Is one of the SCA's biggest problems a bad case of embarrasment?
I think it's clear that the Society has been on a bit of a slide lately -- recruitment is down overall, significantly enough that even the Board has finally noticed that membership is slipping. Certainly in our neck of the woods, the activity level has cooled to a lower simmer: there's still a lot happening, but it's a good deal quieter than it was 10 years ago. I can identify a host of reasons why that might be so, some of them largely outside our control, but here's one that seems to be entirely our own fault as a club: I think that, at the corporate level at least, we've gotten downright embarrassed about what we do and who we are.
It's subtle, but it keeps cropping up. The most obvious example is the the Board has become quietly but persistently insistent that you shouldn't use SCA names in correspondence -- it's the example they set, and I gather from occasional comments that it's a guideline they set for corporate officers. (Indeed, this post was inspired by the CA Editor pointing out that the rule is that authors for CA *must* use their modern names as the primary bylines for their issues.) Why is that? The reason seems to be that using SCA names somehow isn't respectable -- again, embarrassment. Sure, you can rationalize reasons for it, but it looks very much like rationalization to me: deep down, it appears that it's mostly grounded in a horrible fear of not being "appropriate".
Another example: at a recent event, we had a group of student journalists coming in to experience the event, in the context of a larger article about re-enactors and re-creationists. The rule, as cited by the Kingdom Media Officer, was that this was fine -- but that if you were talking on the record and you *weren't* an official Media Officer, you were not to talk about the SCA per se. You could talk about yourself and what you do, but it was verboten to say anything about the SCA. Pretty clearly, they were afraid of someone saying something they shouldn't -- embarrassment.
And I don't think anyone at Corporate is conscious of how deep, powerful and damaging a psychic shift this is. When I started in the SCA (rather a while ago now), a large part of what drew me in was how *proud* everyone was of their own weirdness. Seriously: this stuff is who we are, and being proud of it makes it look like *fun*. We always used our SCA names internally, whether interacting in-game or out of it. We talked quite freely with the press whenever we got an opportunity. Yes, this meant an occasional embarrassment, but there really isn't much you can do to prevent that -- if a reporter wants to make us look bad, they will *always* succeed. But 90% of the time, the press responded quite positively to our enthusiasm. We came across as geeky, but that just helped appeal to the fellow-geeks who realized that this was the place they belonged.
Mind, it shouldn't be carried to an extreme. As far as I can tell, this whole trend started because of officers who were embarrassed by the "freaking the mundanes" phenomenon, and that *is* generally a bad idea. But it misses the point: freaking the mundanes is, by and large, a *defensive* reaction, not a proud one -- it is mostly a game of new members who *are* embarrassed deep down, and react by getting excessively loud and brassy. The right point is the middle: understanding who we are and what we're doing, having the confidence that it is *fun*, and simply projecting that. Attitude makes all the difference. If you try to freak the mundanes, they'll decide you're annoying; if you're embarrassed, they'll decide you're weird and creepy. Either way, they'll avoid you. But if you're confident and enjoying yourself, people respond positively to that. Frankly, I tend to travel to events in garb, and if I'm stopped at Starbucks or some such it's a bit unusual for me to *not* wind up in a conversation with somebody who is curious and wants to learn more. That's all about attitude: people see that I'm doing something strange but clearly interesting and fun, and they want to learn more.
I don't think it's gotten to an extreme degree yet -- there's a long way for it to get worse, and I'm pointing it out to try and arrest the trend a bit. Ultimately, this business of hiding our light under a bushel is corrosive: it sends the message that there is something to be embarrassed *about*, and that's discouraging. We are *not* a mundane academic research institution, and if we try to look too much like one we will eventually convince ourselves that that's what we are supposed to be. Yes, we're educational, and yes, we teach a great deal -- but we do it subtly, as part of the game that we are engaged in. We should be proud of that.
Anyway, consider this food for thought. There's not much I can do to change corporate policy, but I encourage you, when you are confronted by this sort of corporate embarrassment, to push back at it. It's very easy to rationalize reasons for us to hide and pretend that we are Terribly, Terribly Normal -- but in the long run, that just ensures that the SCA will fail to attract the people who should be in it, who will go find some other cool, weird, geeky pastimes instead...