Changing My Mind About Victorientalism

This website, then known as The Gatehouse, gained some notoriety in 2010, when we dedicated an issue of our webzine, the Gatehouse Gazette, to “Victorientalism”.

I subsequently defended this choice in a blog post that now strikes me as insensitive and in some places wrong.

My assumption — that it is safe to recreate stereotypes from colonial times because those stereotypes, and the power imbalances they sustained, have gone — was flawed. I have learned that such stereotypes and power imbalances are in some cases still with us and in others have a lingering effect. I should have listened to the people (of color) who tried to tell me that eight years ago.

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Rurouni Kenshin

Rurouni Kenshin

Many of us have grown up watching the Samurai X/Kenshin cartoons (anime) on TV. Or read the classic manga. Kenshin is without doubt one of the best known Japanese fictional characters in the Western world, so it was a bit of a surprise that it took until 2012 for there to finally be a movie adaptation. A live-action movie that, when announced, both rejoiced fans and left them skeptical of the venture.

That skepticism turned out to be entirely unnecessary, as Rurouni Kenshin has become, without a doubt, one of the best anime/manga adaptations into a live-action movie ever made.

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Aladdin and His Wonderfully Infernal Device

Aladdin and His Wonderfully Infernal Device

Today we’re going into Arabia with Aladdin and His Wonderfully Infernal Device by Tee Morris. If you’ve ever read the story of Aladdin or seen the Disney movies, this will be very familiar to you.

It starts off with young thief Aladdin as he steals a gear from a vendor on the streets of Arabia. He is soon embraced by a famous magician claiming to be his long-lost uncle. Aladdin takes the man home to meet his mother. Although Aladdin’s mother takes the lad aside and reveals that in fact his father had no brothers, she still tells him to go with the imposter to find his destiny (despite their mutual belief that Uncle Jaha is up to no good). Aladdin grabs his mechanical flying carpet and sets off into the desert with his faux relative — who, surprise, surprise, soon betrays him.

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What If Steampunk Hurts?

What should steampunks do if their art or fiction or role-playing hurts others? Stop and abandon something that’s been part of the steampunk culture for years? Or ignore the feelings of others and have “fun”?

It’s a relevant question because the Victorian era had a lot of problems, several of which have found their way into steampunk even if we’re not always aware of it.

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In Defense of Victorientalism

This article is outdated. Click here for a more recent take.

Reactions to the Victoriental issue of the Gatehouse Gazette (March 2010) have been pretty fierce. The opinions of those provoked by it may best be summarized by Ay-leen, who noted that using the phrase “Victorientalism” to imply a “positive, transcultural blend” of cultures is “misguided.”

Others have been less nuanced in their renunciations of what they assume to be our position.

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Introduction to Victorientalism

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With the increasing contact with the East and its ensuing colonization, people in the West became fascinated by this strange new world. For centuries, adventurers, novelists and romantics had been interested in the lands beyond the horizon. Europe had all been explored and people became more and more familiar with the world they lived in. The Orient was still a realm of mystery, inhabited by alien people, exotic and sometimes cruel, with customs that Enlightened Europeans thought of as barbaric; a place where time had stood still.

An age-long Orientalist tradition of those who studied the East has in our times been criticized for its presumed bias and even racism. In the realm of steampunk, however, we can safely recreate the Orient as it was described and depicted by nineteenth-century authors and artists who might never have seen it. All the myths and miracles of the East that enchanted the Victorians can come true.

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