Sunday, July 29, 2012

Con Report: Watch City Festival, Waltham

Here we are, stop #2 on my con tour: Watch City Festival! Watch City Festival is held by the actual town of Waltham, hosted by the Charles River Museum of Industry and Innovation. Last year, it was called International Steampunk City, but this year, they renamed the event to tie it even closer to the city's history. Which I think is a pretty good thing! Steampunk is so awesome because of its specificities and ties to real history.

I could tell you about the conceit of Watch City being a parallel dimension linked to our planet for the weekend, but that's not as interesting to me as the fact that Watch City is a fundraiser for the Charles River Museum, which was flooded about three years ago. Monies raised from WCF go to restoring all the stuff in the museum. Which, you know, is pretty cool. Apologies for the dastardly lack of pictures in the following post.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

On Permission And White Writers

Because I have received this question for like the hundredth time, and thought I would dedicate an entire post answering the question, "does this mean we're not allowed to write outside our ethnicity?"


In order to do so, you need to file an application for a License to Multicultural Writing with your local Department of Multiculturalism. This department is either provincial or federal, depending on your country. Canada and the US, sharing very similar multicultural histories, share the same department which is on federal level, several branches across the two countries. 

You will need to first fill out the MC-01 form, which is a general license form. (The fee for this general license is USD$50.) Then you need to fill out MC-1837 (which is specifically the license for Steampunk: Multicultural). If you are creating a steampunk work specifically about non-white peoples, you will need MC-3100(BC). YOU MUST FILL OUT AND SUBMIT BOTH FORMS TOGETHER. Failure to do so will result in unnecessarily prolonged processing. 

Licensing for each multicultural work you aim to produce depends on the region you write about; check with your countries' department on the rate. As a general rule, rates will depend on how long your country has been involved with said country; the longer your country has colonized this particular culture, the cheaper the licenses will be. However, if you are of Western European descent, these rates can often be forgiven and you will get a 75% discount.

Processing will take at least 6 months, and it goes through several committees of People of Colour and Ethnic Representatives from the culture you are applying to write about. 90% of the time you will be asked to produce samples of the work you seek licensing for, especially if you are a new media creator. Approval is not guaranteed. It may be years before you are finally approved. Please be patient as there are many applicants to be processed--up to 100 million a year! 

In the United States, if your work is egregiously racist, you will be impounded for a fine of $50 - $50,000, to be determined by a Jury of Disapproving Negros. They may also involve representatives of NMNAs (Non-Mascot Native Americans). If your work features poverty porn of Africa, Side-Eyeing African Children will be allowed to take arbitrary votes on the extent of your fine. If your work features cultures of East Asian extract, Inscrutable Orientals, from Section YP-1882, will place final call on the result of your work.

These are only a few sections of the entire Department of Multiculturalism division that processes these applications. If a certain section is not available close to you, your application will be forwarded to another branch that has the relevant Ethnic Representatives. To save yourself time, research where the Ethnic Representatives relevant to your work are before applying, and submit your application to that particular branch.

You get the idea. Now go write. And don't quit your day job.

We Interrupt Srs Bog Bzns to Bring You Twitter Feuds

Ladies, gentlemen, sweet non-binaries.

Tonight, this happened:

Let me tell you how this came about.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Link of Interest: "On Supertrees, Neocolonialism and Globalization"

Via Annabeth Leow Hui Min (whose short story is the opener for the Singaporean steampunk anthology The Steampowered Globe), I read this interesting essay exploring the nuances of Singapore's new trend on "supertrees," its ties to the globalization rhetoric of how cosmopolitanism looks like, and how it reflects a neocolonial undercurrent by attempting to be representative but still viewing Singapore through a specific, colonizer lens, offering up the little island for consumption by a Western Gaze, and using these Eurocentric standards to measure success.

