Living history vs farb…..

13 Jan

First off, I want to say that there is nothing wrong with people who commit farb crimes, as long as they are not at an event that is trying to show the general public “how it was back then.”

For non living history/ reeanctor readers, jargon definition:

Farb: a derogatory term used in the hobby of historical reenacting in reference to participants who exhibit indifference to historical authenticity, either from a material-cultural standpoint or in action.

I know this post is going to sound arrogant and condesending, but that’s not how I mean to come across. I’m sure doing LARP and SCA* stuff is really fun, I know people who have a great time doing it, I have nothing against that. What I do have something against is those same people coming to living history / reenacting events that are open to the public and bringing their farb ways with them. (*I am aware not all SCA is the same, and that some groups try very hard to be accurate.)

The point at those events is to educate the public, and to have fun doing it. If you’re not interested in properly educating the people by presenting as accurate depictions as possible, then go have your own group event. Just don’t come to a educational one with your drink coolers, pop up tents, plastic armor, and stainless steel swords. Again, there is nothing wrong with having that stuff, using it, and enjoying yourself, but just not at these events.

Some people think it’s just too much work to get the real thing, and put an expert kit together, but the quality shows. Let me give you some examples.

In camp: farb with coolers, pop up tents, bamboo mats, and obviously no period cloth for clothing:

farb1farb2Ok now here is an example of a non farb campcamp1camp2

Can you spot the difference? How about a compare/contrast with armor and fighting?



Ok, now for the non farb guys:

non farb 1non farb 2

Can you tell a quality difference? One group looks like a renfaire and the other looks like a movie set?

I must admit, when I first started doing living history at age 12, I was a farby. Here is the proof:

It takes time, a long time to put together an expert kit, but the effort you put in it really shows.

The two living history groups used as good examples in this post are Lord Grey’s Retinue and The Guild of Saint Olaus.

8 Responses to “Living history vs farb…..”

  1. ktjia January 14, 2009 at 11:05 am #


    I can understand your point in that when going to an activity it is best to let bygone be bygones. Go to learn like everyone else.

    Have you considered that the ‘farbs’ who are attending in their non-period ‘garb’ are trying to enhance the atmosphere in their own way?

    Perhaps they do not know the difference. In their minds they probably bought a tabard pattern, followed all of the directions, and now they have a period tabard. Right?

    Although I am a proud LARPer I am not a living history buff by any means. Even so I usually make a face when someone suggests that we get all dressed up to go to a fair, reenactment, or other medieval events.

    Simply put, it’s not my event and they probably don’t have a sign that says “Have your own medieval clothing? Feel free to dress up!”

    I guess I’m just playing devil advocate here. People usually have good intentions even if they are misplaced.

    Kevin Tjia

  2. Driftingfocus February 13, 2009 at 9:40 am #

    Farbs make me twitch. Well, bad farbs do. That said, I think most reenactors started out as some degree of farb. I have always said that reenacting is sort of a continual process of improvement.

  3. Brokk September 6, 2009 at 2:02 am #

    I just came across your site and I do respect your article. I have a few comments:

    Something that needs to be taken into account, since you’re comparing armour is this: One is trying to look as much like a movie set as possible, while the other is trying to revive the lost martial art of western warfare. It’s football vs the football museum. I agree that the ones who went all out look better. That’s the SCA goal..for everyone to look like that eventually (minus the rattan weapons). I would also like to comment that people used to use wooden swords for practice back then. It’s a tradition that’s carried over today. Bokken were used in my oriental martial arts studies. Rattan is used in other oriental martial arts practices, and was adopted by the SCA to prevent splintering of the wood into the eyes. Rattan ‘brooms’ out.

    In the end, a ‘living history’ person won’t be able to go on display until they purchase enough to be realistic. An SCA person is encouraged to get whatever crap they can together to come play and set up a solid base for the combat while they take the time to build their sets.

