Monday, October 19, 2009

Steampunking: Are Steampunk Westerns Non-Eurocentric? No

My friend Ay-Leen the Peacemaker is putting together a project called Beyond Victoriana, which will focus on examples of steampunk beyond the typical Eurocentric sampling at the moment, which is predominantly centered around England. Ay-Leen is also taking examples of North American steampunk, and people are citing Wild West / Weird West examples, such as Wild Wild West (TV show and movie).

I myself suggested some Japanese examples which could be counted as steampunk, although I have several reservations about them myself. Mainly because when I think non-Eurocentric, I keep this in mind:

"... By Europeans, we refer not only to Europe per se, but also to the "neo-Europeans" of the Americas, Australia, and elsewhere. ... The residual traces of centuries of axiomatic European domination inform the general culture, the everyday language, and the media, engendering a fictitious sense of the innate superiority of European-derived cultures and peoples."
(Ella Shohat / Robert Stam, Unthinking Eurocentrism, pg 1)

Somewhere on the next page:

"... [Eurocentric discourse] ... renders history as a sequence of empires: Pax Romana, Pax Hispanica, Pax Britannica, Pax Americana."

Which brings me to the question: are Wild West / Weird West examples really non-Eurocentric examples?

Geographically, this may well be the case since they're not in Europe.

However, if we take into account all parties involved - the Chinese labourers, the Native Americans, the black slaves, and the descendents of Europeans (neo-Europeans), the power dynamics indicate very strongly that no matter how geographically removed America is from Europe, the power dynamics remain rested in the hands of the neo-Europeans, which renders Wild West examples that do not prominantly feature visible minorities still Eurocentric.

(Which is also why even the Japanese steampunk examples I cite may be Eurocentric after all - they tend to be Japanese interpretations of the Western steampunk aesthetic. This doesn't make them non-Japanese steampunk examples - they were produced by Japanese people. As kaigou points out, these works are part of a body of literature by members of a specific group - in this case, Japanese (and thus, not European, nor even neo-European). So, it is Japanese steampunk. But does it mean they're non-Eurocentric? Question for another day!)

Of course, detractors will disagree with me and accuse me of messing with details. But the fact remains - Eurocentrism doesn't just mean geographically centered in Europe. Eurocentrism refers not just to geopolitical space, but also to narratives, culture, and discourse. Wild West / Weird West narratives which feature neo-European main characters, narratives and discourse are, thusly Eurocentric. However, it means that a Wild West narrative which features Native American / Aboriginal culture / discourse would be non-Eurocentric.

Hmmmm..... must seek such Native American appearances in steampunk media.

8 comments:

  1. The way I see it, technology has touched almost all of the different cultures in the world and all will have their different actual take on it and imaginative sci-fi (steampunk) response to it... Western Steampunk is definitely Eurocentric to me... they obviously communicated and transferred ideas often via the common English language from Europe to the US and vice versa - even if you look at the types of clothing worn by the Americans and Western Europeans around Victorian times, there are great similarities.

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  2. ... besides... with all those conspiracies of aliens and ufos visiting the Americas in the days prior to European invasion would be more than sufficient fodder for Steampunk themes with a strong Native American slant...

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  3. That kinda reminds me of that ST:VOY episode where Chakotay meets a group of aliens who basically taught the Native Americans all they knew, and they recognize his heritage by the tattoo on his face.

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  4. User lucv-cate is Creek. He does steampunk costuming and performance from that perspective. He's also a lot of fun in real life as well on the net.

    I tend to stick with writing what I know, which tends to be scraps of my own German-Irish family history with steampunk embellishments. The Asian and Native American stories are not mine to tell.

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  5. Yeah, and that's perfectly fine, too. That's what I like about steampunk - it really gives the potential for everyone to get back to their own roots and take joy in it, tell their own stories.

    Where can I find lucv-cate? He sounds interesting!

    Thanks for dropping in!

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  6. Sorry, that was Live journal user.

    http://lucv-cate.livejournal.com/profile

    I met him doing an alternative history track panel at Dragon*con.

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  7. Wish I had seen this, oh, a year ago! For Aboriginal steampunk, you can see The West Was Lost, a web comic, up at http://www.zeros2heroes.com/content/comic/view/id/808303.

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  8. Aahhh! I remember seeing this once! Thank you! I shall add it to my Silver Goggles reading list!

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