Dieselpunk + Steampunk Culture

I just posted this onto Facebook as a note. I think the Introduction in the recent Gatehouse Gazette does a good job describing the difference between Steampunk and Dieselpunk.


"Steampunk can be an escapist genre. It can make the past seem all perfect even if it’s a huge deception. Few of us would probably be better off living in the nineteenth century. But it’s nice reminiscing about the beauties of a past that wasn’t, especially if the present is so depressing.


Dieselpunk, on the other hand, confronts the Depression and all the miseries of its era head on, whether it’s totalitarianism, mysticism or the brutal technologies of war that are deployed against the forces of the Free World. There’s no time to sit around and dream of a better past. There’s also no excuse to wait for a better tomorrow. Dieselpunks roll up their sleeves and start building.


If there is hardship now, it used to be worse. If we could turn the 1930s into victory, surely we’re able to make a better life for ourselves now?"

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I like that very very much.

I think steampunk is less realistic because it is less grounded in reality.  Lots of steampunkers -- not all of them, of course -- are not very knowledgeable about, or even terribly interested in, the realities of the 19th century.  Even the steampunk æsthetic isn't based directly on the 19th-century æsthetic, and in many respects actually contradicts it. Steampunk's inspiration is more nearly the reinterpretation and reinvention of the Victorian æsthetic seen in Disney (and similar) films of the 1950s and '60s, or even secondary reinterpretations of Disney Victoriana in Japanese cartoons.


There's nothing wrong with that, of course.  The quality of an æsthetic isn't absolutely dependent on its sources, and in my opinion, grounding steampunk more thoroughly in 19th century realities would ultimately destroy it.  But dieselpunk is different; dieselpunks are actually passionately interested in, and knowledgeable about, the realities of the World War I - World War II period.  If anything, dieselpunk might benefit from a little more fantasy.  But there's a different outlook, and a different relationship to the historical basis; maybe because the Victorian period is far enough away now, and different enough from everyday life, to make it seem (at least to those not immersed in the period) as an almost mythical period, a sort of technological Middle Ages; whereas the dieselpunk period still seems like a time in which contemporary people might live.


Which, of course, suggests to me that dieselpunk isn't exactly "steampunk + 50 years", but a somewhat different sort of project; reclaiming the past, perhaps, rather than reinventing it.

@ Larry: I'm going to agree and disagree on a few points here. I do like the statement "Dieselpunks roll up their sleeves and start building" and fully back that 100%, for that's part of the attitude that lured me in as more than a passive observer in the movement.

That said, I hate to dismiss the actions of the Steampunks out of hand. Yes, there's certainly a deep devotion to escapism, cosplay and ludicrous technologies within the movement, but SP has not, in my observation, been rooted completely in fantasy or unwilling to get dirty. Quite the opposite. SP has been at the forefront of the DIY movement, championed manners and style as a subversive statement on modern society, and in some cases (Steampunk Magazine) been overtly and confrontationally political. SP, in my observations, confronts social stratification, labor, industrial management, and race/sex/religion issues head-on, using the social stratification and imperialism of the Victorian era as a backdrop. Steampunk art and "maker" culture has been active in the avant garde and many SP have been active in development of Green technologies (particularly building and advocating Stirling Engines, useful in thermal solar power, waste heat power generation, and cogeneration).

While there are certainly plenty of SPs who just cosplay and paste gears on their iPads, there are plenty who do not.

In DP, we see similar tendencies to both directions. Many of us (I like to believe most of us), such as you, Larry, are definately rolling up our sleeves and trying to make a difference. Yet there are certainly plenty of people who just want to dress up as 20's gangsters and swing dance like it's just a revival of the 90s neo-swing. There's also plenty of escapist fantasy with hovercars and Jet Packs, Nazis as generic villains (with no or only passing reference to the Holocaust), and space travel. 

