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Author Topic: Steampunk and Race
fs

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Icon 1 posted June 26, 2009 08:40      Profile for fs   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
I stuck this here because race is one of thse subjects that sometimes make people tetchy.

I read The Intersection of Race and Steampunk: Colonialism’s After-Effects & Other Stories, from a Steampunk of Colour’s Perspective. I thought it was really interesting--I've never really thought about what it's like to be a minority in a subculture that's predominantly white.

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Posts: 1973 | From: The Cat Ship | Registered: Mar 2002  |  IP: Logged
Stereo

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Icon 1 posted June 26, 2009 10:26      Profile for Stereo     Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
It is an interesting read, for sure. The only thing I would like to add is, as a white person falling ever deeper into steampunk, I never though of it from the imperialism point of view. Steampunk, for me, is based on revisionist history where power does not lie in the country leaders' hands, but rather the most-science-apt individuals. The power-struggle inherent to all society is not about class, color or anything like that: it's if your newest invention (death-ray, robot/clank, monster/construct, etc) will defend you from evil-scientist neighbour or - if you are the evil-scientist - allow you to conquer your less-apt neighbour. And of course, there are those who do not hold the knowlege, and who would rather serve a master than risk being the unfortunate collateral damage in other people's wars. (Of course, I could add the part of steampunk being about exploration: of the world, of science, of one's self capabilities, but that would put this post into TL/DNR realms.)

Yes, to me, steampunk is about science first; and my modern upbringing makes it a natural thing that science can come from any person anywhere in the world. If I were to see an African (male or female equally) wearing traditional garb and brass googles, lab gloves, or some mechanical contraption, that person would be part of the steampunk sub-culture just as well as the white person wearing a british-victorian outfit (with the googles, gloves or contraption, of course; otherwise, it's just Victorian).

Boubou and head-mounted deathray? Coooool! [Applause] (Edit: better yet: a toy monkey - plush or other - modified to look mechanical; in full or in part! Or a bunch of mechanical-looking pseudo-explosive monkeys! Now I'm drooling! [Eek!] It's all about the spirit, not about the clothing!)


(Aside: anyone has an idea of where I could find small metallic gears? All I can find are the plastic ones. Of course, I could paint them up...)

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Eppur, si muove!

Galileo Galilei

Posts: 2289 | From: Gatineau, Quebec, Canada | Registered: Apr 2001  |  IP: Logged
spungo
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Icon 1 posted June 26, 2009 10:44      Profile for spungo     Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
The problem with Steampunk is that any ethos that looks admiringly at the past is in danger of being lumped in with certain right-wing propaganda (so many right-wing schemes are based on pointing to a semi-fictional past, with the intent of blaming people 'X' for the eradication of our once-glorious innocence / virtue / potential -- think Forrest Gump -- that's exactly what that movie was about!) Anyway, whereas the advocates of Steampunk may have no such agenda, it's difficult not to look on without thinking "hang on, folks... "

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Posts: 6523 | From: Noba Scoba | Registered: Jan 2002  |  IP: Logged
Stereo

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Icon 1 posted June 26, 2009 12:20      Profile for Stereo     Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by spungo:
(...) any ethos that looks admiringly at the past (...)

Well, for what I know of steampunk, it is exactly not an admiring look at the past. It admires a past mindset of a category of people who thought that science could change the world. (For the best or the worst, that depends on who gets the upper hand in the ever present power struggle.)

Warning: as too often, I couldn't stop and I turned this into a rant. Yet I feel some of my opinions below are worth being said, so I won't delete the rest of my post. But you can skip it if you see steampunk as a fun but useless waste of time.

I like to say that Steampunk's main motivation is about putting science and technology back in the wonders' throne. Too often today, we (as a society) use technology as if it was a given, without even trying to understand the science behind. There will come a day (or is it already upon us? not quite yet, I don't think so) where a small number of knowledgeable people will hold the knowledge, and others will blissfully not even try to understand the most basic elements behind it. Ask the everyman on the street how electricity is produced (no, not only "from coal/oil/hydroelectricity/etc.", but the how of it), or how an airplane fly (will the airplane on the threadmill take off or not?), and I'd bet 80%+ won't be able to answer.

