Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Idyllic Peasants Dancing 'round the Maypole (and probably playing hackysack, too)

Matthew Gabriele over at Modern Medieval had an interesting post yesterday that will probably garner THREE different posts in response, with this being the first. He unearthed an article about a fellow developing Oberkleinberg, "an environmentally, economically and socially sustainable community [...] looking like a medieval village but powered by cutting edge 'green' technology." In other words, he's trying to recreate the image of the Shire that drew so many hippies to The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings.

Gabriele laments the ways in which the medieval is characatured, both as violent and dirty ("There's some lovely filth over here, Dennis"), and as happy and fae. He's right, I think, to smash his head against his keyboard at the ridiculousness of it. Real people lived in the Middle Ages -- real people who lived lives very similar to our own. They were born, faced sibling rivalry, played sticks and dolls, hit puberty, fell in love, some days liked their work, some days hated their work, married, fought with their spouse, loved their spouse, had a brood of children, felt annoyance/pride in their children, began to feel the aches of old age setting in, married those children off, enjoyed their grandchildren, and died. Unlike Oberkleinberg, most of them didn't live in a community "with a constantly rotating population and built on top of a huge underground parking garage" -- though perhaps revolutionary archeological findings will prove me wrong on that point.

Still, let's not lose perspective. The medieval has "always already" been constucted in ahistorical terms. Even in the Middle Ages, the medieval wasn't particularly historically accurate. When I look at Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain, I see a text as much invested in mythology as history. The medieval is always the other, and as such acts either as a Golden Age utopia (like Camelot, the Shire, or Oberkleinberg), or as the demonic parody of the present. We construct visions of the medieval because we want to create a foundation for our visions about our present.

What is Oberkleinberg? It is a $56 million land development ... but the target consumer is the kind of person who has a lot of disposable income who feels guilty about it. Saavy consumers are accustomed to the cloying pandering to this market (think Ameriprise Financial commercials), so Oberkleinberg is knocked out of its contemporary context and made strange so that the consumers can experience this development without guilt. Consumers will be paying a premium to make their own ice cream and cobble their own shoes at their time share. What they are really paying for, though, is not the "medieval" experience -- they're paying for the feeling of political rectitude that they get, the same product being sold in the form of Priuses and carbon offsets. Do I think it is silly that people feel so guilty about spending their own money that they have to pretend to be some kind of time travellers to do it? Sure, I do -- but that doesn't change the fact that it is THEIR money, not mine, and if they want to live in The Village, they are welcome to it.

I guess I'm no more bothered by the happy-frolicking-around-the-maypole construction of the medieval than I am by the evil-inquisitor-torturing-a-poor-healing-woman-during-the-Crusades-while-simultaneously-dying-from-the-Black-Plague construction. And, hey, maybe when I retire I'll want to live in a place like Oberkleinberg ... but I'll wear store-bought shoes and eat store-bought ice cream.


  1. So let me get this straight - you're suggesting a third historical construct? We've got the happy-frolicking up version, the evil-torturing down version, and now the middle-of-the-road, ups-and-downs version? ;-)

  2. I appreciate your scholarly perspective, but I believe you misunderstand the intent of Kree Kirkman's Oberkleinberg. To me, you rashly assume he wishes to RECONSTRUCT the past. If you were to take the time to properly research the matter, you would recognize the gross misrepresentation to which you have come.

    What he ACTUALLY wants to do is preserve and revitalize the IDEALS of mankind, giving expression to the imagination of man, regardless of the context.

    Further, this is not a huge investment opportunity cloaked in would-be goodness. If you took the time to speak with the founder and explore his project, you would understand.

    As one who HAS, I tell you that you are misinformed. Rather than expressing your academic rage against this innocent, unique establishment, I suggest you write a book and address the true audience who has an ear to hear your educated point of view.

  3. Anonymous10:14 AM

    I too can attest to the "constructs" of the Oberkleinberg project. I can also add that Kree had some intellectual help with the formation of such and never credited the person who actually did the head work!

    Overworked and Underpaid