What is Dieselpunk?

First of all, I just wanted to say, that it's been a while since I've been to this site, due to a variety of external factors limiting my free time. And I apologize for this. But also, I've been writing a lot more lately, as my time has cleared up, and have found myself going back to the concept of Dieselpunk. The genre doesn't really seem to have too much of a straight definition, so I was wondering what others would consider fitting into the genre. The 30's had a lot of stuff going on besides the rise of Nazism, but most diesel punk seems to be just pulp and Nazis. While I love Art Deco and Pulp settings, I also love the 1930's in general, and wonder if there couldn't be other, more historically influenced factors that could fit into a dieselpunk story. For example, the film "O brother, where art thou?" is not necessarily dieselpunk, by any stretch of the imagination; but it takes place in the 1930's, and represents many themes common to the era, albeit with a theme distinctly representative of the Southern United States. So I suppose my purpose in writing this post (and I apologize for any redundancy) is to speculate about how we could broaden and deepen the genre, and the worlds that Diesel stories take place in. I know that in Ottens' post on Dieselpunk, he describes Ottensian dieselpunk as "Taking place in a world where the depression never happened". What if one were to write a Dieselpunk story where the depression did happen? The depression itself created a variety of conflicts that could make excellent story ideas. From the accompanying ecological failure of the Dust Bowl in the Central U.S., which caused massive migration, to the rise of serial bank robbers, who were seen as champions of the poor, liberating their money from the banks, I think that a depression-style dieselpunk setting opens up many unexplored oppurtunities, and strikes a fine balance between the futurism of Ottensian dieselpunk, and the bleak dystopia of Piecraftian dieselpunk.

Comments

  • Dieselpunk is a scene, rather than a genre.

    That is, there's a lot more of a Dieselpunk movement in society than in fiction; there is a little bit that qualifies (Sky Captain and Indiana Jones both come to mind), but we're still too niche for too much major media coming our way.

    As a scene, we're still a subset of the Steampunk movement, which has only somewhat broken away from being a subset of the Goth movement. (And of course that fact is entirely confusing, since Gothic literature and Steampunk literature are very different things.)

    But yeah. Generally I find it better to think of these things as being like Romanticism, albeit on a smaller scale - literary/artistic movements embraced by more than just writers and artists, rather than really being genres of fiction.
  • As a genre, I'm not sure whether the Depression has ever been portrayed in dieselpunk fiction to happen. Of course there isn't an awful lot of dieselpunk fiction to begin with, but much that could, in retrospect, be labelled "dieselpunk".

    The "Ottensian" usually seems to ignore the Depression altogether while the "Piecraftian" is concerned with war or apocalyptic events or scenarios. At the same time, there's plenty of pulp or noir stories that do take place during the 1930s Depression and they seem to exist somewhere in between of those two extremes.

    Piecraft himself actually argued that both the "Ottensian" and the "Piecraftian" have two faces: hopeful and dark. You can read more about that in his article in issue #4 of the Gatehouse Gazette.
  • Just spotted this and figured it's appropriate in the context:

    Dieselpunk_by_hayenmill.jpg

    By hayenmill.
  • I've actually been having similar thoughts, Xianar, though I have wondered more about how dieselpunk could greater engage with the whole concept of totalitarian society. Given how much trouble we've had trying to come to grips with it through conventional analysis and literature, perhaps sci-fi can be of some use.

