I've always kinda hated steampunk, but until last week, I could never quite articulate why.
For those who don't spend all their weekends at the renaissance fair, "steampunk" is a school of retro-futurist sci-fi, a genre that imagines a world where supercomputers run on steam power and stovepipe hats never go out of style. It's a fertile concept that's inspired everything from graphic novels to real-life costumed meetups about airship technology. Unfortunately, it's prone to the same straight white male defaults that pervade nerd culture and sci-fi -- with the added challenge of addressing real-world global history and its omissions.
Enter the blog Beyond Victoriana, curated by one Ay-leen the Peacemaker. On the blog and at conventions, Ay-leen works to raise up overlooked authors, stories, and real historical figures, in the interest of "multicultural steampunk and retro-futurism [...]"
[...] that is, steampunk outside of a Western-dominant, Eurocentric framework. All of the steampunkery here focuses on non-Western cultures, underrepresented minorities in Western histories (Asian / Pacific Islander, Middle Eastern, First Nation, Hispanic, black / African), and the cultural intersection between the West and the non-West.
Erin Polgreen, curator of the similarly-minded Graphic Ladies comics blog, introduced me to Beyond Victoriana and spelled out its importance. Erin:
Well, think about it: steampunk glorifies white colonialist culture. All of the kooky gear, fancy clothes and other cosplay romanticize some pretty shitty things in terms of race, class, and gender: colonialism in the name of exploration, industrial exploitation, unhealthy clothing for women, etc. The primary reasoning behind it seems to be reliving a really shitty era because it's pretty.
But the stuff Ay-Leen writes about is really interesting because she's actually working towards a reclamation of sorts. Steampunk in this sense seems to be a chance to reject the narrative of impoverished savages and subjected women and reshape it to be more cohesive and empowering.
So: steampunk is shitty because it's prettiness without awareness of social implications, but this blog is interesting because it uses steampunk as a means of opening up a dialog about oppression and empowerment.
Couldn't have said it better myself -- if you've got the power to rewrite history, why leave the most interesting parts unflipped?
We're ending the day as often as possible by celebrating love. We welcome your ideas for posts. Send suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org, and be sure to put Celebrate Love in the subject line. You can send links to videos, graphics, photos, quotes, whatever. Or just chime in to the comments below and we'll find you. Be sure to let us know you've got the rights to share any media you send.
To see other Love posts visit our Celebrate Love page.