So I was having a conversation on steampunk today on Tumblr, as it occasionally happens, because that is the kind of thing that happens on Tumblr, and then remembered a friend dropped a link to an article on BoingBoing which is really a link to another Tumblr post about Why Steampunk Is Good And Important. I'm not going to lie: I thought the essay itself was kind of inane and boring and didn't say anything that hasn't already been said, and even brackets off some really important concerns with all sorts of handwave-y stuff. But I was really in a procrastinating mood, so I broke with my policy for a bit and read through the comments. Most of which are the regular run-of-the-mill critiques of steampunk (“it’s not really punk” “it’s just LARP” “it’s not a real movement”) but then I came across this gem of a comment from Scott Saunders of Dieselpunk Industries (which is pretty much an online archive of old movies and serials from that period dieselpunk looks at… pretty neat stuff):
He writes that steampunk “values our bounded selves” and “insistently re-makes technology as something friendly” under a (self?) portrait of a man wearing technology that augments his human sight and strength and carrying a very large handgun. The technology he makes up for his costume is focussed entirely on projecting strength and wielding power. It is not friendly, nor does it value the bounded human condition. It is quite the opposite.
And I want to have ALL THE “THIS!” GIFs attached to this comment because, well, THIS. There is so much talk about how steampunk makes technology friendly, or even how steampunk is a friendly subculture in the first place, that THIS is what gets missed in the conversation: the fact that if you actually pay any attention to the props people are carrying? Steampunk is not friendly, and reflects pretty much all the violence of the period it draws inspiration from, whether it’s outright, like the gun props, or the violence of colonialism implied in the costuming.
One could read the prosthetic arm and oculars as aiding a disability (because, hey, violent times, you have to expect your eye and arm to get blown off, amirite?) but very often there is this gaping hole where conversations of disability should be—relegating this performance to little more than crip drag.
And Scott Saunders is right: this is not friendly. This is not a vision of the past or present or future that encourages community. And while rayguns may no longer be the defining item of steampunk anymore that I can see, it’s still pretty prevalent because we haven’t latched onto anything else yet that shouts “steam era, and bad!”
Anyways, discuss if you please.