So I'd say steampunk is not only critical of the past, but of our present. It tries to reclaim control of science and put it back where it belongs: in everyone's hand. And it starts at the beginning, and as far as each person's abilities. Where cyberpunk too often has a negative "the society has failed" view, steampunk takes a positive "we can do anything" option. Anyone can put on a post-apocalyptic look of technology scavenger without thinking much into it; but to build or modify outfits and accessories to incorporate functionning (ideally) self-made contraptions, it takes efforts. You need to think for yourself, to search for solutions, to explore other's people works, confront different opinions, and thus is antipodial to brainwashing.

I'd say a steampunker is a romantic geek: nice outfits, good manners, and a do-it-yourself attitude. (Dr. Horrible is modern steampunker.)

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Eppur, si muove!

Galileo Galilei

Posts: 2289 | From: Gatineau, Quebec, Canada | Registered: Apr 2001  |  IP: Logged
dragonman97

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Icon 1 posted June 26, 2009 21:23      Profile for dragonman97   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Stereo: That day is already here with computers.

Personally, when I stop and think about it a bit (typically whilst wandering around somewhere), I'm deeply in awe of the awesome amount of things that go into making everything we take for granted work.

However, that's because I know something (a decent amount, anyway) about the technology involved - but most people don't...and don't care. That being said, these days it ostensibly doesn't matter. Computers are turning into appliances, and web services are taking off as easy alternatives to hard-to-use applications. When it doesn't work, you call someone. (Including people like me, who offer full service holistic tech support. [Wink] ) Computers are the 21st century automobile. (Take that, /.! [Big Grin] )

Regarding other tech, I love the Science Channel shows "How It's Made" and now the newer "How Do They Do It?" Awesome shows - imported and re-dubbed, as Merkins can't handle Canadian or British accents, but thoroughly cool tech.

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There are three things you can be sure of in life: Death, taxes, and reading about fake illnesses online...

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fs

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Icon 1 posted June 27, 2009 14:01      Profile for fs   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
I admit, I like steampunk because of the aesthetic. I like the idea of replacing mass-produced everyday objects with things that are beautiful and unique.

I don't think science and technology have ever, at any time in history, been so much within the reach of everyone. I don't think, at any time in history, the masses en mass marveled at the technological innovation that surrounded them. I'm pretty sure that when fire was invented, the cave people probably went from "It's the end of the world!" and accusing Ogg the Firestarter of playing God and meddeling wtih things man was not meant to know to calling over Ogg the Firestarter to configure the fire pit to cook their mammoth legs through without burning the outside.

In the Victorian era, unless you were a white upper class man, you were effectively barred from scientific pursuits. Power was never in the hands of scientists, unless it was by virtue of them being upper class white men in a time when upper class white men ruled the world. (She says, as though they no longer do.) Basically, steampunk is a romantacization of the world of white upper class Victorian men.

But it's also about imagining a different history. If you're going to remake history, certainly there's room for making it inclusive of other races and cultures.

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Posts: 1973 | From: The Cat Ship | Registered: Mar 2002  |  IP: Logged
The Famous Druid

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Icon 1 posted June 27, 2009 15:53      Profile for The Famous Druid     Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by fs:
In the Victorian era, unless you were a white upper class man, you were effectively barred from scientific pursuits.

Have you heard of John Edmonstone the freed black slave who was one of Charles Darwin's teachers?

How about George Washington Carver, botanist, educator, and inventor of Peanut Butter?

Then of course, there's Marie Curie and Ada Lovelace.

If you didn't die in childhood, you may like to thank Sara Baker

These people may not have got the same encouragement and recognition as their white middle-class male contemporaries, but there just aint no stoppin' a determined geek.