Consider how there are 225,000 species of plants in the new Gardens, the vast majority of which were chosen because they were “not commonly found in Singapore.” In essence, the Gardens represent an attempt to mimic globalization in the specific geographical location of Singapore as it strives, above all else, to be a hub of transnational capital and investments. What exactly were the costs in terms of the carbon footprint to carefully ship all these plants to Singapore? Further, like colonial botanic gardens of old, the Gardens are a vision of governmental mastery over nature, dictated by planners, scientists, botanists and capital. They are experimental spaces for technology and environment modification, and attempts to combat the equatorial climate of Singapore.
These omissions seem less grave when we consider how the larger human and environmental costs of the project might be obscured as well. We might do well to reflect on who exactly was doing the heavy lifting in the transformation of site that did not have roads, drains, sewers or electricity. In a 30 June 2012 Straits Times article, the chief executive of the Gardens, Dr. Tan Wee Kiat reveals that of the $1 billion spent on the gardens, 80 percent went to the infrastructure works while the 700,000 plants were less than 20 percent of the budget. While we might assume that some of the money that went infrastructure went into labour, I would argue that this is optimistic at best. Consider another article: “Injured worker goes home, loses 13 kg in 7 months” [Footnote 3] this time by the organization Transient Workers Count Too, dated April 2012. This article chronicles the misfortunes of Asad who was injured while commuting to the work site at Gardens by the Bay. His painful injuries aside, Asad’s revelations of his working conditions makes us question the sustainability and humanity of relying and exploiting foreign labour. According to the article, Asad worked 24 hours every other day in May and April 2011 for $1,600 a month. What exactly were the working conditions for the 1,000 workers then, who were reportedly working “around the clock” to ensure that the Gardens could have their official opening without a hitch? What kinds of human costs are justified here?
One of the UK-based designers responsible for Gardens on the Bay had a memorable quip in the promotional video, saying “On a plate, this is what Singapore is about.” While I am not against Singapore becoming a more cosmopolitan and diverse place, we need to ask some hard questions as well: Do we need to be served up on “a plate”? Who defines and decides “what Singapore is about”? Is it a breathlessly instant garden, planned to exploit the tourist market, built on occasionally shaky reclaimed land without much regard to the foreign labourers’ welfare or the decadence of spending hundreds and thousands of dollars on importing plants from all over the world? When we are simplified and contained “on a plate”, what other stories and issues are obscured from this self-presentation? Could we have a more honest and fair spatial relationship with this land that we call our home?
Read the rest of the essay at Yawning Bread, or click the link below to read my thoughts on how it relates to steampunk.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Steampunk POC: Connie Chen (Chinese-Australian)

The very dapper Connie Chen
Off we go to Down Under again! The last Aussie I interviewed was Stephanie Lai, a writer, and now we have a completely different angle to Aussie steampunk, from Connie Chen, local steampunk photographer for the Melbourne scene! Connie does so many things, I never quite know what she's up to. I definitely know she's an artist of some sort, and also does stuff in law. (The specifics escape me; things on LJ tend to be in one ear, out the other for me these days.)

How do you do steampunk?

I used to be a lot more active in the scene, but Life has been increasingly busy so recently it's taken a backburner to my career and my other creative projects. I used to be moderately active on various Livejournal communities and the Brass Goggles forums a while back. In my local scene I'd volunteer to help out with events and projects, as well as attending and socialising at the various events that were organised. For a little while I was known as the amateur photographer since I'd always be taking a lot of photos, and that was actually a great way to start a conversation with people.

How did you come to steampunk? What were your first impressions of it?

I can't remember exactly when I stumbled across the term and the community, but at the time I was involved with a lot of DIY and crafting. I was interested in reusing discarded and scrap materials to make new, functional objects, and naturally I became really interested in steampunk and the repurposed objects/clothing people made in the subculture. Most of my initial contact was with the Maker crowd and that was all about making waist cinchers from old trousers. My wardrobe already contained a lot of goth and Victoriana elements so I felt I fit within the aesthetic very well too.

My initial impression of steampunk was about deliberate anachronism and redefining historical tropes visually. Like a lot of other people in the community I felt like I'd been "doing" steampunk for a long time. I just didn't quite have a name for it.