Search This Blog

Monday, February 9, 2009

1984 - Steampunk?

I was moved to re-read 1984 by Ann Coulter who said she is the liberal-left's "Emmanuel Goldstein". She noted that although we all claim to have read the book, few got her reference. It is a good book to read (or re-read) in our times. Maybe it is always a good book to read to think about your own time.

It strikes me first of all that this is a steampunk book, as I understand the category: technology projected inaccurately (by chance or on purpose) resulting in a much darker, grimmer vision than actual technological advances have produced.*

Secondly, I suffered several shocks of recognition as I was reading, not police state, totalitarian stuff, but the shifts in the experience of normal daily life:

Children are trained to be wild and ungovernable, while also remaining zealous followers of the party line, questioning only their parents' authority, never the state's. (Think anti-smoking, think environmental issues - the level of programming is comparable.)

Mass-produced "art" for the masses - pornography, cheap broadsides covering crime and sports only, music fabricated by computer-like machines.

The working tax-payers can be seen to be the Outer Party members, held to a boring and rigid orthodoxy, squeezed into position between the luxury-loving, nonsense-issuing Inner Party, and the unconfined, irresponsible Proles. Think of Al Gore, leaving his mansion to fly in his private jet to preach energy-responsibility, or rock star Sheryl Crow thinking we could all start using a little less toilet paper to save trees, while on the other hand, mortgages are given to people who have no hope of paying them, and little girls feel that they want to dress like prostitutes.

The marigold asks nervously: 'Twas ever thus or is it worse now?

* The Toronto Public Library defines "Steampunk" as a "steam-powered and clockwork-driven" future. I think that fits 1984 in style.


  1. Despite Coulter's insane comparison of herself to Orwell's hero, I like your analysis and it moves me too to pull my copy off the shelf for a re-read.

  2. You just made her point - Emmanuel Goldstein is not Orwell's hero - he is "the enemy of the people" - held up as an object of hatred in the propaganda of the system.

    And seeing you here made me go check out the Vancouver Opera blog again, and I found and printed out the manga of Rigoletto (one of my all-time favourites) to share with my kids. Gotta get out the music for the car now, too.

  3. The only thing worse than waking up in the middle of the night realizing you've misquoted Orwell, is to realize that by doing so, you've legitimized Ann Coulter!

    So should my penance be to re-read Orwell or read Coulter?

  4. Dare I say it? Both!

    How did the opera live-blogging thing go from your point of view? My opera buddies and I are so amazed by your initiatives!

    Meanwhile, do you have thoughts about D minor and/or Gorecki? (See my previous post if you have not already.)

    The Nervous Marigold

    PS Can you let me know if you are getting my comments here, or if I should post them as comments on your blog?

  5. I would be more inclined to add 1984 to the Cyberpunk genre, which tends to feature versions of the Orwellian world as you described.

    I would argue that Steampunk is not distopian at all. Imagine that we had continued advancing with steam power and mechanical developments (like clockwork) rather than with mass-produced, digital technology.
    Throw in a little bizarre magic from Alice in Wonderland, a touch of Pirates of the Caribbean/Mad Max, and the grand imagination an spirit of adventure of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells.
    The focus is on the remarkable attention to detail, workmanship, handcraft, romance, imagination and behavior of the Victorian period. I see Steampunk as being a bit of a creative Renaissance, a exploration ideas, fanciful inventions, a learning of old arts, and completely open to individual expression and imagination.
    ...sorry for the long post!

  6. Hi Kat

    I LOVE your blog. I love the Beak of the Day. I bought one of your monocles from Etsy. I am going to connect to your blog "Curious Oddities" from mine under "Fun, Cool, Funny".

    I see your attraction to the steampunk concept, but I do disagree somewhat.

    Firstly, the whimsical clockwork aspect of steampunk can be and is adorable, but...and it's a big but...steam power is driven by coal fire and thus you must have coal dust and smoke and heat etc. in the background. I think that this resulting dirty, dark, slightly under-powered aspect of it gives the grimness that I feel to be a part of steampunk and also 1984.

    That is the way I conceive of steampunk, but I am trying to figure it out, so my idea is by no means definitive. You responded to my questioning of the designation for "1984", and thanks. It is food for thought.

    Secondly, I think it worth mentioning that "1984" cannot be cyberpunk because "cyber" implies computer, but clearly the filing technology of 1984 is based on masses of human effort rather than computers.

    "1984" was certainly written before either of these definitions were available. What to do?

    It is all so fun to think about!

    Thanks again.