Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Event of Interest: Anna Chen Presents "Traders" Feb 16

I had the honour of having British-Chinese comedienne Anne Chen drop in on this here little blawg to plug an upcoming event in Greenwich, UK! It's a Steampunk Opium Wars extravaganza, at the Greenwich National Maritime Museum, where there will be song and poetry about the Opium Wars, and folks playing historical figures from the time period will slug it out in poetry slams over the finer details of waging war to push drugs on an entire people to enslave them in a consumer market for trade benefits. 

An official-looking page can be found on the Royal Museums Greenwich site, and the major details are as follows:

Dates: Thursday 16 February
Times: 18.30—22.00
Fee: FREE - but make sure you book ahead of time!!
Location: National Maritime Museum; Sammy Ofer Wing
Audience: Adults; Young people
Event type: Performance & storytelling

So if you're in the vicinity of Greenwich, UK, I highly recommend you go check it out, and please make recordings if possible to share with the rest of us! :O

Link of Interest: A Letter from a Freed Man

While I'm still in Malaysia and not yet writing new posts, have a link. It's a letter from Jourdan Anderson, a former slave who moved to Ohio after he was emancipated, responding to his former master, Colonel P.H. Anderson, who wanted Jourdan to come back. Jourdan responded by dictating possibly the best fuck-you letter in the history of fuck-you letters.

A bit of the letter:

Dayton, Ohio,  
August 7, 1865 
To My Old Master, Colonel P.H. Anderson, Big Spring, Tennessee 
Sir: I got your letter, and was glad to find that you had not forgotten Jourdon, and that you wanted me to come back and live with you again, promising to do better for me than anybody else can. I have often felt uneasy about you. I thought the Yankees would have hung you long before this, for harboring Rebs they found at your house. I suppose they never heard about your going to Colonel Martin's to kill the Union soldier that was left by his company in their stable. Although you shot at me twice before I left you, I did not want to hear of your being hurt, and am glad you are still living. It would do me good to go back to the dear old home again, and see Miss Mary and Miss Martha and Allen, Esther, Green, and Lee. Give my love to them all, and tell them I hope we will meet in the better world, if not in this. I would have gone back to see you all when I was working in the Nashville Hospital, but one of the neighbors told me that Henry intended to shoot me if he ever got a chance. 
I want to know particularly what the good chance is you propose to give me. I am doing tolerably well here. I get twenty-five dollars a month, with victuals and clothing; have a comfortable home for Mandy,—the folks call her Mrs. Anderson,—and the children—Milly, Jane, and Grundy—go to school and are learning well. The teacher says Grundy has a head for a preacher. They go to Sunday school, and Mandy and me attend church regularly. We are kindly treated. Sometimes we overhear others saying, "Them colored people were slaves" down in Tennessee. The children feel hurt when they hear such remarks; but I tell them it was no disgrace in Tennessee to belong to Colonel Anderson. Many darkeys would have been proud, as I used to be, to call you master. Now if you will write and say what wages you will give me, I will be better able to decide whether it would be to my advantage to move back again.
 Go read the whole thing.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Happy Lunar New Year!

So this post is scheduled way in advance since I probably am not going to have Internet connectivity at all this day, for reasons of Holidaying With The Nuclear Family. I am probably somewhere in the vicinity of the African continent at the moment (I believe our destination is South Africa), but I thought I would make sure to get some good New Year greetings wishing you all joy and prosperity and other cool stuff like a steampunk Lunar New Year. Good food, new clothes, money!

So, wherever you are, 恭喜發財 to my Chinese readers! I have no idea what dialect ya'll use, so you get the generic Chinese characters to read whatever way you wish; my family says kong hey fatt choi / keong kee huat chye / kong hee wa sai, depending on who we're talking to, but to the rest of you and yours, 新年快乐!

