Re-punking Dieselpunk

The “punk” genres of alternate history can claim both aesthetic and political stances. The “steam-“, “diesel-” and “atomic-” may suggest an historical look and feel; the suffix “punk” references that aesthetic’s historical stance toward power, that is, its political intentions.

All art movements are rooted in the culture and context of their time. When artists forget this, they become privileged, precious, ahistorical, appropriative and/or culturally adrift.

That is why, as a historian, I am not interested in or persuaded by an aesthetic which disavows the political. On the contrary, I would argue that any public-facing art — especially an art situated within the long twentieth century — is either inherently (if implicitly) political, or willfully blind or hypocritical.

I’m also a veteran of the late-1970s punk revolution. To me, “to punk” means to occupy the subaltern, to push back against the dominant, to hack the norms and counter-jam aesthetic presumptions, and — most importantly — to question or subvert the cultural politics and entitlements from which those presumptions emerge.

To “punk” an aesthetic therefore means to read the prefix “steam” or “diesel” or “atomic” against the grain, against the norm; to critique and/or subvert the dominant culture of those periods. This is what the original punk-rock did and what the original cyberpunk did: they turned the dominating aesthetic of 1970s glam-rock and 1950s utopian science fiction on its head.

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Punk Is Dead. Long Live Steampunk!

I didn’t get into steampunk to be an activist.

What got me hooked was The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen in 2003, then discovering it was based on a graphic novel (which was even better), and then discovering there was an entire genre of this stuff.

I was already into nineteenth-century history and I was into science-fiction. Putting those two together was brilliant.

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Are We Punks Through and Through?

Is steampunk more than gears and goggles? According to Pablo Vazquez, “We can’t ignore that even though the name began as a joke, we are punks through and through.”

Writing for Tor.com, Vazquez tries to postulate steampunk as an anticapitalist “revolutionary spectacle” that is able to fill the “something” he feels is missing from our world today.

Vazquez admits that “we can’t exactly pinpoint” what’s missing, “but we know it’s missing.” He just feels it, you know. The future looks “cold and endangered,” Vazquez adds, so we must look back at the steampunk era for inspiration.

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The Philosophy of Dieselpunk

Often when one reads of the Jazz Age, the term is limited to the 1920s. But there’s a relatively young philosophy known as dieselpunk that is trying to keep the glory of the Jazz Age alive.

The term “dieselpunk” was first used by Lewis Pollak in 2001 to describe his role-playing game Children of the Sun. Dieselpunk has since grown far beyond his initial usage to describe a philosophy that forms the basis of a subculture and art movement with distinctive music, art, fiction and cinema.

Dieselpunk philosophy is a postmodern phenomenon that comprises three aspects: decodence, contemporary and punk. To understand this young philosophy one must understand each of these aspects.

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Get Your Punk Out of My Steam

Tor.com‘s Steampunk Month is over. For the last four weeks, the website has published an impressive collection of artwork, essays and fiction that has kept us thoroughly entertained.

About midway through, one article appeared I would like to comment on.

In “There is Totally Punk in Steampunk,” Jaymee Goh writes about how the ‘punk suffix relates to the genre and the developing subculture that we understand today under the banner of “steampunk.”

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The History of Dieselpunk III: Diesel’s Punk

Punk is not a synonym for era. Rather the era is defined by the prevalent technology ever present in the context of a science-fiction world.

In actuality, there is confusion in regards to the differentiation largely of a literary (prevalent in cinema, games and literature) understanding of pulp fiction, alternative history as well as modern steampunk with the genre of dieselpunk. It must be understood that dieselpunk has borrowed and is influenced by elements from all three — which creates the entity that is dieselpunk as understood today.

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