Dieselpunk + Steampunk Culture

Scripted on March 2, 2010 by Tome Wilson.
Offered to this forum to promote discussion and unity within the dieselpunk community.

The tenets of dieselpunk culture can be understood as follows:

Dieselpunk is not a new and spurious trend.

It grew legs and walked upright as soon as the Greatest Generation returned from the front. It merges our grandfathers' dreams with the freedoms of the ages that came after it. Unrestricted by class, gender or prejudice, we are free to build our own vision of the future and are limited only by our own ambition.

"A guy walks up to me and asks 'What's Punk?'. So I kick over a garbage can and say 'That's punk!'. So he kicks over a garbage can and says 'That's Punk?', and I say 'No that's trendy!"
- Billie Joe Armstrong

Dieselpunks are not interested in historical purity.

Rather than sealing oneself in the dusty coffins of a long dead past, a dieselpunk should adopt the orphan zeitgeist of earlier days and raise it in the modern age. By fusing the past with today, he builds something new that would be unexpected in any age.

"The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you can see."
- Winston Churchill

The Greatest Generation is an inspiration for dieselpunks, not a goal.

A dieselpunk must learn the past, but should be wary not to chain himself to it in the process. We strive to create a future that not only meets the achievements of our grandfathers, but surpasses it with achievements of our own. It is not enough to live in the shadow of another generation; we must find our own path, achieve greatness and inspire others to do the same.

"We decided to start our own group because we were bored with everything we heard ... Everything was 10th-generation Led Zeppelin ... overproduced, or just junk. We missed music like it used to be."
- Joey Ramone

"My mother said to me, 'If you are a soldier, you will become a general. If you are a monk, you will become the Pope.' Instead, I was a painter, and became Picasso."
- Pablo Picasso

Dieselpunk art desires monumentality.

The hands of our grandfathers were not busy creating fragile trinkets; things meant to expire before the tides changed. They did not lay their foundations on beams of light and hope that others would be there to support it when the darkness came. Like a good parent, the Greatest Generation created objects and ideas that outlived their creators to be loved by future generations. Our reliance on the digital world cannot be trusted to carry our dreams into the future. Our own progress has raced ahead of our need for permanence, and only those that truly realize this will be remembered by tomorrow's generation.

"History is written by the victors."
- Winston Churchill

Dieselpunk art balances form with function.

A dieselpunk does not strive to create the absurd. Instead, his creation blends the desirability and craftsmanship born of years of expert labor with the technological marvels of today. It is not enough to create a wonder in itself. That wonder must excite the lust of the artist while also fulfilling its desired function.

"I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it."
- Pablo Picasso

Every dieselpunk is responsible for himself and his community.

A dieselpunk community will form when like-minded people learn to respect the freedoms and works of one another. The community is formed to bolster the efforts of the individual, and to strengthen the foundations of the community as a whole. Like a skyscraper, a dieselpunk should reach for the greatest heights imaginable knowing that he is supported by the experience of those around him, but he should not rely on others to push him upwards.

"My attitude is if somebody blunders into the level of popularity; at least remember the human factor. These guys are still human beings and hopefully still have hearts and if you keep in touch with them rather than vilify them you may be able to encourage them to go in the right direction. What I'm hoping will eventually happen is that they will grasp the amount of power and financial clout that is now at their fingertips and use those as tools to help real people with real things the way punk politics was always designed to do before, but nobody had any money."
- Jello Biafra

"We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give."
- Teddy Roosevelt

A dieselpunk does not seek to gather armies for the purpose of war.

As each dieselpunk is responsible for himself and his community, deterring another from their artistic goals should not be tolerated unless those goals rot the foundations of the whole. A dieselpunk will choose what is best for themselves using experience, rationale and his own code of morals, not by being rallied or prosthelytized.

"You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life."
- Winston Churchill

"Remember always that you not only have the right to be an individual, you have an obligation to be one."
- Eleanor Roosevelt

The greatest crime a dieselpunk can commit is not contributing to their own vision of the future.

Dieselpunks are not stagnant consumers. The dieselpunk mentality demands dynamism in thinking and expression. It is not enough to consume the fruits of our father's labor and suckle the milk of our corporate mothers. In order to grow in mind and spirit, dieselpunks and their communities must strive to create a vision of the future using whatever tools they are armed with: the brush, the pen, the camera, or the wrench.

