Dieselpunk + Steampunk Culture

I know the Steampunk community seems to be constantly talking about the use of the word "Punk" in Steampunk. I've seen some propose dumping Steampunk to alternative terms, such as Gaslight Romance and so forth. Audelia Flint, who writes the excellent blog Trial by Steam recently wrote what I think is an excellent post on the subject. I highly recommend the article. "Why Steam Needs Punk."

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The great thing about Steampunk and Dieselpunk is that it isn't dependent on one person's interpretation. I may not consider what you do right, but then again is that such an odd thing. Politics, religion, parenting, excersising... you name it and people have differing views on it. It's fun to discuss it with different people, they maybe able to shed a differnet light on it. Unfortunately, I've already made my mind up regarding punk in SP/DP involving punks, so I 'll quit this discussion with this final thought on the matter. I hate trying to discuss things with people that have already made up their minds on things. I think it's a waste of time, and I don't want to waste anybody's time. My hypocrisy only goes so far...


I flat out do not see any late 20th century punk elements in Steampunk or Dieselpunk. There are people that would call themselves punk that are attracted to SP/DP right along side peoplet that are into anime, cosplay, historical reenactors, prop makers, seamstresses, and everybody else that is invovled with them. The punks bring punk elements into SP/DP and add to the variety, but they are not responsible for driving SP/DP. To try and defend that the heart and soul of SP/DP comes from the real punks seems to be pretty arrogant and elitist, which from what I heard is inline with the punk attitude. To define the "punk" in SP/DP as deviating from historical accuracy in favor of creativity in which to express one's desire to build and create, seems more inline with SP/DP. What some people say is the punks' DIY is not solely a punk trait, once again I find that arrogant and elitist.


That is not to say that all of the people in SP/DP have not been touched by punk to some degree. One can not say that they have not been fully uninfluenced by such things. But that would be an entirely different discussion.



 To me, the label for ' 50s-60s punk would be "Atomicpunk"- such things as The Man From U.N.C.L.E. or The Prisoner to the Batman TV series to Irwin Allen's shows (particularly the original Voyage To The Bottom of the Sea film). Throw in the world-wide influence of things like japanese "suit-mation" Kaiju movies and TV shows, Gerry Anderson's Supermarionation style TV series, etc. Concealed electronic gadgets and colorful uniforms or vehicles are common tropes.


And as for our main topic- I came to the steampunk "movement" from science fiction fandom, and would maintain that the "punk" element in the ethos can be evidenced not only from a maker /DIY stance (living the ideal certainly qualifies, but should be an example/inspiration to others, not a requirement), but from the very nature of science fiction literature- social commentary on the part of the artist in the format of a speculative reality.


In participating in steampunk art and social activity, the steampunk seeks an experience that is outside the norms of the contemporary world that fundamentally examines or questions what was, what might have been, against what is. Travel broadens the mind, y'know.

I think that the vast majority of Steampunk and Dieselpunk culture is mislabeled.  What it really should be is Steam Fiction or Diesel Fiction, or simple Retro-Futurism.  'Punk' is a mostly meaningless suffix that helps the casual viewer understand that what they are appreciating (reading, listening, participating in) is an alternate or fantastical version or vision of the time period.  It is the same thing as where in the US since Watergate any political scandal picks up the suffix 'gate'.  Now, I'm not saying that there are not elements, groups or subcultures within Steampunk or Dieselpunk that subscribe to punk like elements (the DIY element is a good point) but they are just that, a smaller part of the larger whole.  I would hardly call Jules Verne, who is often used as a Steampunk example, 'punk'.  Fantastical, imaginative yes but hardly punk.  In cyberpunk, where the 'punk' suffix comes from, there is a definite 'punk' element, that anti-mainstream everything to the stories, the music, the fashion.  Steampunk/Dieselpunk though?  Is The Difference Engine an example of anti-establishment or non-conformity of punk?  What about The League of Extraordinary GentlemenThe Mysterious Geographical Explorations of Jasper Morello?  I hardly see anything challenging the norms of society there.  Challenging our imaginations?  Yes and that is the heart of it all, imaginative, creative vision.  You don't need Punk to keep Steampunk from becoming all Walmart or Neo-Victorian.  What you need is imagination, creativity.  That 'revolutionary and indomitable spirit refusing to submit to the status quo and question the mainstream' from the Victorian era?  That's called science fiction.  If you want to use Steampunk or Dieselpunk to push the envelope, question authority, present an alternative, or create that sense of individuality, go for it but don't make it out to be a must or a necessity.
I would say that, IMHO, Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea became punk in 1954, when the Disney film inserted dystopian Cold War era themes about governments and atomic power, with Nemo's anti-imperialism as blatantly spelled out as in the original.

*scratches head*

Who here has read Jules Verne's stories?

His go to stories involved anarchs who pretty much such "fuck this place, I'm building my own culture because you guys are destroying yours.  And if I come back, you guys are in deep shit."

Here's two interesting articles on the subject:

Does Steampunk Have Politics?

(Nemo is a central subject of the first article)


Does Steampunk Have an Ideology?

(The last one I feel like applies equally to Dieselpunk.)


While the site is actually an anime site I thought it handled the subjects quite well. I'm in full agreement with the opinions of the writer of these articles.

Tome Wilson wrote:

"Who here has read Jules Verne's stories?

His go to stories involved anarchs who pretty much such "fuck this place, I'm building my own culture because you guys are destroying yours.  And if I come back, you guys are in deep shit.""


I´ve read several of his stories. I can´t think of any besides those starring Robur and Nemo that features such themes.

While I agree with you that the body of his work doesn't share the same themes throughout (who's does?), the "go to" stories that a lot of people in Steampunk gravitate to are the ones starring Nemo and Robur, and to a lesser extent the travelling protagonists of Face au drapeau, the mad scientists of Dr. Ox or La Chasse au météore, or the fantastic technologies that actually could be built today (La maison à vapeur).

I'll admit, I'm not a literary scholar and I don't know what Verne's real world political stance was, but there are some "punk" undertones that drive his most famous stories, and that's what a lot of steampunks latch on to.



Playing Devil's Advocate here.  I personally see *punk as an apolitical artistic aesthetic.

The politics article is interesting, Larry, but comes across little to pick-and-chose to prove or explain the point.  The author uses Nemo for a large part.  Take out Nemo and put in Lex Luthor or Namor the Sub-Mariner.  Both of these comic book characters hit many of the points being used for Nemo.  Does this mean that they are punk?  Is there politics and ideology in Steampunk/Dieselpunk?  Yes, but not because it is 'punk' it's because most anything in any artistic works has some kind of agenda and thus is political or ideological.  Trying to explain that "-punk" means anything more than suffix is pushing it.  It's a cool style, first and for most.  Anything more is someone's own personal agenda.

There's a new book coming out called The Steampunk Bible. It promises to be interesting. For the purpose of this discussion I want to point out that the article opens with a quote from Bruce Sterling, (co-author of The Difference Engine) in which he wrote in his essay "The User's Guide to Steampunk":

"Frankly, the heaviest guys in the Steampunk scene are not really all that into 'steam.' Instead, they are into punk. Specifically, punk's do-it-yourself aspects and its determination to take the means of production away from big, mind-deadening companies who want to package and sell shrink-wrapped cultural products."


I've included a link to an article on the book. An interesting point about the article is that it does mention "Dieselpunk."


I just found the entire essay by Sterling. I thought others might want to read it since it ties well here.



The essay, by the way, is enthusiastically endorsed by the one and only Jake Van Slatt:


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