And a special shout-out to Ay-Leen at BeyondVictoriana.com, hope you have a very wonderful Tết! Chúc mừng năm mới! 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Interview: Steampowered Globe Editor Maisarah Abu Samah

A while back, I posted the Table of Contents for the Singaporean steampunk anthology, The Steampowered Globe, and I got to chatting to its editor, Maisarah Abu Samah, about putting it together. And I thought ya'll might find it interesting, especially any of you in Asia (and I know some of you are from Asia), to read a very frank interview from Maisarah about the anthology and spec fic generally.

Tell us a little bit about yourself! How did you get interested in steampunk?

I'm one of the current municipal liaisons for Nanowrimo in Singapore and I try to make people see that people in Singapore do write fiction. Which means, I try to invade literary events or make our presence known online since locally, the only fiction we see published most is ghost stories, erotic ones or erotic ghost stories. That and sad woe is me literature. Which wouldn't be bad (they can be well written) but that is all for the fiction published here.

On the subject of steampunk, I got interested in it conventions. There had always been lolitas dressed up at the cosplay conventions I go to but there wasn't that much people in steampunk fashion. Looking at online pics and shops, I feel like you could make up a back story of a character dressed in what or what kind of situation they'd be in. And past the fashion, there's always been anime like Full Metal Alchemist or books like Gail Carriger's Parasol Protectorate...

What was your working definition of steampunk for this anthology? What steampunk works / media did you look towards to inform your own vision of steampunk for your anthology? 

Pretty much an alternate history of "what would happen if technology advanced way faster than they would in real life for that era" was my definition.

I have a different set of references that don't actually include steampunk works when doing this anthology though, such as historical time travel romances, the Read or Die anime since it had interesting use of technology and was a "modern" alternate history, and the current books that are out this season that even included Terry Prachett's I Shall Wear Midnight. All these stretched my imagination to see what would be possible in steampunk since it would be a genre that would be more saturated in possibilites in technology advancement yet with a culture and timeline that was utterly Victorian or thereabouts anyway.

Friday, January 13, 2012

How Dare We (Also, Trailers!)

It's difficult to find entertainment that features non-white people in English-language media, you know? BET was created to feature black people specifically, because otherwise, they wouldn't get any lead roles on white-dominant TV (which is pretty much all other US TV).

Last year, I read about Danny Glover's troubles in finding a financier for his upcoming biopic on Toussaint L'ouverture, the leader of the Haitian revolution. Why wouldn't it be funded? I mean, it's a great story: slave uprisings, people taking the French Revolution to its logical end, people coming into their own and realizing they, too, deserve rights, and will fight and die for it. Toussaint L'Ouverture wasn't really part of my consciousness until I read Nora Jemisin's The Effluent Engine, whose protagonist is a daughter of this legendary hero. 

Meanwhile, in France, a TV movie of this hero is being made, starring Jimmy Jean-Louis. Jean-Louis is Haitian-born himself, which is also incredibly rare (Glover's vision will star Wesley Snipes), so it's pretty awesome! I found this trailer while googling for "Steampunk Toussaint L'ouverture" (which got me no steampunk results, predictably). Have a trailer, in French with no subtitles:

"Toussaint L'Ouverture" Trailer from Tambay Obenson on Vimeo.

The more we talk about these issues, the clearer it becomes that Hollywood (and many mainstream media producers) simply does not care about non-white stories. There are lots of really great English-language movies which simply fall to the side. Why?

Because they're not about white heroes.

Producers won't finance a movie with no white heroes because they're not sure such a movie will make any money. (Glover finally found a Venezuelan financier.) (But seriously, it shouldn't have taken him that long. And seriously, he shouldn't have received that weak-ass "but it got no white heroes!" malarkey in the first place.) (What kind of reasoning is that.)

George Lucas recently went on the Daily Show to talk about this: it took him 23 years to fund Red Tails, which is, in his words, the "first all-black action movie" to come out of a big name Hollywood producer like himself. And when all he asked was for marketing, Hollywood said no, because they don't know how to market a movie like this.

