Recently I’ve been watching videos of someone who’s dedicated his life to historical reenactment. Specifically he enjoys reenacting the United States at around the time of the Revolutionary War. While I enjoyed learning about how people lived back then, I still find it weird that a person who spend his life recreating the past. Imagine if 200 years from now there is a bunch of random people who dressed and acted like people from the 1950’s to the 2010’s, portraying what life was like back then. In fact, I thought it would be fun to imagine how we would be portrayed by these future historical reenactors.
First of all, will people of the future be able to understand the nuanced differences between the different decades? To us, the difference between the 1950’s and 2010’s are very stark, but we generally have no clue as to what cultural difference exist between the 1750’s and the 1810’s. In fact, the modern person (the average Americans at least) tends to conflate everything that happened from the time of Shakespeare to the end of the 19th century. We might end up in a very weird situation where people thought poodle skirts were period-appropriate fashion during the 1990’s, or that hearing gangsta rap on the radio was perfectly common during the 1950’s.
The second thing is that there are so many different subcultures during the period we live in. We have nerds, jocks, hippies, gamers, stoners, goths, ravers, and the list goes on and on and on. Each subculture has its own set of values and practices, and view some practices of other subculture as anathema. Will future generation not understand these subcultures, and conflate them all together? Will there be a historical reenactor who portrays a hippie-jock-stoner who makes cat videos? It is possible, but it wouldn’t portray the average person of our time.
Another problem for historical reenators of the future is that so much of contemporary life depends on technology. Imagine a person 200 years from now who wants to drive a Thunderbird. Most likely a car will not last 200 years because of rust, and it would be almost impossible to find parts to repair such a vehicle. Furthermore, 200 years from now there might not be any gasoline because all cars by then will be electric. (Also, 200 years from now almost all petroleum will be used, making gasoline a scarce resource.) A person in the future may still be able to get a 200-year-old car to run, but only the very rich will be able to afford it.
This problem gets worse with electronic technology. Electronics break down over time, and because even the simplest consumer electronic device will be very complicated, it would be nearly impossible to repair. You can, in principle, use emulators to simulate old computers, but there will always be some aspect of the technology that will not be precisely copied by this technique.
Historical reenactment in modern times have concentrated on the subject of war. Therefore, in the United States the two most common time periods to reenact are the Revolutionary and Civil wars. Will people 200 years from now be doing reenactments of World War II, Vietnam, Gulf War, Iraq and Afghanistan? But there’s an obvious problem, because modern wars are fought with tanks, airplanes and missiles, and how will the average person of the future be able to afford those things? Also, a lot of recent wars were guerrilla wars, but that would mean most war reenactment would be getting ambushed, running into booby traps and burning down peasant villages, none of which sounds very fun.
Maybe people from the future won’t be obsessed with war and will be fascinated by our culture. Perhaps historical reenactment in the future would be something like reenacting the lives of the Beatles, or pretending to be a rapper. What nowadays would be just considered forming a tribute band would in the future be considered historical reenactment. Maybe they will memorialize movements when a subjugated people earned some rights, such as the Civil Rights Movement. Maybe they will be fascinated by our video games, and think that this was the Golden Age of Video Games. There are a lot of possibilities.