    As for the Depression, I'd agree that there's room for exploration. Most of the time it pops up in alternate history settings, it's used as an engine to break down the United States to provided a lawless setting perfect for pulp adventure, as in the Crimson Skies RPG franchise, or a suitable ground to imagine Nazi world empires.
  • Ottens, thanks for that incredibly good picture.
  • Trubetskoy wrote:
    [...] I have wondered more about how dieselpunk could greater engage with the whole concept of totalitarian society.
    Nazi totalitarianism is featured plenty in dieselpunk: all those alternate histories where Germany won the war. In comparison, there aren't too many works of dieselpunk fiction set in the Soviet Union, but there's enough to go on. Is that what you're thinking about? Or would you prefer to see totalitarianism transported into the western world some time?
  • Ottens wrote:
    ...there aren't too many works of dieselpunk fiction set in the Soviet Union, but there's enough to go on...
    "The Flying Proletarian" (1925) by Vladimir Mayakovsky is the most stunning, epic example of the Soviet Dieselpunk. Never seen it translated into English, but the poem is worth an elaborate translation. Maybe, some day...
  • Ottens wrote:
    Trubetskoy wrote:
    [...] I have wondered more about how dieselpunk could greater engage with the whole concept of totalitarian society.
    Nazi totalitarianism is featured plenty in dieselpunk: all those alternate histories where Germany won the war. In comparison, there aren't too many works of dieselpunk fiction set in the Soviet Union, but there's enough to go on. Is that what you're thinking about? Or would you prefer to see totalitarianism transported into the western world some time?
    No, it’s not so much that as I would like to use dieselpunk to disassemble totalitarianism. I’d just like explore the basic questions: where did it come from, how was it put together, why did have to kill so many people, and what exactly did the people running it think they were doing. Basically, I just want to take something that people in our society find horrifically alien and make it understandable.

    At the same time, of course, I also want to play around with the more respectable SF ideas from the interwar period and examine how the West reacted to total industrialization, the Great War, and the emergence of the centralized nation-state. So, yeah, my dance card’s full.
  • Trubetskoy wrote:
    I’d just like explore the basic questions: where did it come from, how was it put together, why did have to kill so many people, and what exactly did the people running it think they were doing. Basically, I just want to take something that people in our society find horrifically alien and make it understandable.
    Hmm. I do find that interesting but I'm not sure if dieselpunk's the perfect vehicle for it. But it's certainly that hasn't been tried much before in this context.
  • Thanks everyone for your interesting responses. I also like that pic, Ottens.

    Basically, I guess that my main reason for creating this thread is as follows; I've been working on a story that started as (but has evolved beyond) a project for my creative writing class. It will take place in a universe that I made up, which is undergoing a sort of global economic meltdown, similar to the depression, and will take place in an a dieselpunk setting. I was just wondering though, because I had never seen the depression mentioned in any sort of form in Dieselpunk sites.
  • Unusual, my understanding allways stemmed from the belief that what Steampunk alledlgy does for the victorian era, this does for the next 50 years or so, of which the depression was somewhat pivotol.
  • Xianar wrote:
    Basically, I guess that my main reason for creating this thread is as follows; I've been working on a story that started as (but has evolved beyond) a project for my creative writing class. It will take place in a universe that I made up, which is undergoing a sort of global economic meltdown, similar to the depression, and will take place in an a dieselpunk setting. I was just wondering though, because I had never seen the depression mentioned in any sort of form in Dieselpunk sites.
    As far as I'm concerned, just because the Depression isn't often featured or even mentioned in dieselpunk fiction doesn't mean that fiction that does isn't dieselpunk.

    Please, if you like, feel free to post your story in The Emporium once it's finished!
  • edited November 2009
    lord_k wrote:
    Ottens wrote:
    ...there aren't too many works of dieselpunk fiction set in the Soviet Union, but there's enough to go on...
    "The Flying Proletarian" (1925) by Vladimir Mayakovsky is the most stunning, epic example of the Soviet Dieselpunk. Never seen it translated into English, but the poem is worth an elaborate translation. Maybe, some day...
    If you know Russian and could translate, that would be fantastic of you to do!
  • My definition of Dieselpunk is fairly broad.

    Dieselpunk is a post-modern aesthetic movement that adopts the Western arts and craft styles of post WWI - late 1940's.

