Anti-Steampunk bias rears it head at NPR!

Posted by 1st November 2010

The Steampunk Empire’s Miss Moniquill brought an article to the forefront from the National Public Radio (NPR) blog, in which one of their in-house reporters, a Mr. J.J. Sutherland, decided to write an article critical of Steampunk.  Such pieces are not unusual, and as the genre grows, criticisms of Steampunk will begin to emerge, and are important to aspects which may be of question in the continued development of the genre.  Though some demonstrate valid and well-thought out arguments about Steampunk shortcomings, others showing a lack of effort research (and frankly showing signs of just being hacked together before a deadline).  This piece smells of an individual who was late to meet a deadline.

The fellow seems to believe that Steampunk, has failed to provide some sort of “social justice” in some manner, then refers the reader an article by a Mr. Charles Stross, who apparently did at least attempt to make an effort to develop a background for his own critical piece about Steampunk. Aside from the snarky-ness tone of the piece, there were a number of contentions, which I noticed and others pointed out.  Some of which caught my eye were…

a) Mr. AetherPowers intersting comment about Sturgon’s Law (on Steampunk Empire)…
aka, “Ninty percent of every thing is crud”, when referring to the throngs of fiction writers jumping on the Steampunk bandwagon.  To quote him directly…

“I repeat Sturgeon’s Revelation, which was wrung out of me after twenty years of wearying defense of science fiction against attacks of people who used the worst examples of the field for ammunition, and whose conclusion was that ninety percent of SF is crud.
Using the same standards that categorize 90% of science fiction as trash, crud, or crap, it can be argued that 90% of film, literature, consumer goods, etc. are crap. In other words, the claim (or fact) that 90% of science fiction is crap is ultimately uninformative, because science fiction conforms to the same trends of quality as all other artforms.”

This would also apply to Steampunk fiction, expounded by a commentary by SL own Mr. Edward Pearse (about four comments below Mr. Power’s comment)

b) Eben Mishkin commented (on the NPR blog)..
– I hate to give a critique of you just don’t get it, but by your own definitions you do not. Steampunk is romanticized, it is not supposed to be historically accurate. The Difference Engine, doesn’t even take place in our reality but a divergent time line. Mr. Stross is trying to apply history to a genre that is about modernity. All of the punk genres are about the time they are written in, not the ones they depict. Steampunk is about here and mow. We can have beautiful luxuries, enjoy wonders from afar, go anywhere and yet in large part we do not. We dress shabbily, speak without erudition, and our possessions are expected to break down. Steampunk is a solution to and metaphor for those problems: dress nicely, speak beautifully, recycle, and make your possessions heirloom quality. The conflicts of the fiction are our own problems (thus zombies). Our culture feels in decline. We are aware our good fortune is due to the misfortune of others. Etc. The single mother factory worker losing her job is applicable because that is our world. The child mangling his fingers on a loom is a metaphor for a different culture than ours. It isn’t that it doesn’t happen. It just isn’t Steampunk because it isn’t about us.  Quite an erudite commentary, imo!

c) Mr. Douglas P. also commented (on the NPR blog)…

– “Offensively ahistorical?” On what planet does he live? It’s SUPPOSED to be ahistorical! That’s the whole point. It’s fantasy, not history. If you want to dig down into the nitty-gritty disenfranchisement, dark exploitation, and mass class discrimination you can do so. That’s an historical point of view. Go for it.  But don’t try to criticize a fantasy for not being accurate. Is he going to criticize Artemis Fowl because fairies aren’t real? How about H. G. Wells because Martians don’t exist? Why doesn’t he go off on Pride and Prejudice because it’s a glorified indictment of an upper class that was built on the backs of slavery and indenturement?  There’s plenty of bad art to criticize in the world, but there’s no reason to criticize something you aren’t forced to participate in for not being what you want it to be.

d) And a special “pithy statement” thanks to Mr. Jason Sparks for his classic line, “This is one of the worst thought out articles I’ve ever had the displeasure of stabbing my eyes with…”  I concur, sir.

Yet another hatchet job – courtesy from NPR this time!

There are other works which provide insightfully thought out debates on the Steampunk genre and are a pleasure to read, such as the thread titled “The Fallacy of Steampunk as a Genre” on the website.  Certainly one of the better criticisms about Steampunk – with constructive suggestions as well.

It’s always a tad uncomfortable to read criticisms of something that you many enjoy, There are those persons (griefers) with “Internet Bravado” (or whatever term one might use), who are willing to antagonize a debate for “lulz”, “props”, or for whatever reasons.  However, if one is going to write for a nationally promulgated news source, at the very least, do your research.


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