Imagining a Better Future by Re-imagining the Past

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Dieselpunk Lexicon Part 8: Diesel Era

In genre-punk (which Dieselpunk is a branch of) the prefix distinguishes one branch from another. For example, the 'cyber' prefix in Cyberpunk is a reference to the computer or web based technology. Whereas Steampunk, arguably the widely known of the anachronistic genre-punk branches, the 'steam' prefix is a euphemism for the culture, history, aesthetics and tropes that appeared around the beginning of the Victorian Era in 1831 through the La Belle Epoque, which ended at the start of World War 1 when steam technology was king.

Continuing then with the standard set by Steampunk, the prefix of 'diesel' in Dieselpunk is a euphemism for the culture, history, aesthetics and tropes of the time after the end of the Steam Era when internal combustion replace steam tech as the dominant technology. This post-Steam time period is often referred to in the Dieselpunk community as the 'Diesel Era' (Not to be confused with the respective eras in the locomotive tech.)

I don’t believe that there’s a hard line dividing the Steam Era and the Diesel Era. I believe that the Steam Era died a slow death in the blood and filth of the Great War. Then, like the mythological Phoenix, the Diesel Era arose from that same firestorm that consumed the Steam Era.

World War 1 Dieselpunk
The world was very different when the dust settled at the end of World War 1. The war saw the end of the great empires of Continental Europe as well as the Ottoman Empire of the Middle East. It also saw the exit of Russia from the international scene and the entrance of the US. After the war the US filled the vacuum left by the rubble of the European cities and economies being that the American infrastructure was untouched by the conflict. This moved the locus of world economic power, and hence world culture, from Europe to America.

When did the Diesel Era end? There’s no consensus among Dieselpunks on this. Some place the end in the atomic fires of Hiroshima. Others place it at the launch of Sputnik. I place the end of the Diesel Era as dying a slow death during the Korean War, which began in 1950 and ended in 1954. The Diesel Era had died completely, in my opinion, by the end of the war.

World War 2 or Possibly Korean War Dieselpunk

Saturday, December 31, 2016

New Years: 1928 & 2017

With this being the New Year holiday, I’m taking a break from the series on the Dieselpunk Lexicon. I’ll return to the Lexicon in my next post.

2017 promises to be an important year in the world affairs. Since as dieselpunks we look to the past to better understand the future, I thought I would look back on another major year in world history: 1928.

The year 1928 was one of those years that at the time seemed mundane but was actually important in that we saw events and trends that would dramatically change the world as well as some that strike some hauntingly similar trends today.

In the area of science and technology there were great advances. Following are a few:

Jan 1 1st US air-conditioned office building opens, San Antonio
Jan 13 RCA and GE install three test television sets in homes in Schenectady, New York allowing American inventor E.F.W. Alexanderson to demonstrate the first home television receiver which delivered a poor and unsteady 1.5 square inch picture
Feb 3 Paleoanthropologist Davidson Black reports his findings on the ancient human fossils found at Zhoukoudian, China in the journal Nature and declares them to be a new species he names 'Sinanthropus pekinensis' (now known as 'Homo erectus')
Feb 8 1st transatlantic TV image received, Hartsdale, NY
Jun 18 American aviator Amelia Earhart becomes the 1st woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean landing at Burry Port, Wales
Jul 2 The Jenkins Television Corporation (owned by Charles Jenkins) goes on air with W3XK, the first television broadcasting station in the USA
Jul 3 1st color TV broadcast in London
Jul 6 1st all-talking motion picture shown in NY (Lights of NY)
Jul 12 1st televised tennis match
Jul 30 George Eastman shows 1st color motion pictures (US)
Sep 15 Scottish bacteriologist Alexander Fleming discovers penicillin while studying influenza
Oct 15 German dirigible "Graf Zeppelin" lands in Lakehurst, NJ
Nov 18, Steamboat Willie was released
All year throughout the world radio stations popped up like dandelions after a rainstorm.

However, while science and technology advanced, the world political scene was dark and was getting darker.

Mar 15 Benito Mussolini modifies Italy electoral system (abolishes right to choose)
Apr 19 Japanese troops occupies Sjantung-schiereiland
May 12 Benito Mussolini ends women's rights in Italy
Oct 1 USSR launches its first 5-year plan
On Nov 6, Herbert Hoover was reelected to a second term. With the strong economy, the Republicans gained a strong majority in both the Senate and the House.

On this last note: It’s important to remember that less than a year after Hoover was reelected and the Republicans increased their majority in Congress, the US Stock Market crashed and the worst economic crisis of the modern world began.

Here’s wishing all of us a prosperous and joyous 2017!

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Dieselpunk Lexicon Part 7: Dark Cabaret

According to Wikipedia:
Dark cabaret may be a simple description of the theme and mood of a cabaret performance, but more recently has come to define a particular musical genre which draws on the aesthetics of the decadent, risqué German Weimar-era cabarets, burlesque and vaudeville shows with the stylings of post-1970s goth and punk music.

The above definition contains all of the elements of Dieselpunk music in that it combines decodence ("aesthetics of the decadent, risqué German Weimar-era cabarets, burlesque and vaudeville shows") with modern sensibilities ("stylings of post-1970s goth and punk music"). The term ‘Dark Cabaret’ first appeared in 2005 with the album titled Projeckt Presents: The Dark Cabaret. The term has since grown in popularity as several band have adopted the label.

An alternative term is 'Brechtian punk cabaret', which was coined in 2003 by Amanda Palmer of the dieselpunk band The Dresden Dolls.

