Recently, everyone and their grandmother are trying to place steampunk in the grander scope of things. Most of pop culture has poked at it at this point. Many in the SF/F community gives the subculture a passing nod (or are slowly edging away, since, being early adapters by nature, quite a few in sci-fi are tired of it already).
Still, questions about steampunk have set people in pursuit of the deeper meanings behind the aesthetic movement. Two years ago, Intel’s futurist Brian David Johnson wanted to answer the biggest one about steampunk’s rise: “Why now?” He was joined by a cultural historian James Carrott and they filmed a documentary, which permutated into a book by the same name: Vintage Tomorrows (or two books, actually. Steampunking Our Future: An Embedded Historian’s Notebook is the free e-book companion you can get online).
I had the pleasure of meeting them at NYCC a couple of years ago to hear their idea first-hand: steampunk has the potential to be a counterculture. I’m actually on the fence about this (surprised, right?). Because, as much as I love the subculture, radical change isn’t a given to participate. Lo and behold, however, when a copy handed on my desk awhile back, I gave their research a gander.
[How to fall in love with a subculture in 10 easy steps -- Read the rest of Tor.com]
Briaan L. Barron, artist and owner of Bri-Dimensional Images and recent graduate from Sarah Lawrence College, contacted me about her senior project: a film about steampunk, steamfunk, and the role of African Diaspora in these subcultures. The final result is her animated short “Steamfunk & Rococoa: A Black Victorian Fantasy” which I’m happy to share here. Also featuring the wonderful Balogun Ojetade speaking about steamfunk!
The inspiration for Steamfunk and Rococoa: A Black Victorian Fantasy derived from an event inspiration board that I came across online. The board, which featured an intriguing medley of metals, vintage artifacts, and African jewelry, was entitled “Afro-Steampunk,” and its description read, “If Erykah Badu and Sherlock Holmes had a wedding.” The visual juxtaposition of these unexpected sources of inspiration led me to delve into more research on the concept of Afro-Steampunk to see if this striking aesthetic could be found elsewhere. My search exposed me not only to more fascinating representations of Black and African aesthetics coalescing with the steampunk genre, but also to a unique set of politics and critiques associated with them.
Closing Credits Music produced by Briaan L. Barron
Convention alert! This weekend, I’ll be presenting at Watch City Festival as part of their Academic track. You can find me at the Author’s Den at the following times:
11 – 11:45 AM : “Steam Around the World: Steampunk Beyond Victoriana” – My standard panel about multicultural steampunk, tweaked and upgraded.
12 – 12:45 PM: “Steaming into a Victorian Future” Panel with Prof. Catherine Siemann and Prof. Cynthia Miller
We’ll be discussing the recently published steampunk anthology Steaming into a Victorian Future, and all of the intellectual critique that goes on in the steampunk, and what trends we see in the current community.
3-5PM: Birthday Toast at Watch City Festival! at The Mad Raven.
Need a breather from Watch City? Going in for a late lunch? Need an excuse to booze it up? An informal get-together to celebrate an early birthday with those who are attending Watch City Festival. I’ll be there, chilling for a couple of hours after my panels and would certainly enjoy your company!
11 – 12:45 PM: “Envisioning a Better Steam Society” My other standard panel to discuss the historic problems of the 19th century into today and what we can do about them.I’ll also be tweeting and tumblr-ing my adventures too, for those who can’t attend. Otherwise, I hope to see some familiar faces at a panel or for a pint.
[Note from Ay-leen: Cross-posting P. Djeli Clark's blog The Disgruntled Haradrim. Happy May Day everyone!]
Pictured above, members of an African-American acting troupe who journeyed to the Soviet Union to star in a film in the 1930s. The group was led by the young Louise Thompson Patterson and included amongst them the poet Langston Hughes
“Socialism is the preparation for that higher Anarchism; painfully, laboriously we mean to destroy false ideas of property and self, eliminate unjust laws and poisonous and hateful suggestions and prejudices.”–H.G. Wells
“Steampunk will never be afraid of politics,” declared writer and Steampunk Magazine editor Margaret Killjoy in a well-read 2011 article. In it, Killjoy pushed back against any notion that steampunk was merely about brass buttons and brassieres–though it’s that too. Tracing the long history of political thought, and political radicalism, in the genre, she pointed to the early works of Jules Vernes and H.G. Wells, and the more modern anarchist tendencies of Michael Moorcock and Alan Moore. Killjoy went on to declare steampunk as even inherently anticolonial; in its re-imaginings of our historical past steampunk was “antithetical” to colonialism, the latter being “a process that seeks to force homogeneity upon the world” while the former “is one of many, many movements and cultures that seeks to break that homogeneity.”
