Last night my in-laws, my wife, Ms. 8, and I went to Pawnee, Oklahoma, where we attended the Pawnee Bill Wild West Show. It is a kind of reenactment of a spin-off of the old Buffalo Bill show, held at Pawnee Bill Ranch/Museum State Park. On display were Native American dances, trick riding, trick roping, trick shooting, and a healthy does of jingoism, as well as some fine animals that did not in all cases react well to the gunshots and fireworks of the event. Indeed, an equipment failure (one of the horse's cinch lines, I think) and a collision (one horse bolted, rider trying to calm it, and knocked another rider off of her horse entirely) marred the event, although both parties concerned were able to leave the arena under their own power. But the Mrs. enjoyed it, as did her dad and step-mother, and that was the point.
While last night was my first western show to attend, other than local rodeos once or twice when I was a kid, it was not the first "historical" performance exhibition I have seen. I may not be the kind of medievalist who longs for a return to the Middle Ages (I would likely have been a clerk, either civil or in the Church, but I very much like indoor plumbing, air conditioning, and electronic information technology), but I have appreciated living history demonstrations--in part. They are spectacle, and I do enjoy seeing such things on occasion, but as spectacle, they gloss over much and flatly elide other things, making them inaccurate representations. That does not stop them from being billed as "the way things were," more than just the day or two that the show or circus or traveling fair was in town, but always. And because the events are aimed at and, really, meant for children means that the young are embedded in faulty assertions and ideas that they will forever be shaking off from themselves or will forever be in error.
Do not mistake me: I appreciate the level of training and talent and physical strength and stamina that go into making such productions happen, and not only by the performers. I appreciate displays of skill as displays of skill, even if the aesthetics are not always those I would employ. My problem is in the presentation and situation of things (when the performers are good, which has not always been the case, and I think myself justified in being annoyed at paying for poor performances). While I know that one goes to a show to escape the tedium of daily life, so that to be reminded of it in "the way things were" (which has always been more of the mundane than of the miraculous) distracts from the point, I think more could be done to highlight that what is on display is in many cases exceptional. It would give a better view of things, prompting better understandings, and none among us does not need to understand better.