Make-Believeism - a Manifesto

This afternoon, I was on the radio, talking about the Jane Austen Festival taking place this week in Bath, England. After the interview, I realized there was so much more I wanted to say, so I wrote this post to say it.

The Jane Austen Festival, like the Regency Ball, is an example of what I call Make-Believeist events, or ‎RePlay‬, as I like to call Regency re-enactment. Make-Believeism has been proliferating of late, and other examples include Comic-Con, Steam-Punk, CosPlay, masquerade balls in Venice, LARPing, etc. But what does all this say about our desires as a modern, western world? In events like these, we seek to fulfil the fantasy of entering an alternative reality, of stepping through that magical door, be it a wardrobe in the spare room or platform nine-and-three-quarters or a portal to Longbourn that we discover in the bath. By leaving behind all the markers that define us in our lives, we are forced to confront the question of who we really are. Although it seems counter-intuitive, it is my experience and my observation that when people engage in make-believe, they are more themselves than they are at any other time. It is also, for many people, the only time that they detach from their digital world and engage with the people around them in a sense of community that is based on fun, and on casting away our pretensions of social hierarchy. How can you think yourself better than anyone else when you are dressed up in a costume? We are all just having a ridiculous good time and we are all in it together. It is permission to play and it frees us to the person our heart, our spirit wants to be. 

What is more, I have observed more artistry and craftsmanship and creativity in the Make-Believeist context than in most of the many so-called arts events I have attended in my life. People are motivated in Make-Believeism not by some moralistic, abstract desire to "promote the arts" but by a burning, gleeful compulsion to live out their crazy childhood dream. They take up sewing, crafting, dancing, music, writing, all kinds of things that they would never otherwise think of, and they do not do it out of obligation. They do it out of love, out of joy. It is deeply addictive. 

This is a rebellion against consumerism. A growing number of people are tired of passive entertainment. They don't just want to watch the show. They want to be the show, be in the fantastical world, see it, feel it, live it for themselves. The world of skinny jeans is not enough for some of us. We want more. We want to dance in long-wise sets. We want to taste lembas bread. We are throwing down our cel phones and bringing our imaginations to life. 

Call it nonsense if you will. I call it art.

Melanie Kerr is the author of Follies Past: a Prequel to Pride and Prejudice and founder of Regency Encounters

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