[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]
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.
[Note from Ay-leen: Cross-posting P. Djeli Clark's blog The Disgruntled Haradrim]
Sometime in the 1930s, a black journalist is kidnapped in Harlem by the charismatic Dr. Henry Belsidius, leader of the Black Internationale–a shadowy organization determined to build a Black Empire and overthrow the world of white racial hegemony with cunning and super science. Journalist George S. Schulyer’s fantastic tale was written in serials in the black Pittsburgh Courier between 1936 and 1938 under the pseudonym Samuel I. Brooks. It quickly found a loyal following among African-American readers, who saw in Dr. Belsidius and the Black Internationale a heroic, sci-fi tale of black nationalism, triumph and race pride. The newspaper was surprised at the serials’ growing popularity, and pushed for more–sixty-two in all. Yet no one was as surprised at the story’s success than George Schulyer who, disdaining what he saw as the excesses of black nationalism and race pride, had written Black Empire as satire.
Note from Ay-leen: This guest post for STEAMED! was published yesturday and I thought I’d share it here.
After four years of college, with plenty of knowledge in what a well-known musical has termed a “useless” degree (though, technically, more than in English – I double-majored with Russian), I arrived at the classic Quarter-Life Crisis. I’d been in the Real World, yet was second-guessing myself. Was my career path where I wanted it to be? Was this where I envisioned myself when I left my alma mater? Compared to my peers, after the economy died, I was lucky: working in publishing at a secure job with solid prospects. But something since undergrad came into my life that had reminded me how much I missed academia. Steampunk.
[Read "What Do You Do with an MA in Steampunk?" on STEAMED!]
I was at a reading for Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan when he mentioned off-hand that it would be a trilogy… with an illustrated guide to the world he was building, in the style of the Arthur Spiderwick’s Field Guide to the Fantastical World.
Now, there are a lot of reasons that I liked the Spiderwick guide—I’m a big fan of Tony DiTerlizzi, for instance—but the deep reason is that I’m gonzo for apocrypha. Those sorts of bits and extras that deepen worldbuilding, whether they are art books like Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Art of the Animated Series or in-world mythology like The Tales of Beedle the Bard. The icing on the cake with The Manual of Aeronautics is that Keith Thompson does the art for it, as he did for the series.
[Read "The Manual of Aeronautics: The Art of the Leviathan Trilogy" on Tor.com]
Filed under Essays, Review
Many of our classic monsters were born in the dark and foggy streets of Victorian London. Literary or legendary, so many monsters seem to have been conjured up or at least written prominently about in that wonderful time. It’s no wonder that steampunk is also a product of that fertile era, the birthing ground of science fiction and horror, kindred genres.
[Read "Victorian Monsters" on Tor.com]
Steampunk has been hitting books, films, video games, and RPGs for the last few years – but can it finally work on the small screen today? We have had steampunk shows in the past (many point to the 1960s television-run ofWild Wild West as an example), shows that have steampunk elements to them (like the Chinese-tinged space western Firefly, the props in Warehouse 13, or the last couple of seasons of Doctor Who), and the occasional brass & cog cameo episodes in TV series of other genres (such as the episode “Punked” in season 3 of Castle or that terribly mediocre one from NCIS). We’ve seen steampunk done great, done haphazardly, or done, well, blah. So far, though, according to community consensus, nothing on current television has ever been done 100% right.
Meet the creative team behind Lantern City, then, a group of people who are serious about “doing it right.”
[Read "Bruce Boxleitner’s Lantern City is Steampunk TV with a Can-Do, Fan-Fueled Attitude" on Tor.com]