A Steampunk Guide to Punching Hitler
Some musings on steampunk etiquette while traveling on the information superhighway
Monday, October 5, 2020
Recently, I shared a picture of Hitler being punched in the face by a steampunk superhero of colour. It was, I thought, a cool image, and imagined it to be a given that superheroes and steampunk were cool and Hitler was not cool. That is the sort of objective truth we all share, along with water being wet, the Earth not being flat, and Piers Morgan being quite annoying.
But in 2020, it seems there is nothing we can’t argue about. There were so many comments. Angry comments. Angry comments at a picture of HITLER BEING PUNCHED IN THE FACE. I really can’t stress that enough. Hitler. In 2020. Surely, something must be done.
An exhausting and depressing hour later, I switched off my screen and turned my brain back on. My head was whirling with points, counterpoints and Hitler’s face being repeatedly punched by various steampunk heroes. I wondered what to do.
Arguing on the internet is like trying to wrestle an oak tree. You rarely come out of it all that well and oak tree is still standing at the end. So here are a few suggestions about what you can do when faced with this sort of thing. To keep it steampunk, let’s treat it as an etiquette guide. A means of taking a stand, making your voice heard, while also holding onto your sanity and your battenburg in these outrageous times.
Beware the Straw Man
Bloody straw men, they get everywhere. They play havoc with my hay fever. For anyone who doesn’t know, the straw man argument is one that is put forward as a comparable point of view, but so easily shot down or outrageous that it detracts from the main point. Example:
“Hey I like Ice Cream!”
“Oh yeah? So you must love the systematic torture of cows through intensive farming you absolute bastard.”
The internet is rife with it. One response you get with a picture of Hitler being punched in the face is, “Well, the Nazis were socialists too.” Not only is this wrong, but it also has nothing to do with the argument. Nazis are twats. The alt-right are twats. Twats have no place in steampunk.
Rather than get into a long useless argument about semantics, send this:
If they ask, Full Fact is a charity dedicated to providing objective truth at a time when that truth is under threat.
Likewise, “Oh, you like punching Hitler. You must be OK with those Antifa thugs burning people’s property” is another straw man argument. Whether you believe that lives are more important than property damage, or that looting and burning have no part to play in peaceful protest — that’s not the argument here. Instead of launching a counterattack, find good information to share. Perhaps try this excellent interview with the founder of Black Lives Matter.
Good information is one of your best weapons in the fight against fascism. Use it wisely as both shield and sword. It might not change a person’s mind, but if nothing else, using someone else’s writing saves you valuable time wasted on the internet. Time which you could have spent creating a new flux capacitator or knitting your next tea cosy. Life’s too short for straw men.
Speaking of tea (and let’s face it, I usually am), try to imagine that you are having tea with whomever you are arguing with. In the world of steampunk, there are few proper nasty racists. There are, however, many people who hold relatively conservative views. THEY ARE NOT NAZIS and shouting that they are Nazis in their online faces undermines the argument. It is as much as straw man as Worzel Gummidge.
If the person you are arguing with was in the same room, would you really call them all those horrible things? Would you raise your voice? You would not. And there is no need. It makes you look like the very thing they think you are. So, mind your manners, particularly if you are on my bloody Facebook page.
Yes, you might be angry at the injustice or the world, at the racism at the people in charge. But the person you are arguing with is not responsible for those things. They might just hold a single view that you disagree with. They might have kids, do lots of charity work, or have an excellent hat collection. Twitter and Facebook algorithms would like us to be binary, good or evil, one side or the other, SJW or Nazi. We are complex beings that hold many contradictions. Use your anger for activism, for protest and change. But slinging mud on Facebook will do nothing but upset you, however right you think you are.
We’re All Biased
In my heart, I truly believe that Plastic Man is the world’s greatest superhero. I have a collection of comic books that seem to prove this theory. That’s because I am more likely to buy comics that show he is excellent, as opposed to those demonstrating that he is, in fact, rubbish.
This is confirmation bias, and we are all victims of it. Left or right, we love things that reinforce our world view.