Indeed, steampunk (beyond even its literary creations) has sparked numerous discussions and debates on race, slavery, colonialism, gender, class and sexuality. More than any other genre of speculative fiction, it forces us to confront our more immediate past, and has an active cadre that launches criticism upon anything that appears to fantasize, apologizes or fails to acknowledge the disparities and inequities of these by-gone eras. It makes steampunk a fractured genre, where the donning of a simple article of clothing or a decision to write about some obscure bit of the past, can spark debates or whole blogs on racism, cultural appropriation, gender inequality and [insert-your-privilege-here]-splaining. And that’s a GOOD thing.
Filed under Essays, History
Note: Thanks to Countessa Lenora for the opportunity to write this guest post for her blog!
The actual “Peacemaker,” my signature steampunk weapon
My Peacemaker was originally a chalking gun. I admit it. It’s pretty obvious to anyone who looks at it for more than ten seconds. Sometimes, people think it was a cookie gun, and I don’t mind that either. I like cookies.
There has been an unusual attitude, I’ve noticed, about the creation of steampunk props and the role of functional art. I’ve seen dismissive railing against “stick a gear on it” for physical artistic creations, the trumpeting of modded computers and iPods over spray-painted Nerf guns. I have no issue with beautiful functional art or people to have creative ambitions (and yes, that song based on the concept is pretty cute). But, as a performer with cosplayer roots, I never fully understood the ridicule. Because, a prop is a prop is a prop and as long as it helps you perform, whether the steampunk prop shoots real lightning or falls apart after being out in a rainstorm, as long as it enhances your artistic performance, it is a good steampunk prop.
What is, then, “steampunk performance?” A better way of phrasing would be that “steampunk performs.”
[Read the rest on Steampunk Canada]
Already have my bags packed for my early morning flight to Cincinnati for the Steampunk Empire Symposium. My schedule is under the cut — hope to see some of you guys there!
I’ll also be on tumblr and twitter throughout the event, so you can follow me there!
Maurice Grunbaum, left, with a fellow steampunk. Photo courtesy of Bernard Rousseau.
Striking. Powerful. Imposing. These are some of the words that come to mind when viewing a costume piece by Maurice Grunbaum. Maurice, an artist based in Paris, is well-known in the French alt and cosplay community for his amazing detailed costume and prop work, and images of his outfits have circulated throughout the steampunk aethernetz. I first noticed him in group shots with other steampunks of color (he’s the masked gentleman on the right).
On his Facebook, you can find detailed cosplays from Bioshock, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and other steampunk-inspired sources. On the rise nationally in France, his art was included in the exhibition “Future Perfect: Retrofuturism/ Steampunk/ Archeomodernism” («Futur Antérieur: Rétrofuturisme/ Steampunk/ Archéomodernisme») at the Agnes B. Galerie in Paris (watch the museum trailer below for a clip of Maurice talking about steampunk).
When I read his interview included in the exhibit’s catalog, I was blown away by his articulate passion for everything steampunk and his need to broaden the definition of steampunk to include influences outside the Victorian and the French «La Belle Époque». So with a little help from a French friend-of-the-blog, I was able to get an interview with Maurice.
Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and Boston Mayor Tom Menino have announced the formation of The One Fund Boston, Inc. to help the people most affected by the tragic events that occurred in Boston on April 15, 2013. Click to donate.
I don’t talk about current events much on this blog. On Monday, the events at the Boston Marathon really hit home, though.
You see, I grew up near Boston. I have friends and family who live there. My fiancee’s cousin is an Olympic runner and does marathons like the Boston Marathon on a regular basis. Monday afternoon was spent checking in on my relatives and friends, following livefeeds, staying informed. As the news broke the last couple of days, and more names I knew and people from my hometown kept cropping in the headlines, it had been emotionally difficult to cope. So I stayed away from public announcements, but I am undoubtedly grateful for the outpouring of support I’ve seen from people who were on the ground and from elsewhere.