  4. godlesspaladin September 6, 2009 at 11:45 am #

    Hey, thanks for the comment. The problem I have with SCA fighting is that the fighting I’ve seen is nothing more than a wack and smash contest where someone will get down on their knees and continue to fight if hit there. This is more of a game of points than an actual fight. Do SCA groups try to “revive the lost martial art”? Their fighting doesn’t look like western swordsmanship groups that focus purely on the fighting and not living history. Here are 3 such groups off the top of my head if you want to see what their fighting looks like.
    ARMA AEMMA St. Martins

    The groups above look at actual surviving manuscripts to study western swordsmanship, and what they do is unlike anything I’ve seen at an SCA event. My group fights like this as well. We practice with wooden wasters, then we fight with blunt steel. I’ve heard that blunt steel would be a big “no no” in SCA, but because we have looked at how it was actually done back then, and wear real armor, we have almost no injuries.

    Now I will admit, this is only from my personal experience. I’ve never been in the SCA and I’d love to told how it works from someone with this knowledge. If this comes across as pretentious I apologize, that is not my intent. There is nothing wrong with the SCA, and nothing wrong with people just going out for fun. You are correct that a ‘living history’ person would be unable to go on display until they have everything. This is one of the problems I face. On a college student’s budget it is really difficult for me to acquire new items. Mostly I have to borrow.

    I have been considering joining a local SCA group or larp group with my friends just to have some relaxed fun. A couple of other people in my hardcore living history group do this as well.

  5. Michael September 16, 2009 at 3:46 pm #

    As one that participates in both arenas, I agree the “farb” aspect of the SCA is somewhat annoying. However, as Brokk points out, the majority of players start out as such and invariably improve over time. You’re speaking about a much more diverse group that does not dictate, but encourages members to aspire to the best level of periodicity as they can. Some succeed and some don’t.

    Travel is also a concern. It takes much less space to carry modern camping equipment and niceties than to carry the historical (and less flexible) medieval equivalent. We went to an event that took us from Spokane, WA to Marsden, SK, Canada (a 14 hour road trip). The expense of pulling a trailer to carry a “period” encampment for myself and my wife as well as our friends would have been prohibitive. So while those lawn pimple tents may be annoying we were able to cover a greater distance to attend a large event much more affordably.

    When taking into account the fighting, you must look at the origins of each group as well. In 1969, when the SCA was founded, the fechtbuchen referenced by AEMMA, ARMA, etc. were all but unknown to only the most ardent of scholars.

    Even then, the majority of what is being referenced were in private libraries until the last decade, or so. Fighting in the SCA with no information was compensated for by evolving through trial and error and has adapted as information has been released and understood. While the techniques that have evolved internally are not “Codex”, much of what has been produced does have parallels to the Fechtbuchen.

    You must also take into account that fighting in the SCA is a sport, not a martial art. We place limitations of honor (fairness) and safety, which take it strictly out of the martial arts realm. Nobody can honestly argue that olympic fencing is a martial art simply because they wield an epee.

    While not allowed on the Tourney/War Field yet, WMA (as it has become to be known) is now an acceptable subject within the Ithra University (an internal educational branch). And, it continues to build steam within our community.

  6. Puddingpie November 15, 2010 at 3:53 pm #

    I think there’s a difference between “camping with a medieval theme” and actually trying to recreate an accurate medieval camp. I wouldn’t really hold it against the former.

  7. godlesspaladin November 15, 2010 at 4:08 pm #

    I don’t have a problem with people who camp “with a medieval theme” as long as they don’t try to represent what they do as historically factual. Unfortunately, a lot of the events I went to that were supposed to be about real history were full of people who were simply “camping with a medieval theme.”

  8. noname November 21, 2011 at 7:14 pm #

    I don’t care. I think it is funny dress like that and have fun one day, and not staying taking notes if the wooden clothes were dressed in that color in 1217…

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