    The name "dieselpunk" is a derivative of the 1980's fiction genre "cyberpunk," and is used to represent a time period - or "Age" - when diesel-based locomotion was the main technological focus of Western culture (see also: Information Age, Stone Age, Bronze Age, etc.).

    The term "punk" suffix attached to dieselpunk is mainly defined as "counterculture," versus any perceived political affiliations.

    A person defined as a dieselpunk draws inspiration and entertainment from the aesthetics of the diesel era to achieve independence from contemporary aesthetics by choosing literature, artwork, fashion, grooming styles, modes of personal transportation, music, and technology of the diesel era over their contemporary counterparts.

    Artwork (including visual arts, music, literature, and architecture) and crafts created in the dieselpunk style are heavily influenced by elements of the aesthetic movements that were most prevalent in Western culture during the diesel era such as:

    Arts - Abstract Expressionism, Art Deco, Bauhaus, Constructivism, Cubism, Dada, De Stijl (Neo-Plasticism), Futurism, International Style, Surrealism

    Music - Blues, Jazz, Ragtime, Cabaret, Swing, and Bluegrass music

    Literature - Symbolism, Stream of consciousness, Modernism, Pulp, and Noir

    -

    Note, my definition is certainly not complete, but it does cover the specific aspect of Dieselpunk that I could nail down.
  • My definition of Dieselpunk is fairly broad.

    Dieselpunk is a post-modern aesthetic movement that adopts the Western arts and craft styles of post WWI - late 1940's.

    The name "dieselpunk" is a derivative of the 1980's fiction genre "cyberpunk," and is used to represent a time period - or "Age" - when diesel-based locomotion was the main technological focus of Western culture (see also: Information Age, Stone Age, Bronze Age, etc.).

    The term "punk" suffix attached to dieselpunk is mainly defined as "counterculture," versus any perceived political affiliations.

    A person defined as a dieselpunk draws inspiration and entertainment from the aesthetics of the diesel era to achieve independence from contemporary aesthetics by choosing literature, artwork, fashion, grooming styles, modes of personal transportation, music, and technology of the diesel era over their contemporary counterparts.

    Artwork (including visual arts, music, literature, and architecture) and crafts created in the dieselpunk style are heavily influenced by elements of the aesthetic movements that were most prevalent in Western culture during the diesel era such as:

    Arts - Abstract Expressionism, Art Deco, Bauhaus, Constructivism, Cubism, Dada, De Stijl (Neo-Plasticism), Futurism, International Style, Surrealism

    Music - Blues, Jazz, Ragtime, Cabaret, Swing, and Bluegrass music

    Literature - Symbolism, Stream of consciousness, Modernism, Pulp, and Noir

    -

    Note, my definition is certainly not complete, but it does cover the specific aspect of Dieselpunk that I could nail down.
    That'll do for me
  • Maybe for dieselpunk it's even more difficult to give the "punk" a place than it is for steampunk.

    Sure, you can call dieselpunk a "counter-culture" if even we start calling it a sub-culture or movement in the first place that is. But is it really that "counter"? We see dieselpunk-esque influences in modern-day film and fashion. In fact, I'd argue that dieselpunk has a lot more mainstream potential than steampunk does.
  • Well, for what it's worth, I never had the 'punk' element in either down as very true.
  • Steiner wrote:
    Well, for what it's worth, I never had the 'punk' element in either down as very true.
    I can see why; but I do think that of the two, Steampunk is more counterculture- The era that Dieselpunk tries to symbolize wasn't all that long ago, and fashion hasn't changed too tremendously since. While wearing hats and vests certainly declined in the intervening decades, they do seem to be making a comeback now, combined with a general interest in WWII.
  • Exactly. Just as Hilde observed in her latest "Steampunk Wardrobe" column in the Gazette, there's a lot of dieselpunk-ish influences in high fashion. This will (in fact, already is as far as I can tell) work its way down to street fashion.