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Posts: 10463 | From: Melbourne, Australia | Registered: Oct 2002  |  IP: Logged
fs

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Icon 1 posted June 28, 2009 03:07      Profile for fs   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Crap, I forgot to add that there were, of course, some notable exceptions. I even figured I should, otherwise someone would be sure to come along and say, "But what about so-and-so, or so-and-so?"

As though the ability of a few people to overcome the unequal and oppressive society they lived in somehow disproves the oppressiveness rather than making their accomplishments all the more impressive.

Really, the fact that John Edmonstone was a freed slave makes that point better than anything I could say.

Because there were exceptions, that doesn't mean that Victorian scientific circles were inclusive or accepting, by any means.

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Posts: 1973 | From: The Cat Ship | Registered: Mar 2002  |  IP: Logged
Xanthine

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Icon 1 posted June 28, 2009 12:05      Profile for Xanthine     Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
For every one that beat the system, how many didn't?

To this day, to be recognized as good in scientific circles, a woman or person of color (other than Asians) needs to work ~1.5 times as hard to be perceived as equal to a Asian or Caucasian male. That bat's been dropping, thankfully and sooner or later the last of the dinosaurs with their fossilized attitudes will die off and all the hiring and granting decisions will be made by men and women of every color under the sun who aren't automatically suspicious of anyone not Just Like Them. But that day isn't here yet. In generations as recent as my mother's, the bar was even higher. I can't even imagine what those who managed to stand out in the Victorian era had to face.

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And it's one, two, three / On the wrong side of the lee / What were you meant for? / What were you meant for?
- The Decemberists

Posts: 7667 | From: the lab | Registered: Mar 2001  |  IP: Logged
The Famous Druid

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Icon 1 posted June 28, 2009 14:59      Profile for The Famous Druid     Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
I don't disagree with what fs and Xanthine say above, I was just having a bit of fun based on...
quote:
fs(from another thread):
The instant you bring the word "every" into it, you of course falsify it. You know that. Tsk tsk Druid.



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If you watch 'The History Of NASA' backwards, it's about a space agency that has no manned spaceflight capability, then does low-orbit flights, then lands on the Moon.

Posts: 10463 | From: Melbourne, Australia | Registered: Oct 2002  |  IP: Logged
fs

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Icon 1 posted June 29, 2009 02:00      Profile for fs   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by The Famous Druid:
I don't disagree with what fs and Xanthine say above, I was just having a bit of fun based on...
quote:
fs(from another thread):
The instant you bring the word "every" into it, you of course falsify it. You know that. Tsk tsk Druid.


I didn't say that every Victorian scientist was an upper class white man, though. [Razz]

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Posts: 1973 | From: The Cat Ship | Registered: Mar 2002  |  IP: Logged
The Famous Druid

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Icon 1 posted June 29, 2009 03:26      Profile for The Famous Druid     Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by fs:
quote:
Originally posted by The Famous Druid:
I don't disagree with what fs and Xanthine say above, I was just having a bit of fun based on...
quote:
fs(from another thread):
The instant you bring the word "every" into it, you of course falsify it. You know that. Tsk tsk Druid.


I didn't say that every Victorian scientist was an upper class white man, though. [Razz]
Don't argue, just go iron my shirt. [evil]

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If you watch 'The History Of NASA' backwards, it's about a space agency that has no manned spaceflight capability, then does low-orbit flights, then lands on the Moon.

Posts: 10463 | From: Melbourne, Australia | Registered: Oct 2002  |  IP: Logged
spungo
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Icon 1 posted June 29, 2009 07:22      Profile for spungo     Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
fs has a point, but the reason that most scientists were rich, white dudes was because Science was still largely a hobby -- something you did if you were a not-so-idle member of the idle classes. It wasn't that you had to be a rich white dude, it was just that you were more likely to have the disposable cash if you were a rich white dude (and also, you were more likely to have the time if you didn't have to do some pesky job). I think the culture of Victorian science was more meritorious than we give it credit today.

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Posts: 6523 | From: Noba Scoba | Registered: Jan 2002  |  IP: Logged


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