How Glad We Are to Have Steampunks Who Tell Us What Not to Do

Should we be grateful to have a small-but-active cadre making it hard for the rest of us to enjoy steampunk without feeling embarrassed or ashamed?

Charles Dickens
Charles Dickens give a public reading in 1867 (Library of Congress)

P. Djeli Clark suggested earlier this year (sorry we didn’t pick up on it earlier) that steampunks should be glad to have activists among them who can constantly remind them of what they’re doing wrong.

Clark acknowledges that the culture “has sparked numerous discussions and debates on race, slavery, colonialism, gender, class and sexuality.”

Unfortunately, Clark only lists and links to those who have been critical of steampunk and steampunk aficionados for supposedly ignoring the past or refusing to see that reimagining it is a bad thing. But the blogger aptly describes them as an “active cadre that launches criticism upon anything that appears to fantasize, apologizes or fails to acknowledge the disparities and inequities of these by-gone eras.”

Which is true, we’re quite familiar with that here.

It makes steampunk a fractured genre, where the donning of a simple article of clothing or a decision to write about some obscure bit of the past, can spark debates or whole blogs on racism, cultural appropriation, gender inequality and [insert-your-privilege-here]-splaining.

Which is a bit tiring, no?

No, writes Clark. “That’s a good thing.”

Is it? I won’t tell anyone to shut up, but should we really be grateful to have a small-but-“active cadre” making it hard for the rest of us to enjoy steampunk without feeling embarrassed or ashamed for it?


Add Yours

I couldn’t care less what politically correct busybodies have to say about anything and I categorically ignore them because they are annoying. End of.

One should call out racism and insensitivity wherever one sees it and if you are called out for such you should listen carefully to the criticism and respond appropriately. This is generally called “being a gentleman.”

What does this have to do with racism?

I’m not saying we shouldn’t take any criticism seriously. What I’m saying is, we shouldn’t be glad about the fact that there are people out there whose sole purpose seems to be to “reform” steampunk. They can have their criticisms and opinions, but don’t expect me to thank them for pointing out all the things we’re supposedly doing wrong.

It’s not about racism, Jake. It’s about haters.

Bigoted, noisy haters who are so arrogant they just have to tell other people what to do. They do not understand (nor do they want to) that role-playing an alternative history or dressing in historic costume is not endorsing the worst of an era, nor is it denigrating other cultures or people.

Writers have a saying: show, don’t tell. If these people really wanted diversity at a Steampunk meet, then let them show up in a costume that’s inspired by another culture. Let them give an EDUCATED talk (not a rant!) about the worse excesses of Empire or Victorian pollution or social woes.

There are people who just have to feel superior to others, and they do that by trying to tear everyone else down. And that’s what is going on. These people are just haters. They have nothing to add to Steampunk or anything else.

Why, if friends of mine point out I did something wrong or something stupid, I take it seriously. But I don’t take every single person on the Internet seriously, let alone that I’d encourage them to find as many flaws in steampunk as possible. Karen sums up my view better.

The problem is that if you take an interest in Victorian monorails, pre-dreadnaught battleships, or paddle steamers; build something inspired by Victorian technology and/or aesthetics; write a steampunk story intended to make kids interested in engineering and science, or to discuss questions about war & peace (rather than race, colonialism, gender, privilege, etc.); or do something purely entertaining steampunk whatever instead of taking an overdose of anti-depressants, you are ipso facto a racist, misogynist, queer-hating homophobe – according to some loud-mouthed besserwissers. This is rather off-putting, and may be rather counterproductive (from the besserwissers’ point of view).

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