Some popular Dark Cabaret bands and artists are:

The Dresden Dolls


Tiger Lillies

Emilie Autumn


Hannah Fury

Vermillion Lies 

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Dieselpunk Lexicon Part 6: Decodence

At the end of a movie your date says to you, "That movie reminded me of a Film Noir." The protagonist in the novel you're reading talks like Sam Spade even though it’s set in the 21st century. The art found in a comic book, although it’s set in the far future, resembles New York of the Roaring Twenties. Although the television show you’re watching is set in the 1940s it’s has robots and rocket ships. You’re buying groceries and the gentlemen in line in front of you talking on his Bluetooth is wearing a double-breasted suit and a fedora. You learn that this year’s production of Richard III at Shakespeare in the Park is set in the 1930s.

Decodence is a portmanteau of the words 'deco' and 'decadence'. It’s when the essence of the 1920s - 40s, either implied or explicit, is present. Decodence can be explicit when a movie is set in the Diesel Era. Or it can be implied when Diesel Era tropes appear outside of that time period. Decodence can be found not only in works of fiction but also in industrial design, fashion, architecture, and interior design. Modern decodence infused creations are often labeled 'retro' or 'vintage.'
Dieselpunk Movie Richard III (1995) Explicit Decodence
Dieselpunk Movie Batman (1989) Implied Decodence
Dieselpunk Marketing, Speakeasy Metropolis Lager, Implied Decodence
Dieselpunk Industrial Design, Rolls Royce Jonckheere Aerodynamic Coupe ll, Implied Decodence

Dieselpunk Fashion, Ralph Lauren 2012, Implied Decodence

I highly recommend the blog post by the Dieselpunk Founding Father Nick Ottens titled ‘Decodence.’

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Dieselpunk Lexicon Part 5: Lovecraftian

“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents.” - H.P. Lovecraft, The Call of Cthulhu

A dark, ominous sense of dread. An ancient book with bizarre drawings and script. What’s this passage behind the walls? A staircase that travels down deep into the bowels of the earth. Something alien lurks in the darkness. Ancient and evil. A descent into madness.

Lovecraftian refers to a genre of fiction credited to H.P. Lovecraft during the 1920s and 30s. Rather than focusing of gore and shock, Lovecraftian horror focuses on a world-view called ‘cosmicism’ in which everyday life is believed to be just a veneer over a meaningless and alien reality that if fully revealed would drive a person insane.
H.P. Lovecraft

Some of the most common tropes of Lovecraftian horror are:

Great Old Ones - The beings first appeared in Lovecraft’s novella ‘The Shadow Over Innsmouth’ (1931) but were already hinted at in the early short story ‘Dagon.’

Cthulhu - Cthulhu is in many ways a personification of the extreme nihilist vision of cosmicism. Cthulhu was first introduced in his short story The Call of Cthulhu published in the pulp magazine Weird Tales in 1928. In the story he described it as ‘A monster of vaguely anthropoid outline, but with an octopus- like head whose face was a mass of feelers, a scaly, rubbery-looking body, prodigious claws on hind and fore feet, and long, narrow wings behind.’

Necronomicon - A fictional grimoire capable of awakening Cthulhu and bringing the apocalypse. It was first mentioned in Lovecraft’s 1924 short story ‘The Hound’, written in 1922. Though its purported author, the ‘Mad Arab’ Abdul Alhazred, had been quoted a year earlier in Lovecraft’s ‘The Nameless City’.

I highly recommend HP Lovecraft: The Mysterious Man Behind the Darkness by Charlotte Montague.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Dieselpunk Lexicon Part 4: Retrofuturism

The term 'retrofuturism' was coined by T.R. Hinchcliffe for his book Retro-Futurism, published in 1967  by Penguin Press. In 1983, avant-garde artist Lloyd John Dunn resurrected the term and published a magazine by the same name dedicated to Xerox Art that ran from 1987 to 1993.

Elizabeth Guffey and Kate C. Lemay in their article "Retrofuturism and Steampunk" published in the Oxford Handbook of Science Fiction, provides a good definition of retrofututism. They wrote, "Retrofuturism can be defined as an ambivalent fascination for a future that never came to pass. But, by engaging the popular strain of Futurism that thrived from the later nineteenth century through the 1970s, the term usually applied to an array of pop-culture ephemera from the early to mid-twentieth century, from robot toys to shark finned hovercrafts, pulp magazine covers to architectural utopias."

Pawel Frelik wrote in his essay "The Future of the Past: Science Fiction, Retro, and Retrofuturism", published in the Parabolas of Science Fiction, "The prefix "retro" may be used very liberally nowadays, but for the purpose of discussion I understand retrofuturism, or science fictional retroism, as a practice that specifically exploits the tensions between ideas about the future from our historical past - either actual predictions or fictions in time - and notions of futurity expressed in contemporary narratives." He goes on to write, "Retrofuturism, I suggest, refers to the text's vision of the future, which comes across as anachronistic in relation to contemporary ways of imagining it."

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow as well as Blade Runner, both mentioned by Frelik in his essay, are certainly examples of Dieselpunk Retrofuturism. However, neither Pan's Labyrinth nor Raiders of the Lost Ark, both Dieselpunk movies, are retrofuturist for they both lack a "vision of the future".

Dieselpunk Movie "Blade Runner": Retrofuturism

Dieselpunk Movie "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow": Retrofuturism

A good rule of thumb is that all diesel-era style or themed retrofuturism is Dieselpunk but not all Dieselpunk is diesel-era style or themed retrofuturism.

Dieselpunk Movie "Pan's Labyrinth": Not Retrofuturism

Dieselpunk Movie "Raiders of the Lost Ark": Not Retrofututism

I highly recommend Pawel Frekik's essay "The Future of the Past: Science Fiction, Retro, and Retrofuturism" published in the Parabolas of Science Fiction.

Click here to hear a spirited discussion about Dieselpunk and retrofuturism.

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.