Monday, November 1, 2010

Anti-Steampunk bias rears it head at NPR!



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 Dieselpunks.org 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.

12 comments:

B. L. said...

What a ridiculous amount of bullwark and trash! Steampunk is due its share of flak from people outside of the genre who think it's all ridiculous pop culture. But they should at least be fair of their critical slander; we are each entitled to our own opinions, and much like arseholes, some of them reek. But the act of spewing vitriol at people because you can't be troubled to give it a chance to be what it is? That's just sad.

G said...

Could not agree more with Eben Mishkin's comments, especially,
"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".
Society has broken down so much it makes me despair for our future.

Logan said...

Hello? NPR? Nothing good ever comes from NPR.

Ramon Leon del Mar said...

Thank you for taking the time and thought to produce something intelligent and worth sharing in response to it's exact opposite. The best revenge is always to live well, and make sure the others see you do it!

http://artofsteampunk.blogspot.com/

John said...

I read Stross' commentary on Friday, and it reminded me more than anything else of the SF authors who rant about Star Wars, and of course Moorcock (I think it was) blasting the work of Tolkien as "House on Pooh Corner with a fantasy skin."

It seems to me that the most appropriate reaction to all such screeds, is to affect the most posh accent you can muster and say, "Bite me, it's fun."

-The Gneech

RF said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
RF said...

@ B.L. - I had the impression that he had a deadline to meet, and he figured a commentary on a well worn trope ("I hate Steampunk") would go unnoticed. However a few people did pay attention.

@ G - I would say there is always hope for good manners and character to make a return, though Mr. Sutherland may find the trip to be a tad less pleasant based on his work's tenor.

@ Logan - Eh, a good number of associates would agree with you completely!

@ Mr. del Mar - Thank you very much for comment and the kind compliment, sir

(Had to delete the previous comment - I didn't proof read for spelling and grammar!)

Rob Taylor said...

Wait .. you're telling me an organization that doesn't need to compete for money because it's supported by donations from rich people and the government don't hire the highest caliber people and have no problem slandering groups they know won't donate if it suits them?

Truly shocking.

For what it's worth I'm not Steampunk (though I am a fan of all things Victorian) but I thought the piece was a hatchet job but of course the Village Voice's Steven Thrasher once implied I was a Nazi even after we had an hour long discussion about me being Bi-racial. Welcome to how everyone in the world is treated by their "betters" in the media.

Rhianon Jameson said...

Another excellent reason not to spend taxpayer dollars on National People's Radio. :)

It does seem to be an under-researched, under-thought piece.

RF said...

@ Mr. Taylor - More and more people do wonder why NPR still obtains an allowance from the Federal government, and if the current sentiment towards them carries, their purse strings may be cut sooner than later. Additionally, quite sorry to hear the Village Voice's accusations - I suppose that NPR does not have a monopoly on "journalist excellence".

@ the lovely Miss Jameson - I concur, it seems rushed and his single reference to an "NPR Steampunk" article seemed a bit lazy. Prior to his article, I found (Googled) at least four other "NPR Steampunk" articles, including one from Mr. Von Slatt, but he decided to use one with less of a community focus. Again, I agree, a rush job on this fellow's part.

nofixedstars said...

it's always mysterious to me why people might prefer the mass-market, big business beholden mainstream media to national public radio or public television. these "alternative" media sources are not elitist, not supported solely by "the rich", and the relatively small funding they get from the government seems not to have compromised their reporting principles, which is in stark contrast to the morass of biased and bastardized--not to mention occasionally manipulated-- sound bytes that pass for information /news from the major networks. having said that, no institution is free from error, and even the best institution can have a few less than stellar employees, or a decent employee who was having an off day or was misinformed or biased.
yet, as a person who likes steampunk tremendously, and has found the more beautiful productions and more thoughtful musings from its realm to be the perfect antidote to a harried, throw-away modern culture, it is disappointing to see the piece in question; it did seem like a poorly developed bit of writing, and rather pettish, if i may use a somewhat dated word. any genre will have its spectrum of quality, and the genre as a whole should, i think, be judged on the basis of its best exemplars rather than its worst. which is how i feel about NPR as well...

Ralph said...

Bah. The moment anyone comments upon "social justice," his voice turns in my ears to the whining noise of an attendant housefly. Social justice is the blather of over-educated dullards, man-children fresh out of the womb of university life and gormless as babies to the real world. A man obsessed with "social justice" in art has no intellect to invest either in art OR in actual justice... another fool disgruntled that Shakespeare has insufficient minorities in his cast, or that Pride and Prejudice doesn't come in an ebonics translation for the african-american children of the ghetto to read (must pander down to the poor benighted dears, don't you know.)