Red Tails is a movie about the Tuskagee Airmen, a squadron of all-black pilots, who, due to racist discrimination in the U.S. Army, were disallowed from fighting in the front lines. Black people can't fly, can't fight. Black people aren't real American soldiers, amirite? Red Tails shows them being given a chance to prove themselves, and prove themselves they do. And simply because George Lucas repeats what he's been told, over and over, that Hollywood does not know how to market non-white films, he's called racist, and he's whiny, and he's discriminating, and he made an anti-white movie.

Monday, January 9, 2012

MRP Adventures: Postcolonial Steampunk

I just thought I would share a paragraph I wrote about why I chose postcolonialism as my theoretical framework with which to tackle steampunk:

Steampunk and postcolonialism can be used together very neatly to challenge dominant ideology and representation trends, no matter what media. The combination may seem incongruous: steampunk at first blush glorifies just about anything postcolonialism critiques. Moreover, postcolonialism is an ambiguous term that cannot be used to describe any single aspect of any decolonization process that have happened or is happening, making the idea of postcolonial steampunk messier than either term on its own. However, postcolonialism implies a temporal aftermath of colonizers leaving the shores of the colonized, which does not reflect many of the various contexts of once-colonized countries, as late capitalism enables a form of neo-colonial domination. In using postcolonialism to identify colonial narratives, it is possible to conflate whole swathes of histories into a single process, a linear history of colonialism, decolonization, and post-colonization when attempting to historicize global narratives of international relations. Yet, the term itself points to a history of colonialism, and in application to steampunk, forces the reader to acknowledge that is steampunk evokes the past, then it will also evoke a colonial past, and a responsible writer will explore how inequalities were imposed on colonized peoples.
Postcolonialism as a field in its many forms matches steampunk’s predilection of looking backwards; where steampunk does so to mine for inspiration, postcolonialism does so to understand the historical specificities of different cultural and national contexts—so steampunk informed by postcolonialism offers a cultural product that lends understanding to a genre-reading audience. Both explore the notion of hybridity; postcolonialism in cultural terms, steampunk in temporal ways, allowing a writer of colour to dabble in anachronism and think through hyphenated and multi-heritage identities, which is incredibly useful given migration flows, issues of assimilation and segregation, and the impact of technology on the former two. This also allows us to think through the process of colonization and methods of empowerment. Not only that, but the resistance to fixed conventions in steampunk literature refuse a homogeneity that people of colour writing from a postcolonial framework can use to trouble imperialistic efforts to enforce a single ideal, no matter what manifestation. 
I kinda wish I thought of this before actually writing the entire damn paper because it might have given me some much-needed direction, but apparently I needed about 21 single-spaced pages or 13,000 words before this idea occurred to me. But that's kinda how on-going work happens, you know? Heed my words, MA students: you might as well get started as soon as possible so you can get to these nuggets of awesome sooner.

So who wants to see my whole MRP on this blog?! :P

Friday, January 6, 2012

Steampunk POC: Monique Poirer (Seaconke Wampanoag)

Some of you already know Monique Poirier, either from her Beyond Victoriana essay, or from Tumblr, or you know her from cons and stuff. So it seemed a pretty natural thing to get in touch with her for this series of steampunk POC interviews. I first met her at Steampunk World's Fair 2010, and found her again through K Tempest Bradford's musings about wearing steampunk fashion (Tempest said she couldn't imagine wearing the usual corsets and bustle stuff, then point to Monique as wearing very wearable, everyday stuff). We occasionally chat late into the night, and when I first thought about doing a series of interviews with steampunk POC, it made sense to get in touch with her.

So without further ado, gentlefolk, I present, Monique Poirier:

I know you covered this in your BV essay, about how you come to start doing Native Steampunk, but how did you first get to know about steampunk? What were your impressions of it? Were you like me, as in the "it looks pretty but but but white people and colonialism" sort of way? Or were you a participant in your own way?

