Make your own free website on

Modern Festivals and their Significance

The importance of the Renaissance festival bears significance even today. This continuation of the importance of the festival can be seen through several incarnations. Clearly, one of the more noticeable aspects regards the eruption of summer 'Renaissance Faires'. These season long festivals act as a gateway to the past, in which entire cities and lifestyles are recreated for the amusement and participation of the population.

During these festivals, actors from around the country don period costumes and act in ways attributed to the Renaissance festival. Games are played that simulate those played during the period, traditional foods and crafts are made and sold, and the actors present themselves in ways that suit the Renaissance festival.

Clearly, the behaviors of people during these festivals differ greatly from the day to day life in the 20th Century. These modern day Renaissance festivals offer an opportunity for those who attend to experience a way of life different than their own. Much like the Renaissance festivals, traditional values and morals are exchanged for a different way of life for a temporary period of time. In a sense, much like the dualistic theories of Bakhtin, the people assume a contrary identity to their own - specifically for this event.

A major proponent of these festivals is an organization known as the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA). This group of people serves to promote the ideas of recreation in regards to the Medieval and Renaissance periods. They are often large sponsors of these festivals, organizing outside events as well. To them, the festival aspect of the Renaissance culture clearly holds a tremendous importance.

Along a similar vein of thinking, the crucial Renaissance festival, Carneval, has its own modern day incarnation. Mardi Gras is the modern day equivalent of Carneval, having emerged from the very traditions involved in the celebration before Lent. This singular event holds relevance for thousands of people every year, as they converge on the city of New Orleans in Louisiana for the celebration.

This festival attracts an extreme amount of people, who line the streets for parades, traveling entertainment, and general drunken merriment. The body and sexuality are celebrated throughout the festival, just as would be during the Renaissance Carneval. Public drunkenness, public nudity, and general hooliganism run rampant in a direct subversion of the traditional authority and morality. Excess is celebrated in all forms, so as to prepare for the opposite behavior patterns during the season of Lent. Clearly, through all of the behavior changes among the festival attendees, a clear tendency towards the subversive and unorthodox is present. The costuming is often ostentatious, overly sexual, or a combination of the two. An interesting fact is that the local police and law enforcement do not show their authority through arrests and such until the festival is over. They simply let the event run its course, allowing the people what amounts to free reign over laws of indecency and drunkenness - a clear acceptance of the temporary subversion of traditional authority, just as was present in the days of Renaissance Carneval.

While there are certainly other social practices representative of 'safe' authoritative subversion, the Renaissance Faire and the Mardi Gras celebration are the two more prominent and easily recognizable. An argument can be made for the significance of the cult film "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" as a similar means of acceptable and temporary authoritative subversion. During the course of this film, all rules and cultural norms for traditional film watching are dismissed. Audience members shout out at the film, dress in clothing normally considered inappropriate for their gender, and throw items such as toast, rice, and toilet paper around the theater. Not only is this subversive behavior allowed, but also the film's regular crowd praises it. For 25 years, this film has presented an opportunity for the safe and acceptable countering of traditional rules, regulations, and authority.

Clearly, there are a multitude of events and practices that extend the tradition of the Renaissance festival and Carneval. The ability to release tension and anxiety of daily authority and structure in such a subversive way, yet still is accepted, was an important element during the Renaissance, and continues to be so today. It can be seen that, even today, nearly 500 years since the Renaissance period in England, the subversive nature of festival still holds a significant importance.