"Only put off until tomorrow what you are willing to die having left undone."
- Pablo Picasso

"Better to fight for something than live for nothing."
- George S. Patton

"It's no good being nice and young and naive. There's no good in that at all. You've got to do it all yourself, and you've gotta learn quick. And you can't look for sympathy either."
- Johnny Rotten

"I never worry about action, but only inaction."
- Winston Churchill

"What you don't do can be a destructive force."
- Eleanor Roosevelt

"To reach a port, we must sail - sail, not tie at anchor - sail, not drift."
- Franklin D. Roosevelt

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First off, wow, just wow. This speaks to me, and speaks to exactly the kind of thing that draws me to retro-futurism in general. Before I knew Steampunk and Dieselpunk existed as more than genres of fiction I was seeking some way to bring back that old optimism and hope for the future. This states those aims and states them well.

A couple intersecting areas that caught me:

"The hands of our grandfathers were not busy creating fragile trinkets; things meant to expire before the tides changed."

"A dieselpunk does not strive to create the absurd. Instead, his creation blends the desirability and craftsmanship born of years of expert labor with the technological marvels of today. It is not enough to create a wonder in itself. That wonder must excite the lust of the artist while also fulfilling its desired function."

This is one area that, as an engineer by trade, really catches my attention. It's one thing that really intersects with our Steampunk cousins and the DIY movement. I see this dichotomy of engineering and craftsmanship vs. disposable consumerism in miniature in of all damn things my floor fans. I have two: one an all-steel antique from the late 40's my wife inherited from her parents and the other a new plastic one from Target or Walmart. The "old" one not only still runs, but it's quiet, powerful, steady, and easy to aim in any desired direction. Not the case with the loud, wobbly "new" one that has to be propped up to keep it from falling over and becoming a fire hazard. Right there is the difference to me between old fashioned engineering and craftsmanship and the current "disposability" of short-term-profit consumerism.

Note that both were made in a factory, mass-produced from an initial design. The difference is in the engineering. I have seen a general loathing of the factory in the retro-futuristic "punk" movements, and I can't say I blame them, but as the "old" fan attests something well-engineered and factory-assembled by skilled craftsmen can be every bit as much a work of art and craftsmanship as something handmade. And that speaks to me.

Now, interestingly I have one area of minor contention, and that's with the statement "A dieselpunk does not strive to create the absurd." As bizarre as it sounds, I think we should embrace Absurdism. Absurdism was one of the cornerstones of that first 20th Century "punk" movement Dada. Dada's absurdist "anti-art", meant to satirize the growing consumerist "mass production" mentality in fine art, sought to build objects with no purpose (a dry urinal on its side) or objects that by their design undid their very original purpose (tacks on a flat iron). They abhored mechanization as a dehuminizing element (which is understandable given what machines were doing at the time, i.e. killing people by the thousands in the trenches) yet ironically were a spin-off from Futurism which favored technological growth and mechanization. Interestingly while Dada self-destructed and was reborn at a more "artsy" level in Surrealism, Futurism ended up becoming an artistic mouthpiece for Mussolini much to the detriment of all.

As Dieselpunks I feel one of the goals we strive for must be to embrace both the progressive futurist "diesel" side and questioning dadaist "punk" side while rejecting their negative aspects (Futurism's devil's pact with Fascism and Dada's spiraling self-destruction and purposeless nihilism). In deed if Dieselpunk can be the vessel by which the philosopies of Futurism and Dada are reconciled then that alone would be a lasting monument to the movement.
@Cap'n - You might be interested in our April 1st article on Dada (http://www.dieselpunks.org/profiles/blogs/the-dada-art-movement) if you haven't seen it yet.

When I wrote the tenets, I had Dada at the forefront of my mind. Allow me to explain.

Dada is considered "anti-art" for a reason. Before them, popular "art" followed a strict formula. This was because the common man was unable to support himself as a artist without the assistance of patrons. As we rounded the century, technology and industrialization gave the middle class more time to do things for themselves. Before then, if you weren't working on surviving on a day to day basis, you were working on dying... and that paycheck sucks.

So, the stage is set. We have normal people creating predictable artwork in time-tested styles, and above them, you have art snobs in charge (because they're the ones paying for it). The snobs are the ones saying "this is art" and "this isn't art." Then, the Dadaists work their way into the scene as Devil's Advocate.

When you ask 100 people if something is "art," you'll get a hundred different responses on what art is. Dada played this game, and forced people to consider what art really was. They did this by showing the public things that everyone knew wasn't art, but the Dadaists displayed them and presented them as if they were art.

