pointed towards people in the medical professions, but likely appropriate for academia as well.

• While we are in the workplace, some thoughts from a Psychology Today article on why “diversity training” is a waste of time. Or why good manners are better than rules enforced by bureaucratic idiots.

• More thoughts on cult-occult films of the 1960s, this time from Zan at The Juggler. I have a couple in my Netflix queue now.

Pentagram Pizza for April 21st

Week-old pizza from the back of the refrigerator …

• Here’s an idea for a novel: “two down-on-their-luck entrepreneurs who stumble upon the idea of reviving for-profit idolatry. Selling statues of household gods to the masses, and building a neo-pagan religion around it.” Um, I think that people have been doing this for some time.

Circus Breivik. Norwegian scholar of esotericism Egil Asprem analyzes the trial of Anders Behring Breivik. (He wrote about the shootings for the current Pomegranate.)

This trial will be about two things: psychiatry and ideology. Two drastically conflicting reports on Breivik’s mental health have already ensured this. Added to this, of course, is Breivik’s own clearly stated wish to be judged as sane, and have his actions confirmed as ideologically motivated.

Teaching classical philosophy to Brazilian schoolchildren:

I assured the students that until the nineteenth century hardly any philosopher was an atheist. Plato’s Euthyphro—with its argument about the relationship between ethics and the will of the gods—gets us into a lively discussion.

* This is called “edgy, irreverent outreach” by some of today’s Christians Jesus Followers. I think the pastor needs to look up “pathos” in the rhetorical dictionary, because he is doing it wrong. But to be fair, some long-ago saints would have agreed with him.

• Alcohol  “sharpens the mind.”  But “beer goggles” are real too.

Canada braces for more Danish aggression.

We Did Not Burn the Landowner After All

Jack o' Lantern depicting the Gunpowder Plot. Stacked barrels on the left, arches over head, Guy Fawkes with a torch at right—carved by the neighbors' daughter, an architecture student.

There is an Anglo-American couple (her from the UK, him from right here) down the road who always have a Bonfire Night party.

M. and I bumped into the American half recently, and he said that this year’s “Guy” would be a certain wealthy local hobby-rancher.

Having earned his money elsewhere, this guy is busy buying up every piece of vacant land he can find, erecting pretentious ranch gates, quarreling with the Forest Service, and possibly interfering with water rights (still unproved, but if so, it’s a hanging offense).

Unlike the actual largest landowner in this end of the county — who might be found on a mechanic’s creeper underneath one of the engines at the volunteer fire department, fixing something — he holds himself aloof from all community activities.

He has a bad case of “Texas Vertigo”—he thinks the world revolves around him. And, says the woman who waited tables down at the little steakhouse while working on her nursing degree, “He’s a two-dollar tipper.”

“All right,” I thought, on hearing my neighbor’s announcement, “it’s a real Aradia moment. Di legare il spirito del oppresore and all that.

Not the neighboring landowner but a cable TV talker.

But when M. and I walked up the neighbors’ driveway, dish in hand, to where everyone gathered around the fire pit, beer kegs, and tables of food, the “Guy” was someone else—a certain cable television political pundit.

Not nearly as interesting from a folk-magic perspective, if you ask me.

Burn! Burn!

It is still an emotionally satisfying conclusion.

Thinking about the Zombie Apocalypse

The tremendous growth in the imaginary zombie population amazes me. Maybe, like other bubbles, this one is about to burst. But in the meantime, literary, cinematic, Web, and re-enacted zombification seems to go in two directions.

1. Practice killing the zombies.

There were a lot more stages, and to be honest, I lost count of how many. One, though, required that you get in a boat and move to a zombie-infested island in a small lake. Using your shotgun, you cleaned out the zombies and rescued the poor woman who was filling a water jug. Sadly, the zombies had eaten her brain by the time I got there, but at least I recovered the water jug.

A Google search on the phrase “What caliber for zombies?”  produced more than 500 hits.

If you don’t have a group, you can tack up your own zombie targets at the shooting range. Or settle down with a good book. A reworked classic, even.

The first zombie movie was made in 1932, and there have been a lot more since then. Whether there is any connection or not, the number has jumped since Sept. 11, 2001.

During the Cold War, some culture-watchers saw zombies as our fellow citizens turned into brainwashed Communists. Thus they had to be killed before they spread the “infection.”

