Punk Correctness!

The mid 1990’s gave us the term political correctness, an attempt to treat people more fairly by making sure that the correct nondiscriminatory titles and descriptors were used, but the notion quickly devolved into a term of frustration as people pounced on each other for using incorrect terminology. Fast forward a couple of decades, use magic origami, and apply the concept to a certain slice of social media community and we present to you Punk Correctness! The new PC in which you must make sure that you get your retro-futurism labels correct. Is it Cyberpunk? Is this Dieselpunk? Steampunk? It can all be very confusing, but fortunately there are plenty of vigilant internet watchdogs eager to help point out your faux pas and let you know ALL your errors . . .


Whatever you do . . . DON’T cross the alternative history streams!

There are many social media forums devoted to various subgenres of retro-futurism, and on a daily basis there are people in each of them who feel that it is their duty to maintain punk correctness and segregate alt-history into the right channels. Typically these Guardians of the Punk are not the actual administrators of the forum, nor the major content producers for that brand of punk, but instead it tends to be humble internet users with little credential other than a keen skill of barking at other internet users.

As a fan of all alt-history and retro-futurism, it baffles me that there actually are many fans who hold vary degrees of animosity toward other forms of punk that fall outside of their favorite subgenre, but it happens, and the watchdogs are ready to snarl at anyone who comes anywhere near their time period scrapyard. A consistent number of fans are very protective of their punk and its purity; the thought of cross pollination is a nightmare to them to the point of xenophobia.


Cyberpunk Vs. Steampunk by iluxare (http://iluxare.deviantart.com)

The whole adding punk to the end of the moniker began in 1983 with Cyberpunk, a term coined by writer Bruce Bethke as the title of a short story. The year before that William Gibson gave us the term cyberspace, a portmanteau of cybernetics and space, and despite the fact that cyber has come to label things of the virtual and high tech world, the word cybernetics (coined by U.S. mathematician Norbert Wiener in 1948) desrcibes “a transdisciplinary approach for exploring regulatory systems, their structures, constraints, and possibilities.”

Four years after Bethke gave us cyberpunk, writer K W Jeter brought us the term steampunk in a 1987 letter to the magazine Locus, in response to a review of his book Infernal Devices: “Personally, I think Victorian fantasies are going to be the next big thing, as long as we can come up with a fitting collective term for Powers, Blaylock and myself. Something based on the appropriate technology of the era; like ‘steam-punks’, perhaps…” and thus the splintering of the punks began.

Blade Runner Billboard

Roads?! We don’t need . . . ah, maybe we still do . . .

Despite still being somewhat a prediction of the near future, Cyberpunk has taken on a paradoxical position of also being a form of retro-futurism given that the subgenre is 33-years-old (with label that is) and many of its predictions have fallen short in the same way as those of science fiction writers from the Victorian or Edwardian era. We are four years away from the setting of Blade Runner and we do not have flying cars or replicants, and despite having video chat, we are not using pubic vid-chat phones to call each other . . . all of this imagery has found its way into the realm of retro-futurism. This paradox is actually characteristic of post-modernism caught in a cultural loop where the past is constantly blocking the present from the future . . . Cyberpunk marks both the beginning and the end of the punk subgenre movement . . . it is the Alpha and the Omega!


The “Jetsons” 50’s and 60’s vision of the future.

On a pseudo timeline of alt-history Steampunk is the world that neverwas during and after the Victorian Era, but the subgenre tends to extend to 1918 and the end of the First World War, which was really the end of Victorianism and the violent birth of Modernism. The 1920’s, 1930’s, and 1940’s alt-history is labelled Dieselpunk, and then the retro-futurism of the 1950’s and 1960’s is called AtomPunk (there are also other labels for this period) with its shiny chrome finished vision of the future. The futurism of the 1970’s tends to fall into the Mod aesthetic and has yet to receive a widely accepted label, but perhaps this is because the cynical and dystopia science fiction of the time was sliding more toward Cyberpunk. The golden age of Cyberpunk was clearly the 1980’s and 1990’s with Blade Runner (1982) and The Matrix (1999) acting as prominent bookends to this period.


FairyPunk . . . for punks who like wings.

There are of course various other alt-history subgenres that have taken on the moniker of punk, such as ClockPunk, BioPunk, FairyPunk, and RococoPunk, much to the annoyance of the purist watchdogs who feel that the labelling of sub-subgenres has gotten out of hand . . . but at the heart of the matter is the question “why do you punk?”

Clearly the aesthetics vary, and people are attracted to different looks and temperaments of punk, but the common strand that binds all of them is non-conformity, a rebellion against the “mundane” and “muggle” expectations of society. For the more socially conservative this provides a nostalgia to “better times in the past,” but for many others, retro-futurism is not about escaping the present, but more about challenging it with a D.I.Y philosophy that rejects modern norms of mass consumption and mind-numbing media. Each in our own style is a form of anarchist, an anachronistic disruption, a folly into what can be versus what is.

This commonality provides a union between all the punk subgenres, picking fights with other fandoms is counter productive and causes us to lose sight of the real adversaries to our lifestyle choices . . . so let’s put punk correctness to rest . . . if you don’t like a punk post then just ignore it, if you can help then help, but please stop barking at anyone who might mix the punks and post on the “wrong” forum. The most ridiculous aspect of alt-history is those folks who basically argue that someone else’s make-believe is not as historically accurate as their make-believe . . . don’t be a dick, have fun with your punk and let others have fun as well.


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