Monday, April 10, 2006

What if there was a war and nobody came?

This just in the 141st anniversary reenactment of the Battle of Selma is officially cancelled. After peaking with upwards of 2,000 registered reenactors at the 130th anniversary, this year's organizers could barely muster a couple hundred participants.

I have no idea if this is a larger trend throughout the "Living History" hobby. One reason given for the poor Selma registration was the high cost of fuel. I suspect that after general interest in the Civil War was rekindled during the centennial years of the early 1960s, leading to exponential growth of book sales, reenacting groups, and Civil War Round Tables over the next couple decades, interest is beginning to ebb. Certainly that's the case with Civil War-specific book sales. I've also read somewhere that interest in historic wars, which for some has an uncomfortably naive element of nostalgia about it, wanes during times of actual war.

Of course the Selma event has some other things going against it. For one thing, the historic event there was not a momentous battle so much as confirmation that by April of 1865, Federal cavalry columns could effectively operate with impunity throughout the Confederate heartland.

For another thing, the immediate base of paying spectators in Selma is 69% African American, not generally considered the target audience for mock battles featuring overweight white guys, many in Confederate uniforms, fighting for their "rights."

Not that fighting for one's rights isn't of interest to the people of Selma. According to the Los Angeles Times article I read today (registration required), the hottest-selling item at the Selma Visitor Information Center is a shirt commemorating the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where marchers, 100 years after the Battle of Selma, faced down Alabama State Troopers.

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