They rules-lawyered the definition of art for the purpose of creating conflict and to get people thinking again. It wasn't until later that the Dadaists evolved their style into what we consider to be Modernism, and that's when they self-destructed as a movement.

So, when I think of creating absurd objects without purpose, I don't think of that as being Dada. Dada had a purpose, even if that purpose was to intentionally create "anti-art" for intellectual shock value.
Thanks for the link; I'll check that out. And thank you for answering my post. As a "new guy" I've yet to catch fully up with all ground previously covered, and thanks to full time cubicle dronism, commute from hell, and 17-month old in the house it'll be a while before I do.

I'll hold off a full answer until time allows me to read your link in full, but just to keep the flow of discorse going:

I fully agree with what you say and note that I'm not advocating absurdism for absurdism's sake, but simply reccomend keeping it around as another tool in the tool box. Absurd for absurd's sake is just a lobster sitting on a telephone. Absurd as a tool of discorse is a lobster that IS a telephone, and thereby forces us to confront the duology of the organic and mechanic.

And besides, I'd argue that retro-futurist culture is by its very nature absurdist: we use anachronism in order to celebrate the future that was in the past with the values of the present. ;-)

I know what it's like being part of the grind. I don't have the savings to attempt children yet, but they're certainly next on the list.

You bring up a bunch of good points. When seen in that light, I think we're on the same wavelength.
I'm new here and I totally agree with this list; great summation and even greater quotes! I read some philosophy, and I would say that the idea that sums up Dieselpunk and Steampunk both is the philosophical idea of "Modernism". In short, Modernist ideals value science over superstition; concrete fact over relativism; design over chance and uncertainty; optimism over nihilism; and most importantly, the rightness of progress as opposed to deconstruction and degradation. The big philosophical battle is over what constitutes progress. Obviously New Deal progressivism and Nazism are both Modernist social models. We are now a "Postmodern" society and have been since the 60's. Arguably the death of Kennedy, the hippie movement, and the war in Vietnam ended Modernist society by destroying that sense of optimism and purpose. Some may argue that Dieselpunk is of necessity a dark genre. That may be true, but the fight is still about "good" Modernists versus "bad" or "reactionary" Modernists. Progress isn't being questioned, and morality is not abandoned...they're being embraced. The path to progress and the ultimate destination are the source of conflict. Postmodern societies like ours have pretty much given up on progress as a destination. For present-day culture, day-to-day mundanity is good enough. People honestly seem to believe that problems caused by ignorance will be solved by ignorance. I've often found myself wondering why politicians can't see the logic in being both pro-environment and pro-business, for example. You see, that synthesis of ideas would involve logic and science triumphing over social relativism and ideology; an impossibility for Postmodernists! That strikes to the core of what I think we're trying to do here philosophically. It's about more than shiny gadgets. It's about a deep seated love of science, progress, and reason in a world that seems to have wantonly abandoned these things.
Well said, Adam, and welcome to Dieselpunks!
Why thank you! Glad to be here...saw a lot of fellow Dieselpunks and Steampunks at a convention I was at in Baltimore all this weekend.

Tome Wilson said:
Well said, Adam, and welcome to Dieselpunks!
Very interesting reading Adam. Great to have you with us.
~ Larry
Good stuff, Adam, and welcome!
Hey, thanks for the welcome. And I can see the point in your last post about absurdity. I think that life itself seems absurd because speaking in evolutionary terms, we are in no position to truly understand it. Or maybe there is a God with a sense of humor. I forget who gave the quote "God is a comedian playing to an audience too afraid to laugh..."

Cap'n Tony said:
Good stuff, Adam, and welcome!
Tenets, anyone?

(But I don't even know how to play...)
Just thinking about the rivalry of form and function. It seems to me that prior to the First World War, form was privileged over function: functional apparatus was encrusted with aesthetic design on wholly different principles. After the War, perhaps as a result of the austerity it demanded, form was integrated with function; it was not ignored, but function and form mutually reinforced each other, creating simple, functional shapes that were at the same time beautifully streamlined works of art. In the Second World War, form had to give way to function yet again; in the aftermath, form became fanciful, alienated once again from function. Then function turned around and annihilated form: all disguise was cast aside, and only the functional was left. Finally, in our solid-state era, function ceases to have an associated form altogether, and we return to the beginning, with form and function evolving along separate tracks.

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