This past Labor Day weekend marked the end of the season for the Bristol Renaissance Faire, located just north of the Illinois-Wisconsin border in Bristol, Wisconsin. It’s been around since at least 1975 and is a pretty popular attraction, bringing in nearly 400,000 seasonal attendees during the summer months that it’s open, at least in the northern regions of the country (typically, June-ish, until Labor Day). It may not be as popular a destination as more solidified theme park brands (Six Flags, not to mention the global reach of the Disney brand and their theme parks), but it caters to a different type of mentality, one that appears to embrace a more ‘lifestyle’ (or rather, ‘lyfestyle’…ok nevermind), approach, where lines between reality and fantasy are blurred for many attendees.
The Bristol Faire (according to Wikipedia) began in the late 1970s as ‘King Richard’s Faire’, a fictitious English monarch, and set it the late 1500s. Fast forward a few decades and it’s a strange affair all around – It’s lively and fun, without a doubt. But the lines have blurred for what this type of stage is really trying to promote. It’s no longer about showcasing the bygone days of english fiefdoms, poor hygiene and selling semi-decently made leather-goods. Rather, it’s a strange melange of different eras, cliques, even clothing styles that have nothing to do with its original intent.
All images: copyright Trenderfriend.com 2016.
What’s impressive about targeted destination playgrounds like this is how far they’ve branched out from their initial, seemingly more humble beginnings.
Even the local radio advertisements in greater Chicagoland have constantly barraged listeners with the (seemingly earnest) appeal that it doesn’t matter if you’re a pirate, Renaissance aficionado, goth-revivalist, or, yes, even a ‘Steampunker’ (ACTUAL radio ad term). What does it all mean anymore when false individuality in the form of ad hoc genre groups don’t really represent the intent of a fantasy destination/playground? Why still refer to it as a “Renaissance Faire”, when the majority of the costumed players and attendees seemingly dress in styles or genres that are only a few decades old?
Perhaps a better question is, does it really matter? Escapism for adults can be more and more
rare, especially adults with kids in tow…sometimes one can wonder, who is actually bringing whom to the Faire, because some adults there appeared to be having considerably more fun than their offspring. And a funny thought can occur while making your way through the busy crowds: what is the actual personality of some of these participants, and what is the alter-ego? A good guess for some of the revelers is probably (unsurprisingly) not what most would expect (a gay male couple dressed as courtly princes in matching attire and holding hands, can make one wonder if this is how they really feel on the inside…at least it was nice to see that barely anyone battered an eye that a gay couple was walking around hand in hand, something that would have been deemed demonic during the actual Renaissance. Small steps, people. Very very small steps).
At the end of the day, the best question is: was it a fun time? If the answer is ‘yes’ than it doesn’t really matter how inaccurate the setting/styles/melting pot of archetypes is. And perhaps that’s the whole point of the escapist mentality of these types of destinations. As the advertisements stress, you don’t necessarily have to dress up to have a good time. Sometimes, an escape to a mythical land as fake as Disney World is just as wonderful, especially when anyone and everyone is welcome, regardless of how silly they make look. That takes the most amount of courage.