Full Steam Ahead

Steam-powered zero carbon water taxi

Having always been an odd boy, at different ages I sought identity among the punk enclaves where I lived.  In high school I was a theater punk.  I took strange roles in plays like Shakespearean clowns, Kabuki and one-acts by Ionesco and Beckett.  I was interesting, and never ever cool.  Then I joined the ranks of work punks in factories and retail.  That’s where you put in time at jobs you care nothing about so you’ll have something to spend in the off-hours where your real life is lived.  At Community College and University I was a film punk.

I moved west to reinvent myself, and went cyberpunk.  Twenty years rolled by in computer-assisted editing rooms and recording studios.  Now I live in alternate-universe-Portal Townsend.  I’m starting to go steampunk.  That’s a mashup between Victorian era design and technology, and a controlled attitude of rebellion.  It makes a lot of sense in this environment.  The ghosts of hippies escort dollymops to flash houses here.  We trim our whiskers to different degrees reflecting our social status.  We’re collapsing time, uniting the distant past and parallel futures.

Steampunk has been emerging sporadically in literature and films for some time.  The Victorian era science fiction works of Wells and Jules Verne have it, as do the films of Georges Melies.  Isembard Kingdom Brunel, an engineer far ahead of his time, built a steamship 700 feet long in the 1850s (!) as part of his vision for a transatlantic commuter route.

When you explore new inner and outer universes using machines based on clockwork (gears) and fluid hydraulics instead of electronics, that’s steampunk.  It’s a style half-dreamed and half-built.  It also infers sustainable technology, because even though the original steam engines of the Industrial Revolution were fired by coal or oil you can now run them on solar, wind, or by burning waste for a zero-carbon footprint.  I don’t know much about steampunk clothing styles or music yet, but now that I am more aware of the concept I’m looking and listening for it.

Last Saturday I dropped in on some of the programs presented at our 16th Annual Victorian Heritage Festival.  Where last year’s event was heavily weighted toward doilies and tea, this time there were manly attractions.  I learned about early bicycling, and enjoyed demonstrations of fencing and bare-knuckle pugilism (fisticuffs) while my wife and the dog attended a Temperance Meeting a few blocks away.

The combatants were mixed martial artists from Seattle, students of Tim Ruzicki, a former boxer who has been exploring this fighting form for a decade.  Unlike modern boxing, pugilism’s emphasis is upon putting an opponent off-balance.  Once you knock the other guy down by any means, the round is over and the point is yours.  Grappling around the waist and tripping is allowed.  In two centuries of bare-knuckle boxing, no one ever died in the ring.

Several of the presenters remarked about how the original Victorians liked to bring back crafts and recreations from times gone by, and put their own new twist upon it.  That’s what steampunks and neo-Victorians do now.

To me steampunk represents the production and expression of power created by pushing against solid restrictions and boundaries. I support reproductive rights and marriage equality, but I also like corsets.  Everyone lives in some sort of corset after all.  The goal is to control the tightness of your own lacing.

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23 Comments

Filed under Cinema, photos, Technology, Thinking about thinking

23 responses to “Full Steam Ahead

  1. Wonderful! And that penny-farthing is absolutely gorgeous! =D

  2. I’m glad you enjoyed it. That wonderful bicycle is from 1885! The man in the photo buys and restores them. There’s an oil headlamp hanging from the middle of the front wheel, and the shiny metal is nickel. They didn’t have chrome then.

  3. galenpearl

    Great photos! As a martial artist, I was especially interested in the pugilism. You lead an interesting life! How did Spice like it?

  4. Debbie Hampton, of http://www.thebestbrainpossible.com/ still can’t get her comments posted due to continued error messages produced by WP’s login requirements being glitchy. That didn’t use to happen, and it makes her nervous! (At least Galen Pearl got through.) Never fear. Here’s what she said:

    “I always learn something with your posts! Interesting. So, the old bike is called a “penny-farthing,” eh? Why, in the world, is the front wheel so dang big? (I betcha you will know!)”

    I do know, because the lecturer explained it. The term “Penny-Farthing” for these bikes originated in Britain, where the penny coin of the time was much bigger than the farthing coin. If you placed the two coins next to each other, it looked like one of the bicycles.

    The reason the front wheel was so big was part of the evolution of cycling. First, they were called hobby-horses, had no pedals, and you moved them forward with your own legs. The next step was to make a big front wheel to get a decent amount of speed. You drove the bike with your own leg power on the pedals. These vehicles were not considered appropriate for ladies to operate.

