The western world of humans is one fraught with inequalities. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” wrote Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence, signed July 4th, 1776. Repeatedly, our society as proven that despite these words having been adopted as our national doctrine of belief, we have not lived out this doctrine, even on a governmental level. In 1870 the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution stated that rights could not be denied, abridged, or removed by any government in the US “on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” It was not until 1920 with the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment that such rights were protected from discrimination on the basis of sex. In 1990, under the Americans with Disabilities Act, those with physical and mental disabilities gained similar protected status
Today, struggles to see equality are still present. There are powerful social movements to see sexual orientation, gender, and veteran status become protected statuses by law. These same movements are closely tied with movements to remove discrimination against minority races, females, and disabled persons that still exists despite federal law. Most of these movements have realized that such action cannot be undertaken by the government alone, but must be a change throughout society.
This brings me to the two articles we read for today’s class, and the link between them. The first was Diana M. Pho’s “Introduction: Going Global, or Re-Engineering Steampunk Fiction”, from the book Steampunk World, edited by Sarah Hans. To create a supreme oversimplification, this introduction serves as a herald’s trumpet to the massive variety of Steampunk stories held in this anthology, and helps to define the genre in another new way. The second article was Professor Calamity’s “My Machine, My Comrade” originally published in Steampunk Magazine, Issue #3. This is a plea from the good Professor for all those who read to help create a world in which the created things of the material world are treated with respect, and dignity.
The link between these two is actually more of a break, when it comes right down to it. The history of Steampunk given by Ms. Pho notes the importance of the term “punk.” Those of “punk” movements have a knee jerk reaction to defend those to whom society gives the short straw with anger and near hatred. This can be seen in many of the modern “punk” equality movements, in which the loudest of the group (though not the majority) will scream that those who do not belong to such a movement are lesser because they do not know their suffering. This is a common theme among many speculative fiction stories, in which the oppressed become the oppressors. Examples include males becoming a slave-class of “breeders”, whites becoming dependent on other races due to their inferior physical and psychological prowess, and the treatment of “heteros” as morally repugnant non-humans because of their choice to love only the opposite sex.
Compare these movements to the writings of Professor Calamity here in their plea for mechanical dignity. Such writings from a privileged status, in this case human, regarding an unprivileged status, machine, would be considered horrifying, condescending, and outright disrespectful if they were written about another group of humans. A heterosexual writer calling for dignity and respect for alternate sexual identities is more often told to “check his privilege” (read: “shut up”) rather than to continue his plea. This creates that break, or as it can properly be seen, a punk of punk. By reversing the knee-jerk reaction of “let the little guy get some,” it seems that Professor Calamity has introduced an interesting new twist in the history of Steampunk: fighting for true equality, rather than supremacy. This is an idea foreign to most westerners, which is probably why most of our “equality” movements tend to be at another group’s expense rather than seeking to raise the standard of living overall. I can only hope through authors like the good Professor, and the influence of the worldwide Steampunk movement, true equality, with dignity and respect for all, can at least be realized in art and fiction, so that it might be realized in the material world.