Saturday, October 24, 2009

Repost: From A Former Colony

This is a post I originally wrote back in July about the exploration theme I occasionally encounter on the internet.

So, I'm from Malaysia, which was Malaya. And I moved to Canada to study. Most of the communities I engage in (or observe) are comprised mainly of North Americans.

One thing I've noticed about North American steampunks is a general Euro-centricism. This isn't really relegated to just the steampunk subculture - it's also seen in other communities I participate in.

But what spurred me to write this post was Ay-Leen's essay on colonialism, a kind of exploration on what America would be like if it had remained a British colony for longer than it was. I was struck at the starter conversation. Struck, in the "let me go get my facepalm on" sense.

In another essay of hers, this time on Orientalism, Ay-Leen highlights one of the things that [American/Euro-centric] steampunks like to do: imagine a time when the world was ripe for exploration, and there were empty spaces on the map to explore.

My country is probably part of that blank space on that map that these fellows wish to re-create and re-imagine.

Now, I understand that for the purposes of roleplaying, some would have to imagine my people not existing within their imaginary world view as, well, people, just yet, but rather as, uh, potential discoveries.

Which ... might be fine, except I get a distinct whiff of MammothFail on the horizon when I see this happening.

Which is also weird and not-so-historically-correct because the borders of my peninsula and Borneo were already drawn by the time of Victoriana. Unless we are talking about the savage North.

Taking further into account the fact my country was also colonized by the British, the Portuguese, and the Dutch, variously, at different points in time, but mostly the British, and we were already trading with the Chinese and the Arabs.

European imaginations about the Orient has led to all sorts of weird fucked-up ideas. For example, the numerous paintings of harem women, nude and langurous and waiting for the master to come visit... by men who have never actually been in harems.

Let go get our facepalm on.

Now let's take this a little further and imagine that maybe, just maybe, "Orientals" don't want "Occidentals" doing the re-imagining.

Whilst I understand that part of steampunk is about the Victorian aesthetic (and thus, Victorian-centered ideas / ideals), there are some of us who like the subculture because its alternate-history aspect allows us to forge our identities, generally considered a minority identity within the North American (and European) context(s), into a context where we are not minorities, but merely other people living on the goddamn planet.

I don't know what my fellow Asian steampunkers are doing. I frankly will not touch Japanese steampunk with a ten-foot-pole, (and will not touch Japanese anything with a hundred-foot-pole) but this steampunker from a former colony would like to colonize the history of the colonials, so that she won't be colonized. Not necessarily a colonizer, that's not important.

But definitely, resistant to colonialism.

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