Monday, August 20, 2012

Cultural Appreciation, Cultural Appropriation, and Steampunk

Recommended reading (via the Silver Goggles "Read These BeforeEngaging" list):
"The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much." - Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness
This blog of mine was originally intended as a space within which I could explore the various facets of this thing called Steampunk, as I encountered and explored them. So far, I've written mostly short bits on the superficial aesthetic stuff - the clothes, the accessories, the events I've attended. The deeper stuff, however, I find more difficult to write about in the confines of a blog post, in part because of time constraints and in part because I'm used to having 20 - 40 pages (typed, double-spaced, plus bibliography and notes) to explore topics in depth.

One of my concerns when first delving into Steampunk was the perception that this was yet another racial project by mostly white people, reifying an era of the past that wasn't nearly as jolly as the people looking backwards seem to think it was. Fortunately, while there is certainly a large amount of uncritical Victoriana to be found, there is also a good bit of critical analysis going on as well. I found Jaymee Goh's Silver Goggles blog fairly early on, along with Ay-leen the Peacemaker's Beyond Victoriana. Now that I've spent some time reading and digesting, I'm feeling a little more confident in my own ability to critically examine my own hangups, blind spots, and problematic opinions.

As a white male, it would be all too easy just to go along with the whole neo-Victorian aesthetic, dress in khaki and pretend to be at least comfortably upper-class without really thinking about what I already know from my sophomore-level history survey classes - the entire Victorian system was built on the notions of colonialism and empire, and has deep roots in a systematic treatment of colonies (and the colonized people) as raw material for the industrialization that is almost fetishised within Steampunk. Problem is, I'm one of those who has trouble just turning off the frontal lobes and enjoying things mindlessly (unless I'm whacked out on cold medication). I resent the anti-intellectualism that got me labeled a "nerd" back when the term was still one of approbation rather than celebration. I believe, along with Socrates, that “The Unexamined Life is Not Worth Living.”

And so, with all this in mind, I'm trying to be very careful about my upcoming trip to SteamCon in Seattle. See, they have an event known as the Wayfarer's Brunch which is promoted as an opportunity for people to break out of a purely Western perspective on Steampunk, and celebrate "wonderfully colorful and diverse cultures" by donning "non-British steampunk ensembles" while having Sunday brunch. “How is this problematic?”, you may be asking yourself. After all, isn't this exactly the sort of thing I should be happy about, that there is recognition of a world beyond the borders of Great Britain, and even Europe as a whole within the alt-historical if not outright fantastical world of Steampunk?

More on that in a bit...

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Upcoming Events

Boy - once I got B. into a full outfit, things have taken off! She was initially a little reluctant about the convention scene, not having quite realized that I was already exposed and quite enthusiastic - but after last year's MileHiCon, she started to understand that we really do fit in with the SF/SP crowd, and that made getting her to AnomalyCon that much easier. And she really had a blast on the steam train ride at the Mensa AP, so now there seems to be no end in sight...

We spent much of last weekend ordering additional patterns, getting the sewing machine serviced, shopping for a second machine with embroidery features (a lower-end one for now while we save up for a pro-grade machine that can handle leather...), and getting tickets and reservations made for several events over the next few months. We're committing to MileHiCon (can't miss Cherie Priest as GoH!), then SteamCon the following weekend, then a break, then the Steampunk Cruise in March, followed by AnomlyCon the weekend after.

I've got a couple of new canvas waistcoats and a banded-collar "tux" shirt that will accept detachable collars - just need to remove a sleeve button and replace it with a buttonhole and I'll be ready to find some nice, steamy cufflinks. Shepler's down in the DTC carries the period stuff on the men's side, though the pants were not my size (will need to order online, I suspect - and/or make my own, once I learn to sew).

Gaiter Progress

The front seam worked out just about as well as the back seam, and the toe kick was less problematic than I'd feared (although some trimming turned out to be necessary). I've got pictures taken, but I need to upload them before I can do a full-on picture post.

The side that I expanded wound up needing a small dart put in so that it fits more smoothly, but the buckles are going on reasonably straight so far. These will definitely wind up looking like a Mark I project, so I'll need to get some additional leather and start designing the Mark II.