I choose to pursue the former, "rolled-up sleeves" approach, and have even wholeheartedly adopted some of SP's "subversion through style and manners" (this is a major uphill battle here in "Spite-Town USA," aka DC).


@ Caerulctor: also agree and disagree. At the core, Steam-era science is more outdated, and therefore inherently more implausible and inherently more likely on a case-by-case basis to have been disproven by the science of later generations. Yet Diesel-Era science is by no means immune, as about any of the crazy "ucomming" inventions on the cover of any of Gernsbeck's magazines (Popular Mechanics, etc.) of the time can attest. Vacuum Airships? Impossible. Giant Flying Wing airliners ala Bel Geddes? So impractical as to be effectively impossible, or at the least fiscally unsupportable.

And then there's the SciFi of the era (E. R. Borroughs, etc.), which can be every bit as ludicrous (and fun) as anything by Verne or Wells.

The big paradox is what I've egotistically dubbed "Philpott's Corrolary to Clarke's Third Law". (Arthur C.) Clarke's Law states that "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." Larry Niven added "Any sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology". I add a recursive: "Any sufficiently outdated and discredited science or science fiction is indistinguishable from magic, or at the least requires the fantastical to make it possible".

*Punk genres are classic examples. You can't make a practical steam powered airship without some pseudoscientific or mystical handwave ("aether lamps"). This applies to a large percentage of what we see in Steampunk, pretty much anything that's not "borrowed Diesel", as you stated in another Discussion. It also applies to any neo-Borroughsian jaunts to Mars or most fictional Nazi Superscience you care to cite.

I fully agree that there's a "different outlook" and "relationship" to the historical era in DP. Most of us know people who lived then. Not nearly as many alive today had much contact with Victorians. The styles alone attest to what you mention regarding "time in which contemporary people might live". The color photos from 1940 NY someone posted are perfect example. Victorian paintings might as well be a fantasy novel. Hard to imagine running into someone in a hoop skirt (unless you live in a historically minded city like Fredericksburg, VA, where I do). A guy in a pjnstripe three-piece suit, however...

And I wholly agree that we might need "more fantasy" in DP...please see the new Discussion I made on exactly that!



I don't think steampunk was ever meant to be realistic. From what I've seen, the hardcore fandom is, for the most part, dominated by the DIY ethic. Alot of it is about combining the past, present and future, the real and the fantasy, the relatable and the distant into something new. I think alot of steampunks would agree that the real Victorian era wasn't very pleasant. Neither was the dieselpunk era to some extant. However, they are inspired by the spirit of innovation, inventiveness, discovery and such. Alot of the modern world was born in that era. Electricity, phones, cars, planes...and it's easy to imagine that if one genius pushed himself to the heights of their talents, they may be able to make things like airships, computers and so on. There's also the fact that modern science fiction was born in that era as well, showing that people back then were looking forward to advanced technology.

The difference with dieselpunk, I think is that dieselpunk feels a little bit more relatable. Steampunk uses more flight of fancy with technology that wasn't plausible back then because it both feels distant while at the same time you can see the beginnings of the modern world. Meanwhile, dieselpunk feels more relatable because the technology that was dreamt up was fairly plausible and in fact much became reality in the decades following it. It's also relatable because many of us have had grandparents who lived during that age. And also because of WWII, which we've seen many many hours of movies, documentaries, games, shows, etc about.. You can also see more remnants of the dieselpunk world nowadays then the steampunk world, such as art deco architecture and such.

So why has such things as steampunk, dieselpunk, atompunk, etc. become more and more prominent in recent years? I think it has to do with, as I said earlier, the sense of innovation and discovery that seems to be fairly absent in this day and age. When you look at the big news stories involving technology, and see that it mostly involves slight refreshings of cell phones, yeah it feels disappointing when you look at the dreams of the past. So we go back to those eras and think to ourselves "Well, what if they did succeed with those dreams?" And so we make works of art showing what could've happened and it brings some solace and hope for a better tomorrow.
Well stated, Clinton!

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