Summer2016 - On Form and Function

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Summer2016 - On Form and Function

Postby Greg » Fri Aug 19, 2016 9:06 pm

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On Form and Function - By Greg Lammers

As the collective community of persons interested in Middle-Earth re-creation grows, the sheer amount of outside influences, naturally, is expanding as well. And rightly so! Everyone has their own opinion of what Tolkien envisioned, and will interpret even concrete references to materials or culture in their own unique way. This is, after all, part of what makes these pursuits fun.
As we introduce ourselves to more and more interested persons, a few key topics continue to lodge themselves in the forefront of my thoughts: Form and function.
It is often said that form follows function, but in our hobby, where capturing the essence of an unseen, “historical” culture is critical for a believable impression, I’m finding form often takes center-stage to functioning gear. The term “Aesthetic” is widely used to reference umbrella genres, such as the “Ranger Aesthetic” or the “Hobbit Aesthetic”. Function is, as we all know, a critical part of creating a believable, realistic, and legitimate impression. If it doesn’t work, it isn’t going to “work”. But which should be the trump card? Which should be taking backseat to allow for the other? Can we strike a balance?

With form, and “The Aesthetic”, I see both sides. Following a predetermined “Ranger Aesthetic” can help ensure that an impression is recognized for what it is meant to be. This is vital for a re-creationist who is in the public eye often, lest he or she be mistaken for a character entirely unrelated. However…who and/or what chose the definition of “the aesthetic” of any one culture? Who or what decided that a Ranger should wear tall leather boots, arrows on their back, a heavy cloak, a leather vest, and carry a bow, a sword, and a dagger? So often, this is exactly what “Ranger Aesthetic” evokes. Is there anything wrong with it? Not necessarily…but is anything sacrificed by following this “aesthetic”? Does “aesthetic”-based garb pigeonhole an impression too specifically to be considered Middle-Earth, or too generally to be considered one culture? We should really be sure that when we follow such a framework, that we are using Tolkien as a base first.

With function, I can approach both arguments as well. To make our gear function properly, it is commonplace to plan and assemble individual “kits” for each of a handful of functions that may serve to fulfill a task while out and about, such as sewing, cooking, hygiene, and various other specific functions. These various sets of gear tend to result in several to dozens of separate bags or pouches to contain them all, and setting up camp turns into organizing an apothecary’s worth of bags that serve a myriad of uses. To fulfill these various tasks for time in the wilds without one’s pack becoming too burdensome to carry, outfitting ones’ self with tools that serve multiple purposes is common practice. Multi-purpose tools and equipment can be very useful…but is this always the correct approach to take in attempting to reduce weight/bulk? Perhaps the issue is not the number of tools needed, but rather the number of needs one has in the wilderness. Instead of having a dozen pouches filled with “kits” for every conceivable encounterable condition, should we be striving to establish a more general-purpose approach to kit, allowing us to handle a wider variety of needs, without accumulating a gearset that must be catalogued to maintain organization? Should we be striving to perfect bushcraft skills that will be used with varying levels of frequency, or would it be better to come prepared with a task-specific piece of equipment to nix the need for the skill? Should a Ranger, for example, practice skills to survive with nothing, or should a Ranger practice the art of preparing so that, in a survival situation, one simply goes on living? Does this require more gear, or simply more planning?

There are many questions here…a great deal have been left unanswered. This is not something that can be decided for anyone. However, I would caution against the term “Aesthetic” on the very principle by which it exists: it is too general. Claiming that any one piece of gear fits into an “Aesthetic”, rather than a culture, even within the wide-ranging interpretations of J.R.R. Tolkien’s writing, opens the door for outside influences far beyond the scope of Middle-Earth. In the same way, the word “kit” can also be misconstrued to suggest that the only functional way to devise a gearset is to diversify with as many separate “kits” as one can assemble…as dangerous as suggesting that carrying a tool that only has one function is incorrect, or even unwise. Perhaps instead of juggling form and function, it would be wise of us to consider pursuing culture and need.

“What does my impression need for purposes of sleeping, eating, defense, and upkeep? How can I structure my kit (rather than “a kit” or “several kits”) to fulfill these needs in the context of my chosen culture? Can this be done in a way that all parts serve a critical need, and work together rather than independently? Or do separate “kits” suit my needs better? Is it possible, perhaps, to define my impression culturally in such a way as to evoke Middle-Earth as a reality, rather than fantasy? Is this necessary for my impression?
I pass the questions on to you to answer. Enjoy the journey!
Now the sword shall come from under the cloak.

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