    It wasn’t until decades later some clever engineer figured out how to get the same speed using a CHAIN to drive the rear wheel. That made bikes much safer for all riders by putting them back closer to the ground, and the big-wheel bikes became extinct until recent folks began restoring them again. Women began to ride once bikes were chain-driven.

  5. I read your blog from my Iphone today and it showed up on my phone so amazing. The photos were awesome. You must be an expert blogger!!!! If this doesn’t make FRESHLY PRESSED I would be surprised.

    • I appreciate the compliment very much, Lady L, but if you look over the kind of stuff that gets picked for FP – I’m not it. I don’t do recipes, travel to exotic foreign locales to take pictures, or (usually) write about current or popular anything. I choose too many kinds of different subjects, and weird, odd stuff, because it’s what I like best. If it did happen, it might cause me to have a stroke! Still, I do think I’ve improved with practice, and that’s why I blog. That, and because people like you write to say they enjoy being here.

      • It’s wierd, but none of the blog on FP are ever anything I have an interest in reading! I prefer to read blogs that are about down to earth things and support causes, and read journals and true stories. Also a history and politics geek, depending on my mood. I am “rangy” too. Depending on my mood, I may or may not be interested in something. Thats why my blogs are all over the place. Looks like we both may be “rangy.” or have many different interests! Oh well, Blogging is alot of work. I also did not realize there was so much blogging etiquette. I am going to blog about blogging, ha ha…..

  6. I am a movie fanatic too: Love Mob movies every single one. I don’t know why the fascination with the mob….odd for a female. I also love Sci-Fi movies. Like “Underworld.” and I love movies where the women are tough, like Kill Bill etc. Love karate movies…also wierd for a female. Maybe I have too much testosterone! :)

    • Beats me on your testosterone level and its effect on your taste in films. I have women friends who share your preferences, though. I like those kinds of films too, primarily because they employ unusual kinds of lighting and photography, and inventive, creative sound effects. I sure don’t ordinarily watch them for the acting! The Kill Bill films were an exception. Some excellent performances there, especially from Uma, David, Mike Madsden and Lucy Liu. Casting Sonny Chiba as the sword maker was also a nice tribute. He’s been a god of Japanese martial arts movies since the ’70s.

  7. Quentin Tarantino films – LOVE THEM ALL! I have watched Resevoir Dogs about 20 times!
    Resevoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction all of them! You? Also literally watched all of the Godfather movies in a row. That is nuts. Spent a full day watching all of them! Al Pacino – Love ScarFace, Carlito’s way, Donnie Brasco. Love GoodFellas, seen it 20 times. The best of all, CASINO. Love Westerns: Any movie with Clint Eastwood!

    • Yes, I’ve seen all of those. I believe Tarantino has matured with experience. To me, “Inglorious Basterds” and his half of Grindhouse (“Death Proof”) are worlds beyond what he did with Reservoir Dogs. I found that effective, but highly derivative of earlier noir films.

      • “Inglorious Basterds” is one of the best films I have ever seen. One of my other favorites is “300″ or the 300? Just back back from seeing “Hunger Games.” Wonderful movie! Made me think alot about society, which is odd considering it is a fictional movie!

        • I look forward to seeing Hunger Games next week. Action + speculative fiction is a winning combo for me if done well, and it’s been getting good enough reviews.

  8. Wow, a whole new reality thread in the form of steampunks! It’s fascinating to see how the world is evolving in these times of environmental constraints. Yes, I agree the goal is to loosen up the lacing!

  9. I was thinkin’ maybe steampunk and Victoriana punk go together for ….1 day at that festival.

    I’m pretty narrow: it’s just bicyclingpunk (which has mutliple subcultures amongst roadies, chic stylists, fixies, recumbents, mountain bikers, etc.) –the more boring bike pro-culture (I’m not sure if there is bike counterculture as a cyclist.).

    • No matter what kind of culture of enthusiasts exists, I think there’s also a punk subculture within them. I’ve seen bike punks! Many of them are messengers in places like San Francisco or New York. Thanks, Jean.

  10. Pingback: Dream Engines | Invisible Mikey

  11. I love that tina Turner song and video. Takes me right back. So, does the word punk, then mean ‘an alternative or odd variation thereof of whatever word precedes it?’ Ive always been curious about punk ever since seeing and admiring the dudes who wore kilts with their leather and mohalks. But the concept eludes me. Your explanation of steam punk is the closest I have come to understanding it. The area you live in sure sounds like a cool place to be. p.s. humble thanks for clicking the likes

    • I sure wish I could leave comments as well, but there’s something buggy in current WP updates. I can only leave “likes”. I’m enjoying reading your work again, and I’m glad you came back on the scene.

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