Communism is not seen as a threat now, but does the zombie remain a sort of “double” for another threat, and, therefore, it is necessary and good to kill them? They are handy stand-ins for emergency-response drills.

In an effort to engage its community in a hazardous materials emergency preparation exercise, the Office of Homeland Security has put out a petition for 250 volunteers to done their best zombie look this Halloween. The effort will test first responders in how they handle hazardous materials exercises and, in an attempt to maintain the realism of zombie culture, first responders who come in contact with a hazardous material will become zombies themselves.

Like the Center for Disease Control, which published a guide earlier this year to survive a zombie attack, and Tom Deaderick who created a map depicting the each state’s zombie survivability rate, these Delaware County groups are using the zombie craze gain interest and participation their community in a more serious emergency preparedness drill.

2. Be a zombie, at least temporarily.

You can do it Denver, Colorado, or Brighton, Sussex, or many other places.

Brian Strongreen, 29, a student at the University of Colorado at Denver, wore a costume that he called “zombie- Khadafy.” His attire bore a striking similarity to the deceased Libyan leader.

“I used to be in the military and I’m all for dead dictators,” he said. “I couldn’t find a Jheri curl wig.”

So it’s about making fun of enemies sometimes? Depersonalizing “the other” and all that?

Pondering What It All Means, a BBC reporter writes,

Dr Marcus Leaning, programme leader for media studies at the University of Winchester, believes the shambling mass of rotting flesh now colonising our cultural space is well worthy of academic attention.

“Zombies are incredibly popular, the growth is phenomenal – not only are they in films, TV shows and fan productions on YouTube, but there’s a vast growth in books, with zombie survival guides selling very, very well on Amazon,” he told me.

“You even see small garden ornaments dressed as zombies – zombie garden gnomes.”

In fact, Winchester is soon to become the first university in the UK to offer a study module devoted entirely to zombies.

“We’re living through the hardest economic times in most young people’s memories,” Dr Leaning said.

“Maybe zombies speak to austerity Britain in a way other monsters don’t.”

So it’s the zombie economy, just shuffling along? People dress as zombies to quell their own fears? Just don’t take out a student loan to major in Zombie Studies.

How much longer?

When there are children’s books about zombies and high school kids put Zombie Outbreak Response Team stickers on their cars, is it about over? Is  it all about a lack of brains? Pundits ponder that question.

Before zombies, goths were on the same continuum, I fancy, though they were sexier than zombies. I could see me waddling down the aisle with a goth, but not a zombie. I’m all for challenging society’s conventions but, generally speaking, you don’t want to be saying “I do” with your eyeball hanging out.

Uh, yes. Right.

Clearly, zombies are a multivalent metaphor. I am waiting to see which “reading,” if any, predominates.

Back at the PhD (Piled-high Desk)

Rose hips and bufflo berries on the North Dakota prairie

Rose hips and buffalo berries on the North Dakota prairie. Sharptail grouse like them.

It was good to disappear. I geocached along the Niobrara River, hunted ducks in North Dakota — where “to combine” is the verb of autumn, and you accent the first syllable — and ended up finally at the Black Hills Powwow in my old hometown of Rapid City.

I ate way too much greasy food in small-town cafes but have also been reminded how much I like the taste of wild duck. I watched a badger  roam in the great empty heart of South Dakota, which is how I designate all the country south of Lemmon.

More about the powwow later.

I returned to find the “progressive” blogosphere enjoying its annual Ten Minutes of Hate against Christopher Columbus, whom we apparently must now regard not  as a 15th-century European with the mindset of his time but as truly evil.

The Italian immigrants and their descendants who pushed for the holiday were not celebrating evil, notes political blogger Walter Russell Mead.

In American history, the fight to make a holiday on Columbus Day actually had almost nothing to do with the actual arrival of Christopher Columbus in the western hemisphere.  It wasn’t about celebrating the European conquest of the Americas or the extirpation of the native tribes.

The day was made a holiday after years of lobbying as a way of recognizing the contribution of Roman Catholics and immigrants generally to American life.  It is a holiday to celebrate diversity, not to commemorate the imperial outreach of Ferdinand and Isabella, a deeply regrettable couple who were notorious oath breakers, inquisitors and anti-Semites.

Not marching, but dancing.

Meanwhile, at the powwow — and it is no coincidence that it was held October 7th–9th — American flags were much in evidence and military veterans danced first, as happens at most powwows.

Isn’t culture complicated?