Something about Dylan Fox’s rebuttal to Parliament & Wake‘s op-ed about why steampunk matters even if it isn’t revolutionary (I wrote my own thoughts about it here last week), got me thinking about what, if anything, makes steampunk uniquely qualified to be a vehicle for “change.”
According to Fox, “The real power steampunk has is to convince people [to] go away and educate themselves.” Why, I wondered? Well, he explains,
because so much of it is about the joy of exploration, of “the path untraveled.” When you start your steampunk roleplay or novel or whatever, you have two choices: senseless ego-masturbation; or actually learning something. You can take what you think you know about the world and make it up from there, or you can go out there and find out what the world is actually like. Nothing worth a damn has ever been created by doing the former. Do you want your creation to be worth a damn?
His language is pretty strong and his premise (“The world as we’ve been taught it — society, history, race, gender, everything — is bullshit designed to ensure those with power keep it and those without power are gratefully subservient to those who do have it.”), I think, utterly misguided, but in his opinion lays the crux: the activists want steampunk to be “worth a damn.”
The rest of us, we’re colonizing the past just to have fun.
From a political perspective, steampunk, to us, isn’t any different from Star Trek. We can derive inspiration from either but we don’t regard them as political statements on their merits.
If you do, though, you have to explain what makes your genre special. In this sense, Dylan’s talk about the “joy of exploration” does seem a little weak. The sentiment isn’t unique to steampunk. I conclude that steampunk indeed isn’t any different from most genres or cultures on a theoretical level but maybe someone can tell me what absolutely makes steampunk stand out — and thus justifies it being labeled as a movement for “change.”
Whatever that is.