Social media’s greatest crime (apart from being a tool for corrupt regimes to undermine democracy) is that it forces us into binary positions. It plays with our biases. If you are right wing, you get endless stories of Antifa thugs scaring shopkeepers, or people not being allowed to sing the national anthem at the proms. If you are on the left, it’s a constant stream of Tory corruption or Proud Boys acting like twats. When you see a point of view that leaves you outraged, resist the temptation to share it, particularly in anger.
My timeline is full of people screaming “LOOK AT THIS, IT’S AWFUL!” Awful it might be, but without you sharing it, I never would have been exposed to the abhorrent view in the first place. How else do you think we ended up with Brexit or Trump in charge of America? Remember your bias and take it into consideration when sharing anything political.
Check Your Sources
This goes hand in hand with the above. When you see something you want to share, ask yourself: Where did it come from? Who wrote it? Who is sharing it? What might their motivation be?
If you see an article titled “Professor Elemental: New Study Shows He Is Better Than All Other Rappers, by Paul Alborough,” it would be worth digging deeper to determine if it’s a real study, or absolute nonsense written by a lunatic. Context is everything these days, and knowledge like this makes your argument — and your own awareness of the facts — much stronger.
If like me, you are the sort of nerd who spends a lot of time sharing stuff on Twitter or Facebook, try to share the positive stories too: The silly and the strange. Success stories in the community. People of colour whose voices you can make louder. Share good art. At the risk of sounding like your grandma, you get out of the world what you put in it. This is true of social media too.
I’m also now hoping you have an image of Professor Elemental as your Grandma. And image that is as whimsical as it is fairly disturbing.
Politics Has No Place in Steampunk
To an extent, I agree with that statement (bugger, I think I’ve just undermined my entire article). At times, I have tried my hand at politics on stage, and had people shake my hand and thank me for taking a stand. But other times, I have annoyed or upset people who were just out for a good night and a bit of escapism. As the world gets harder, I’m trying to make live shows softer, sillier and less partisan. Some people don’t want politics with their steampunk and we need to respect that and stop bothering them.
On the other hand, steampunk doesn’t exist in a vacuum. And as I have written before, I’m a middle-aged, white, British rapper in a colonial outfit. It’s a bit of a mess. With a great hat comes great responsibility. If I am going to be subverting the rap genre and the colonial dress at the same time, I feel it’s my responsibility to be clear about my political beliefs and pay tribute to the artform I love so much.
For most people, I hope it’s simpler. You might just like the invention, the sense of community, or wearing a nice corset. You might not like politics in your steampunk, so feel free to ignore that element and not engage. Personally, I don’t really care about the costumes (I mean look at the state of my trousers), so I don’t tend to get involved in discussions about them. I certainly don’t shout “I am not interested in corsets so they have no place in steampunk!” It’s perfectly acceptable for you to disagree with something you see on the internet and say nothing. Often it’s preferable.
Instead of rambling any further about the perception of steampunk and the perils of colonial cosplay, I’m handing over to two of my favourites, Mr Yomi Ayeni & Doctor Geof, who have put it better than I could ever try to. They recently made a very cool badge and wrote this to go with it:
“We love the creativity of steampunk, playing with fiction and elements of Victoriana and history to create vibrant fantastical worlds. But one of those elements is colonialism, and colonialism has caused harm.
We also love the inclusivity of steampunk, the celebration of creativity and creating above all else. But sometimes it can appear that steampunk celebrates colonialism, and that can make people who have been harmed by colonialism feel excluded.
We think we can have steampunk without celebrating colonialism, that we can use the frothing creativity of steampunk to make it clear to others that we reject colonialism, and that they might like to play along with us. So we’re going to do stuff. And you’re going to do stuff too. Because together we reckon that we can make our steampunk even more beautiful and inclusive.”
That’s Not Steampunk!
Finally, this is something that pops up too. But they’re wrong. Steampunk is whatever you say it is. There are no rules, other than the ones you make for yourself. That’s the whole point.
Be nice. Be steampunk.
Professor Elemental is a chap hop artist in the UK who frequently performs at steampunk events. His latest album is Let’s Get Messy, a collaboration with Mister Frisbee. Learn more on his website.