I first became aware of teampunk through costuming sometime 2008-2009, and when I came into it I wasn't really involved in the non-European aspect. I originally loved steampunk for the pretty pretty clothes; not gonna lie, I am a sucker for lace and bustles and corsets and brass bits and top hats and waistcoats. I love cello music. I love clockwork. I was a goth in high school and college (this is what a Native steamgoth looks like). It hadn't even occurred to me then to incorporate my ethnic identity into my costuming, or to even notice the colonialism aspect because I was so USED to being invisible as an NDN person, in whiteness and European identity being the only explored aspect, that the problematic white mono-culture aspects just seemed normal to me – but then I started reading about Steampunk online to dig for costuming ideas, and came across your articles at Tor, and started reading Beyond Victoriana, and generally thought more about incorporating my indigeneity into my Steampunk attire. After the Beyond Victoriana panel at the first Steampunk World's Fair, where I (as an audience member) brought up the fact that colonialism effects NDN folks in that our colonizers never left, I was totally ready to make my outfits much more recognizably indigenous.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

We Interrupt Srs Blog Bzns to Bring You Fake Revolutionary Lulz

I have received word that Steampunk Emma Goldman has just declared war on the Emperor of the Red Fork Empire!

This will mean nothing to you if you know nothing about the U.S. Northeastern steampunk scene, but I have met Steampunk Emma Goldman on a couple of occasions, and I also find such revolutionary moves, fake or otherwise, delightsome. Being humourless and all, it's rare for me to indulge in RP hilarity, but I can get on board a state-smashing subplot or two. 

SMASH EMPIRE! SMASH IMPOSED HIERARCHIES! YAY THE PROLETARIAT! (I was gonna say "viva" but "yay" sounded more cheerful.)

(Also, check out Steampunk Emma Goldman's blog; she's got cool bios of radical activists from the 19th century. Plus, her lip makeup is nifty.)

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Not-Postcolonial Links of Interest

A couple of links to Brain Pickings came on my Tumblr dash today, which I got a huge kick out of, and thought you might too:

A List of Don't for Women on Bicycles circa 1890 - Personally hilarious because I used to be a huge cyclist as a kid. I'm especially fond of "don't wear loud-hued leggings," "don't ask, 'what do you think of my bloomers?'", "don't try to have every article of your attire match" and "don't scream if you meet a cow. If she sees you first, she will run."
(The last one is dear to me because it reminds me of a late-night drive with my best friend, and we decided to drive around Putrajaya, which was very new then, so quite abandoned-looking. And we did come across a cow on the road.)

A Map of the Woman's Heart - An actual map, my God!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Steampunk POC Interviews

So, for the last couple of years, I've mostly been focusing on steampunk literature, in particular re-reading stuff that deals with issues surrounding Empire to point out how these narratives barely center POC unless it's in problematic ways, or else ideas of Empire erases POC entirely. I've been formulating an understanding of the steampunk aesthetic in ways that could easily reach across different cultural iterations, riffing off Mike Perschon's delineation of the aesthetic.

I am kind of tired of having to say the same thing over and over: "racism racism White Gaze White Gaze Orientalism Orientalism Eurocentric Eurocentric"--if you're a regular reader, I imagine this is pretty old hat by now. 

It's not to say I've found nothing that's POC-centric; of course I have, and that's why this blog keeps going. As BeyondVictoriana.com keeps demonstrating, there's a lot of POC history that simply never gets explored in mainstream steampunk. But just because there're histories, doesn't mean we see them happen in literature. 

Being POC means also being a living, breathing human being who interacts with this world, not just in between pages of text. Dealing with histories is very much part of life, part of living, part of culture. It doesn't only happen in writing, although in my own way, I would like to try to document this part of living as much as possible. 

For the first Friday of the month, hopefully every month, I will post up an interview with a self-identified non-white steampunk. They may be writers. They may be Makers. They may be musicians. Heck, maybe they're just fans of the aesthetic. The point is that, I want to talk to POC, about being a POC in steampunk. Some of us don't really see race as an issue at all. Some of us reckon with racial issues in steampunk all the time. 

I have a few folks lined up for the next few months, and I will be on the lookout for more folks to talk to in the future. (And of course if you know anybody, or you might be interested, you can always email me!) Hope you enjoy this upcoming feature, for as long as I can keep it up =)