Mar 8, 2012
Alex Dally MacFarlane

Racism? In Steampunk? What a shocker!

At some point I want to write a proper piece about my issues with steampunk and the way it often ignores the incredibly complex, usually deeply horrendous realities of the 19th Century in favour of some kind of exotified London or Wild West with gears! and cogs! and steam! and not a whole lot of engagement with issues like sexism, imperialism, the attempted eradication of the Native peoples of North America, and so on.

But I’m really busy at the moment, so here’s a link to one specific thing that I saw today.

Steampunk Cthulhu – Submissions Needed.

Take a read of those anthology guidelines. Pay particular attention this line:

“they want to see Victorian globetrotting adventurers and wild technologies in the Wild West.”

1) Victorian. Globetrotting. Adventurers.

Well, that’s a new way of describing explorers who at best unintentionally – and at worst, and far more often, very intentionally – brought with them the forces of colonialism and imperialism to vast swathes of the world. Look, you cannot talk about the “romance” of exploration without talking about colonialism – they are far too tangled up to pretend otherwise.

2) The Wild West is this whole area of steampunk that I side-eye like whoa because do you know what was happening in the “frontiers” of North America in this era? Do you know about how the Native peoples of the continent were being systematically robbed of their lands and murdered? Wild West fiction seems to be about how these white people had all these exciting adventures in a big open landscape conveniently empty of Native peoples, and that’s fucking gross.

Steampunk has this awesome potential to tear apart the 19th Century and examine its dirty innards – and re-arrange them in new ways – but things like this remind me of why I don’t actually read much steampunk.


  • It may make you feel a little bit better to know that some of us who like a bit of SteamPunk agree with this entirely. There’s even a blog dedicated to hunting down and killing this kind of crap in the community–Silver Goggles:

    We’re a minority, but at least we exist :)

    • I’m actually aware of Silver Goggles already! =D Jaymee Goh is awesome. I love what she and other intelligent steampunk fans are doing. Unfortunately, the shit above just keeps coming back up.

  • Did you see this? It’s from 2010, but still brilliant. :)

    • I’ve either read that exact piece of one very like it, because I remember Monique talking about the difficult balance between identifiably Native American and respectfully Native American. She’s excellent.

      Whenever I do get around to writing a bigger piece about steampunk, I will definitely include a link to it – and to Jaymee Goh, Amal, and others talking about this. There are some awesome people talking about steampunk. I just get fed up whenever I see statements like the one quoted above shat out without any thought beyond WOO GEARS.

  • […] on the (in)separability of steampunk aesthetics and ethics, and have come down on both sides. Some dismiss steampunk outright as culturally elitist and politically impotent. This couple is a good example of how neo-Victorian […]

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