Imagining a Better Future by Re-imagining the Past

Monday, October 24, 2016

Dieselpunk Lexicon Part 3: Neo-Noir

A private investigator walks down a dark alley. It may be 1946 or 2016. The year doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is the sense of helplessness and alienation that hangs in the air. Dread and passion co-exists. Memories of a pretty face filled with desperation.

Neo-Noir is the modern day heir to the classic noir of the 1940s and 50s. While Neo-Noir may not use the same cinematography as Film Noir, with its heavy emphasis on German Expressionism, it does contains the same sense of alienation, hopelessness moral ambiguity and desperation found in Film Noir while adding postmodern angst and often an existential search for meaning while living in a meaningless world.

Examples of Neo-Noir are:
L.A. Confidential

Blade Runner

Body Heat

Sin City

A great book on Neo-Noir is ‘The Philosophy of Neo-Noir’ edited by Mark T. Conrad.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Dieselpunk Lexicon Part 2: Manhattanism

People packed into urban spaces like sardines, living on top of each other. Life is as much vertical as it is horizontal. Skyscrapers seem to literally reach for the sky. Glass, steel and asphalt has chased away Mother Nature.The city is alive with it’s own heartless soul that never sleeps. The city no longer just a city. It’s become The City.

This extreme vision is known as ‘Manhattanism’, which was a term coined in 1978 by the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas. In his book, Delirious New York, Koolhaas wrote, "Manhattanism is the one urbanistic ideology that has fed, from its conception, on the splendors and miseries of the metropolitan condition—hyper-density—without once losing faith in it as the basis for a desirable modern culture. Manhattan’s architecture is a paradigm for the exploitation of congestion."

Manhattanism is a theme that appears in a lot of Dieselpunk creations. The most famous being the proto-Dieselpunk movie 'Metropolis', which became the theme for so many Dieselpunk cities.

Metropolis (movie), 1927

Hugh Ferriss, The Metropolis of Tomorrow (book), 1929

Just Imagine (movie), 1930

Batman (movie), 1989
New Cap City from Caprica (television), 2010

Metropolis in DC Comics
Click here for an interesting online article about Manhattanism, Star Wars and Metropolis.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Dieselpunk Lexicon: Part 1 Alternate History

This is the first of a series exploring some of the core dieselpunk concepts.

What if Hitler had died in the gas attack on his trenches of World War 1? What if FDR had died from polio, like so many did at the time, rather than lived? What if Lord Halifax had not stepped down and had signed a peace treaty with Hitler?

Alternate history, also known as counterfactual history, are common in the dieselpunk genre.

According to Jeremy Black and Donald M. MacRaild, in their book Studying History, counterfactual history is, "at the very root, the idea of conjecturing on what did not happen, or what might have happened, in order to understand what did happen."

Dieselpunk novel "Man in the High Castle" written by Philip K Dick, now an series on Amazon Prime
Sometimes the world resulting from counterfactual history are very similar to ours while others are dramatically different. According to William R Forstchen, in his introduction to the classic If the Allies Had Fallen the counterfactual timeline that creates an alternative world (known as a ‘uchronia’), "enables us to seriously contemplates how, at times, the decision of but one person can change the world, impacting our lives for the better or worse - if indeed we would have a world at all."

Click here for an interesting blog dedicated to counterfactual history.

Click here for an online list of novels based on counterfactual history

Click here for the web site of the The Sidewise Awards for Alternate History, which awards the best counterfactual history

Do you want to write a counterfactual history story? Here’s a good article on what to avoid

Sunday, September 4, 2016

A Change of Focus - Continued

In my last blog post I wrote about how my wife had inspired me to rethink the central focus of Dieselpunk from changing the past to changing the present and hence the future. In keeping with this reorientation, I’ve decided to make some changes to my blog.

Previously I had in my heading the following: “Celebrating All Things Dieselpunk”. While I still plan on do so here, I thought that heading needed to be updated for my new focus. So it now reads, “Imagining a Better Future by Re-imagining the Past.”

In addition, I’ve rewritten my statement “What is Dieselpunk?” from “Dieselpunk is a subculture and style that combines the zeitgeist of the 1920s through the 1940s with postmodern sensibilities”. It now reads, “Dieselpunk is a mashup of modern ideas with the style and spirit of the 1920s through the early 1950s. The goal is to combine the zeitgeist of the past with today's ideas in order to build a better tomorrow.”

Rolls Royce Jonckheere Aerodynamic Coupe ll concept by Ugur Sahin Design

Sunday, August 21, 2016

A Change of Focus - An Important Post

“Life is divided into three terms – that which was, which is, and which will be. Let us learn from the past to profit by the present, and from the present, to live better in the future.” – William Wordsworth, poet

A few months ago my fiancĂ©e, now my wife, was spending some time with her daughter. During their conversation the subject of my involvement in Dieselpunk arose. My future wife described Dieselpunk to her daughter as “modern ideas combined with the styles of the 1920s through 1940s”. I’ve been intrigued by this description ever since she told me about it. To explain why, I need to start with a review of the various definitions of Dieselpunk.