    Also, 1930s-50s influences in books and films maybe a lot more "acceptable" to the mainstream audience than steampunk?
  • It ties in with the whole WW2 anniversary, and the winter wardrobe, well. Easily accessible through vintage stores as well as the high street. Pop music is showing a 1940/50s influence again - recent versions of jive records (Alesha Dixon) and swing (Michael Buble) for instance - and this is filtering through as well.
  • Good stuff :D, keep the 'brassies' in the fringe and lets return to the 50s. Steiner will then be a happy chap.
  • Okay,

    Ive been curious about this for a while, because Ive been trying to wrap my head around what it means. I read through this thread and in looking around the forum, Ive seen a lot of vintage images of celebrities, clothing, architecture, and high art photographs from the 30s to the 60s all described as dieselpunk. I dont get that, because I would call that vintage. As I would classic pulp, old magazines, deco art and design, cars, etc.

    Are basically calling one thing two things because Ive been in the 'vintage scene' (I feel so cheesy saying that) for about 6 years (my era is 1935 to 1945) so Im at a loss when I see a lot of the things that Ive been known to call vintage, being called dieselpunk here.

    Is this two sides of the same coin, perhaps a split/alternate time line deal? Please, educate me on what Im missing.
    Thanks.
  • If you haven't yet, you should read some of the articles in the Dieselpunk section of the site. :)
  • Lady Animation, you're thinking along the right track. The -punk comes in when ideas and inspirations from about 1910 to 1950 are used in fiction that is based in fantasy, alternate history or sci-fi. It's just vintage with a twist, much as steampunk is neo-Victorian with a twist. A great example of a dieselpunk outfit, to help put that in context:

    http://flyingfortress.wordpress.com/2009/10/21/dieselpunk-sightings-arisia-2009/
  • Part of the trouble in defining Dieselpunk as a subculture/aestetic/genre is that it's still in it's virtual infancy! It's like if I try to determine what my toddler will do for a living when he grows up (current hypothesis: a truck driver or a truck). In this early stage every little realization or theory can have drastic long-term consequences in that regard.

    But to address some of the issues brought up here, to me it's distinct from retro style for the same reason steampunk is distinct from neovictorianism. IMO, at least, rather than just trying to emulate or reproduce the past it's a concious effort to readapt some of the stylings and philosophies and ethics of the "diesel era" in a way that's relavant for today. For example, I don't just wear a fedora to say "look at me, I'm wearing a fedora", but as a subtile evocation of the spirit of hard work, optimism, and sense of common cause that people of that era often exemplified.

    I want to recapture that spirit of making the world better, of a future to look forward to, of community, of experimentation and style. Yet I want it adapted into something new and relevant that pays attentions to the failings of that era. I want the social freedoms of the harlem renaissance and flapper era, not the institutionalized racism and sexism that those rebelled against. I want to use that spirit of bold and optimistic rebellion to make a difference today, not fall back into the squadrist paramilitarism that brought us fascism and stalinism.

    The "punk" side for me is that sense of inclusive freedom and that refusal to accept a spoon-fed over-culture. It's that open-eyed, open-minded willingness to point out the emperor's nakedness, not to cause chaos for its own sake, but to break down those bureaucratic and social barriers such that we can accpet the things that are wrong and work together to fix them.

    And I hope to do this through my actions, my words, my writing, my clothing, and where/how I spend my money.

    Ok, I've rambled enough, but that catches some of the gist for me of what makes "dieselpunk" as more than dressing like a gangster and going to cons.
  • Cap'n Tony wrote:
    The "punk" side for me is that sense of inclusive freedom and that refusal to accept a spoon-fed over-culture. It's that open-eyed, open-minded willingness to point out the emperor's nakedness, not to cause chaos for its own sake, but to break down those bureaucratic and social barriers such that we can accpet the things that are wrong and work together to fix them.
    I can certainly live with that interpretation! :D
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