Anachronism as a lifestyle

A few years ago two articles circulated among my friends and historical role-play buffs, both about a couple who chose to live like it was the late 1800s, full-time. The original article on Vox was written by Sarah A. Chrisman, one of the people involved, in which she explained why she and her husband chose to give up modern technology (except for computers, apparently) and adopt all things Victorian. Personally, I found it charming, both the article and the accompanying photographs. Soon after her article appeared, Jack Moore posted a less favourable commentary on GQ, calling the Chrismans “super annoying”, among other things (the “White People” tag was also telling). And sure enough, the internet had a field day with the whole story, with no amount of ridiculing these 21st century Victorians.

The Chrismans. Credit: Estar Hyo-Gyung Choi, Mary Studio, via ThisVictorianLife.com

Regardless of how you might feel about the Chrismans’ experiment, it’s hard not to notice the explosion of interest in anachronistic living. Tumblr and Pinterest are brimming with all things vintage; historical role playing communities are multiplying all over (virtual worlds included). There’s no shortage of historical reality TV shows, steampunk literature is booming, while shabby chic style with its fake patina has become a phenomenon of its own. Nor is it a modern phenomenon originating in hipsterdom, as some have alleged. Thinking of the Amish, Hutterites, certain Mormon groups and others, it’s obvious that the concept of a conscious refusal of contemporary technology and fashion, in the widest sense of the word, has been around for quite some time.

What may be new is that this trend is now migrating outside the world of religious fundamentalism: it’s embraced by wholly secular folks, who usually cite their love and appreciation of the past (or some idiosyncratic version of it). Yet there’s still something religious about this attempt to rewrite the past, to embed it with a more positive content purified of any negative elements that may have been there originally. In that sense, anachronistic living greatly differs from historical re-enactment, in that it represents obvious beautification of the past. For example, the Chrismans’ 1880s lifestyle doesn’t include having servants (or slaves, presumably) that they probably would’ve had in actual Victorian times. It’s the construction of the past as it could or should’ve been, from an enlightened contemporary perspective: period arts, culture, and gorgeous vintage style minus the political incorrectness and the egregious forms of inhumanity of the given era. Having the best of both worlds, as it were.

As for me, I’m pretty far from anything Sarah and Gabriel Chrisman have attempted. For one, I wouldn’t dare walk in the street wearing a period costume! But there are many things that I do and love which make me at least a little bit anachronistic. I love watching silent movies, listening to the 1920s / 1930s music and OTR (old-time radio). Much of my furniture is from the early 1900s, originally belonging to my great-grandparents – I would never dream of giving it away and replacing it with something new and more modern; not until it falls apart, anyway. I still use an Olivetti typewriter and a gramophone, both from the 1940s. I enjoy reading and collecting old books and magazines, much preferring them to any more recent releases, which I typically find boring. To be honest, I wouldn’t actually want to live in the past – I’m very grateful for all the technological innovations and medical advances, among other things – but at the same time I love the sense of nostalgia, as well as the eccentricity of conceptual time travel.

Whether anachronistic living is about the love of the past, rejection of the present, or fear of the future is probably too individual to lend itself to easy generalisations. I’m aware people may be into it for a wide variety of reasons. In any case, it’s a kind of utopian practice of re-inscribing the past with one’s own notions and ideas of how things might or should’ve been, added on top of all the factual, theoretical knowledge one can get from books. When done well, it can be informative, playful (in a geeky sort of way), and inspiring. It can also serve as a pleasant break from the more maddening aspects of contemporary culture, which I’m totally in favour of!


VOCABULARY EXERCISES FOR ENGLISH LANGUAGE LEARNERS

Find in the article above the words or phrases with the following meaning:

  • a person who knows a lot and is enthusiastic about a particular subject (a noun)
  • having unique or unusual habits and behaviour (an adjective)
  • a feeling of pleasure combined with sadness when thinking about the past (a noun)
  • to accept something with enthusiasm (a verb)
  • referring to an imagined perfect society or a way of life (adjective)
  • something that makes you angry (an adjective)
  • books and movies depicting an imagined time when steam continued to be used instead of electricity (a noun)
  • extremely bad or evil in an obvious way (an adjective)
  • a statement that claims something is true all of the time (a noun)
  • to become full of something (a verb)

Find in the article above the synonyms for the following nouns:

  • a turntable
  • a snapshot
  • cruelty
  • unconventionality
  • (a) rejection
  • embellishment
  • clothes
  • admiration
  • publications
  • progress

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