Thank you to the first-responders who rushed to the scene. Thank you to the marathon volunteers who stayed for 14 hours straight to assist runners and the injured. Thank you to the runners who went the two extra miles to donate blood at Mass General. Thank you to the hundreds who have donated already to family charities and organizations for the victims. Thank you to Occupy for the lovely light display that night, and to Stephen Colbert and John Stewart, for their speeches on yesterday’s broadcast, and to the messages of support that have been traveling online.
There are other tragedies happening throughout the world (as they always are). An 7.8 earthquake rocked the Iran/Pakistan border yesterday. A bombing happened this morning in Bangalore. Now is not the time, however, for comparing and contrasting tragedies. Quantifying suffering does not minimize their affects. The best that a single person can do in a situation is act, the best they can do wherever they are, to stop the suffering that they see. People do this in a political context as well as a humanitarian one and I respect both ways. But conversations that further provoke needless pain are not productive. Not right now.
The One Fund is open for donations. Please send what you can.
Shanghai, China, Jewish refugees in one of the “homes” established in Shanghai to house those who succeeded in escaping from Europe via East Asia in the 1940s. Photo courtesy of the Yad Vashem photo archive. Click for source.
German Jews did not immediately begin to put their emigration papers in order after Hitler came into power, or after the passing of the Nuremberg Laws, because as far as they were concerned they were fully assimilated Goethe reading, WWI fighting German citizens. They could not believe, and would not believe, that the country they loved would turn against them.
Hitler introduced his anti-Jewish legislation slowly over the course of the 1930’s, giving German Jewry time to rationalize each new piece; this especially held true for Jewish men, as they tended to work in traditionally Jewish occupations. Jewish women, however, through the regular contact with gentiles allowed to them by their place in the home sphere, became aware of the “social death” being imposed on them by Nazi legislation long before their husbands took notice.
In the wake of the mass arrests of Jewish men during Kristallnacht, it fell to these women to free their husbands—typically from Dachau. Nazi officials would not release men until their families provided proof that they would depart from Germany immediately upon their release. Thus, not only did women have to rescue their husbands, but they also had to navigate the emigration process by themselves. Due to the complex legal frameworks enacted by possible destination countries to keep Jewish refugees out, it was immensely difficult for Jews to secure visas out of Germany, and it became even more difficult when they were confronted with the massive exit tax Jews were forced to pay before leaving.
There was, however, one destination which had not put up legal roadblocks to fleeing Jews: Shanghai—this had more to do with the decentralized and highly colonized nature of Shanghai than it had to do with any sort of altruistic sentiment. While the Chinese government had the right to demand to see emigration papers before new arrivals would be allowed to enter Shanghai, this was seldom enforced. Thus, to get to Shanghai, all fleeing families needed were boat tickets. For this reason—in accordance with the necessity to present proof of emigration to Nazi officials before male family members would be released—Shanghai became the only option available to some of the families of incarcerated men.
Filed under Essays, History
Interrupting this blog for a special bulletin — or, rather, a bit of an intellectual endeavor. I’ve been talking with Dr. Roger Whitson of Washington State University about steampunk — and he is currently working on an MLA Special Session proposal on the subject — and what came up in our discussion was the role of the social media and how it fosters and records the process of cultural change. Steampunk, which has been both upheld as a ideological movement and downplayed as an apolitical fashion trend, is only as politically substantial as people make it to be. But the use of the aethernetz, however, democratizes the power of social opinions and magnifies the power of these conversations. More importantly, however, all of these conversations create a more transparent picture of what cultural politics are actually happening on the ground, and opens up more possibilities of challenging “entrenched institutions”, as Roger explained to me, “…it is a politics that is removed from the exclusive analysis of the academic, the editor, and the expert, and placed into the hands of everyday people using social media.”
How can we gauge the political potential of our imaginations in the steampunk community?
Thus, Roger asked me to submit a brief response — at most 250 words — in reply to his questions: “What role do feminism and queer politics have in steampunk? What role should they have?” in order to assist his article on steampunk fandom and the digital archive.
And of course, being a steampunk, I rebelled, and, instead, unleashed this question to my fellow readers. To show a sampling of what political awareness the community has (and the application of that awareness to steampunk) I posted the above blog to Beyond Victoriana’s tumblr and another one to its Facebook page. After the jump, I do give my response, but it cannot be one made separate from the responses of many, many others.