Why are steampunks being blamed for a lack of smallpox?

iO9 talk about the Forrest Gump effect

Back in January 2014 I reviewed a pleasant book by the Sheffield Science Fiction writers. It contained a foreword by noted SF writer Ian Sales who was polite enough to point out that steampunk only takes the desirable elements of the Victorian era, missing out the less desirable parts.

Now, iO9 are at it with a scathing attack on steampunk and other science Fiction/Fantasy films and novels. They article’s author points out that protagonists only ever meet important historical figures or show history in a pleasant light. For example, medieval films are always set in shiny, clean castles with characters that have good teeth and no diseases.

That author of the article – Charlie Jane Anders – calls it the “Forrest Gump effect” which is a link to the scene where Forrest Gump meets famous people. That’s the first mistake that Anders makes; the scene in Forrest Gump has him meeting famous people, yet the article is discussing, well ranting about really, science fiction stories that only ever meet famous people via time travel. Forrest Gump doesn’t travel back in time to meet these characters, he meets them through his life because he’s a war hero, so the link is tenuous at best.

She complains that steampunk and other genres ignore the disease, grime and misery of the age we emulate in favour of upper class citizens, high society and cleanliness.

Why would we want to, though? Steampunk is a hobby, so why would we want to contract diseases to be “more realistic”? Steampunk is fantasy and the clue is in the name. If steampunk is our fantasy, why would we want to ruin it with work houses, slavery and poverty?

What will Anders turn her attention to next, I wonder? Will young girls have to simulate their castles under attack, toilets as holes in the wall and being forced into marriage in order to dress like a princess?

The article asks why science fiction films only ever meet important figures in history and not locals and peasants. The answer that seems to evade Anders is that watching two hours of film footage about someone travelling back in time and meeting a generic civilian, such as a market trader would be boring as hell.

It seems to be that steampunk is getting mixed up with Victoriana which more closely mimics the age. Steampunk doesn’t have the same rule constraints.

It’s a shame that people with seemingly no knowledge of the genres they’re discussing will openly slate it. Yes, there is a place for realism within film but only if it adds to the plot. Similarly, there’s a place for realism in steampunk, but that doesn’t mean we should – or indeed have to – include it.

You can read the original article here: Forrest Gump Syndrome

3 thoughts on “Why are steampunks being blamed for a lack of smallpox?

  1. I agree completely. Any fiction genre could be accused of glossing over the ugly facts. Steampunk uses the Victorian era to tell a story; not to render history.

  2. I think that you’re right to say that this isn’t just a steampunk thing. But I also think that there is steampunk, fantasy and science fiction out there that explores the more ordinary lives and the grimmer aspects of existence. It’s not everybody’s cup of tea – as you point out, a lot of why we read is for something shiny and better rather than grim and horrible. But when I want that grim and horrible – which I sometimes do – it’s there to be found. Which is I guess just another argument for the idea that the person behind that article doesn’t know the genre.

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