While some cultures take off in a big way, such as cyberpunk, steampunk and dieselpunk, others can be talked about or followed with milder interest. Despite this, they can be extremely interesting. One of them I find myself wanting to know more about is plaguepunk.
This fascinating sub-culture is inspired by the various outbreaks of the Bubonic Plague, from the Black Death in the mid-14th century, which – in a short time of five years, an estimated 25 million people died – to the Great London Plague. However the Plague has been around for a lot longer. The first recorded case was in 224 B.C.E (Before Christian Era) in China. So that’s a lot of time for cosplayers, authors, film makers and artists to play around with.
In the same way that steampunk uses welding (typically, but not exclusively) goggles as an identifying feature, plaguepunk uses the Beak shaped mask used by Doctors during the 17th century outbreaks. The Beak was usually filled with sweet or pleasant smelling substances in order that the Doctor could work with the infected and dead. It was a defence against what the Doctor’s thought was an airborne virus. At that time in history the Miasma theory of infection was primary and it was believed that the nasty smells associated with the Plague carried the virus. The prevention was seemingly simple: prevent the smell, prevent the infection. It wasn’t until later that Germ theory disproved this.
Because of the lack of technology that can be built upon, there’s arguably little that can be done in the same era. Of course, water power and animals were used during that time and machines could be invented powered by water and made from forged metal and stone. The most obvious thing to do is to go forward to a future where the Plague has continued to ravage the world leading to some futuristic developments taking place and some remaining restricted to 14th or 17th century ideals.
Medicine would have to be set back for three reasons: Doctors would be at a minimum as they keep dying while treating the sick, so research into cures would be slow or non-existent. Germ Theory would have to never happen so that the beak would still be a main feature of costumes. Also, if medicine evolves, a cure would be found and plaguepunk would be obsolete.
Weapons would be far more advanced than other technology. Historically, the Plague was blamed on many people – usually of foreign descent – and entire communities of Jewish, Romani and other societies were exterminated. It’s entirely possible in an alternate plaguepunk universe that these exterminations could evolve into wars which could carry on into a bleak, dystopian futuristic world where weaponry has evolved a lot faster than any other area of civilisation.
Plaguepunk isn’t an easy genre to research. There’s little evidence of it around, but the name keeps popping up along with middlepunk which stems from the Middle Ages when one of the Plague outbreaks started. However, plaguepunk isn’t exclusive to the Middle Ages. Forum users discussing plaguepunk suggest that it is set later, towards the latter end of the Middle Ages and before the Renaissance period.
I think there’s a wide scope of creativity available for plaguepunk. Some of the artwork and photography available is stunning. The literary side of plaguepunk would be interesting to read, to see how they deal with a massive outbreak of a disease that can kill in a week of infection. If nothing else, turning up at an event in a Plague mask always turns heads.