Friday, January 25, 2013

Steampunk, People of Color, Imperialism: An Observation

In reading this (warning, you may have to increase your browser resolution due to the tiny, tiny font) I came across mention of the standard criticism of steampunk, which is that it glorified the British Victorian period and imperialism and is, therefore, a defunct genre that should be abandoned. But as the post linked above points out, lots of non-white, non-Western people who are no way inclined to glorify the British Empire (mainly because said Empire did untold damage to most of the non-white, non-Western people on Earth, damage the effects of which are felt to this day), are fans of steampunk. And with good reason: Europe isn't the only place where people were innovative and made mechanical things. There's no reason for there not to be, say, a Chinese civilization with steam-powered mechanisms in a fantasy novel. Or if it's the European dress and design of the era you are into, there's no reason for a "Victorian"-inspired civilization that didn't consist of white people throwing their weight around all over the world, but was... different. I mean, it's fantasy. Brass goggles, steam-powered airships, and corsets don't cause imperialism. Imperialists do.

3 comments:

fillyjonk said...

I have to say that in some the situations (like the critique of Steampunk on the basis of Imperialism), I find myself wanting the old Mystery Science Theater 3000 line to be a Law: "I should repeat to myself, this is just a show, I should really just relax."

John Weidner said...

Chinese steampunk. I love it. How I wish I had the writing talent.

One could reprise Robert van Gulik. Judge Dee, in The Chinese Airship Murders.

Andrea said...

Fillyjonk: yeah, but see, you're in a position of privilege, where you can afford to relax and not care about these things. The point is other people are not, and telling them to "just relax" about a legitimate problem they have with something is really kind of rude.

John: Asian (and other non-European culture) steampunk does exist, I really need to make a list of the new (to me) authors I have come across. On a side note, do you remember the Judge Dee tv movie from the 70s? I loved it as a child, though no doubt it contains wince-causing Orientalisms (and it turns out Khigh Diegh wasn't even Chinese, I did not know that...). It's on Youtube in full! Oh lord, it's like a giant hand reached out of the internet and dragged me back into 1974...