Here on my blog I define Dieselpunk as a ‘a subculture and style that combines the zeitgeist of the 1920s through the 1940s with postmodern sensibilities’. My good friend John Pyka, Big Daddy Cool, defines it as ‘retrofuturism of the 1920s through 40s’. Tome Wilson, one of the Founding Fathers of Dieselpunk, defines it as, ‘an art style that blends the spirit of the 1920s - 1950s with contemporary technology and attitude’.

All of these standard definitions have one thing in common. They all place the Diesel Era as the center and today as being the modifier.

My wife though turned the focus of Dieselpunk on its head. Rather than placing the center of the genre on the past, what if we make today the center. The more I think about this idea the more excited I get about its implications.

One implication is that it acknowledges how good the times are right now in so much of the world. I have friends who say that they think my love of Dieselpunk means I would prefer to live during the Diesel Era. They’re so wrong.

I have no interest in giving up the technology of today. When it’s 100f outside why would I want to give up air conditioning? My wife and I recently had dental work done. Would I prefer to have Diesel Era dentistry over modern? Nope, nope, nope.
Hell no
This goes far beyond modern material conditions. I like the direction our society is going in the way of values. I have no interest in going back to the racism and sexism of the Diesel Era. I like the fact that the US has an African-American for President. I like the fact that women now lead both the UK and Germany and that a major US political party has nominated a woman to run for President. I like that equal marriage is now the law of the land in the US, UK and many other countries.

Those are just a few of the things good about today. There is so much more that I barely scratched the surface. However, with all of the goodness of today there’s so much goodness that has been lost.

In my opinion, and I suspect for most of my readers, much of the fashion of the Diesel Era was far better than that of today. That quickly becomes evident when a Dieselpunk goes out in public. It’s not uncommon for me to be complimented by a stranger on how “dapper” I look. Men stop me and ask where I bought my fedora or my black-white wingtips. I find it interesting when I receive these questions from men standing there wearing the ‘National Uniform’ (i.e. t-shirt, baseball cap, cargo pants, and either tennis shoes or flips-flops).

We’ve also lost an aesthetic to industrial design that existed during the Diesel Era that added value and character to the product. We’ve lost the magic of radio where the mind painted the picture rather than spoon feed it by a television screen.

Most importantly we’ve lost a progressive faith in humanity that believed that through human effort we could make the world a better place. New technologies such as the airplane, cars, diesel locomotives and more, that improved the world were appearing. Though severely flawed, Prohibition was conceived on the notion that through the law social ills resulting from alcoholism such as domestic abuse and poverty could be solved. The New Deal was based on the idea that the economic disaster of the Great Depression was human made and therefore human effort, rather than waiting on market forces and business cycles, could raise the nation up. The Greatest Generation stormed the beaches of Normandy and the Pacific Islands in the faith that their sacrifices could save the world from evil.
The Spirit of the Diesel Era

The most important implication of my wife’s definition is an acknowledgment that the past is dead and cannot be changed. However, we can do our part to change today and, most importantly, be a positive influence for the future.

We can read ‘What If?’ stories in which Hitler was executed rather than imprisoned after the Beer Hall Putsch, thereby preventing the Holocaust. But we can’t go back in time and make it real. Yet we can help prevent future fascists by reminding the world that Hitler was democratically elected by desperate and angry people such as today. We can remind the world that the Conservatives thought that they could control Hitler. We can remind the world how the Holocaust began by first labeling people, which started Germany down the path of slaughtering people on a historic scale.

We can imagine a Diesel Era with Art Deco rockets, flying Packards, and chrome grilled robots. But the truth is that these never existed and we can’t change that fact. However, we can put influence on manufacturers to build our cars, computers, televisions and other technology with the same good taste of aesthetics as the Interbellum period that added class and value. That bland, dull screen that you’re reading this blog post on doesn’t to be like that. We should expect and demand better.

We can illustrate women with gorgeous gowns and men in fedoras and sharp three-piece suits as though those styles never went out of fashion. But they did go out of fashion. However, we can put market pressure on retailers by shopping, either online or in brick and mortar shops, those few sources that sale the styles of the Diesel Era. Then we can encourage others by setting an example through the wearing of the best of vintage clothes with the best of today’s fashion.

Applying classic taste to modern fashion

We should still reimagine the past because that’s an important element of Dieselpunk and that’s one of its strengths. However, let’s make the goal of reimagining the past to be to reimagine a better today and a better tomorrow.

I encourage my readers to join me in the Forum on to discuss this exciting new vision of Dieselpunk.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Olympics – A Dark Diesel Era Legacy

As I write this the XXXI Olympiad is taking place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. What many don’t know is that while the modern Olympics date back to 1896 their current form with all of the pomp and ceremony along with the ever increasing grandiosity dates back to the infamous 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany.

For a limited time, you can watch free online the PBS production The Nazi Games – Berlin 1936. I highly recommend it.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Dieselpunk on Facebook

While there seems to be less dieselpunk presence in the form of web sites there seems to be nice growth in the number of dieselpunk Facebook pages.

Dieselpunk HQ

Dieselpunk Gallery

(The Facebook page for

Dieselpunks After Dark
(The PG-13 Facebook page for the adult site Dieselpunk After Dark.)

Dieselpunk Brazil

Diesel Powered Podcast
(The Facebook page for the Diesel Powered Podcast)

Dieselpunk (Public Group)

Boss Larry
(My fan page)