Part of the joy of steampunk is attending events, meeting friends as well as seeing new faces. We welcome people from any background without prejudice. However, the longer I run the Journal, the more I get to see the dark underbelly of steampunk. It reminds me a little of Victorian London with it’s fragile china tea cups and fainting ladies while down in the Shades, gentlemen wanting to experience the darker side of life could pick up anything from a prostitute to poison.
This isn’t Victorian London, though, so fast forward just over 100 years and we’re in the 21st century and times have changed. We live in a society that – in the last 20-30 years has seen a massive increase in people being accepted for who they are. The days of getting chased through town because you’re a “weirdo” have all but been swept away. That doesn’t stop some people from being bad eggs and there are many people out in the world who have no tolerance for LGBT, different skin colours or disabilities.
I have personally encountered intolerance when I had a run in with the organiser of Steampunk Doncaster. She placed an image from Britain First on her Facebook page which called for “wiping ISIS off the face of the Earth”. While I agree with the sentiment, I don’t think that the terminology “Wiping them from the Earth” is the correct approach. I also don’t think that sharing the page of an extreme right wing political party will make an ounce of difference. In the past when friends have shared a Britain First image, I’ve pointed it out in a light hearted way and they’ve been astonished that they’ve not noticed before removing it. Not so on this occasion. My response was met with ignorance and being told I wasn’t being helpful.
I decided to take the opportunity to illustrate how radical Britain First are: The founder, Jim Dowson, was originally in the BNP (British National Party), an extremely racist right wing political group. He left in protest when the leader Nick Griffin bowed to political pressure to amend the party’s policies on racism. Since founding Britain First which advocates anti-islamic views, anti-immigration, homophobia and anti-women’s rights, he has left them stating that it became “too extreme”. How extreme must Britain First be if the founder has left, given that he left another far right party because it wasn’t racist enough?
It turns out that the organiser of a popular steampunk event in the North of England supports, or at least agrees with the views, of Britain First. That could make it very difficult in organising an event for a culture that promotes and welcomes diversity. This isn’t the first time that the Steampunk Doncaster organisers have had a run in with people. I’ve been in contact with several attendees, from visitors to traders and performers who have noted that the event is going downhill due to the organisers’ lack of gratitude to their volunteers – who are affectionately nick-named “minions” – and the way they conduct themselves. Organisation and communication have been an issue as well as a lackadaisical approach to people working there who required payment.
The event is already down to just one day although there’s no evidence to show whether the event is down because of lack of interest from traders who have attended in the past. There’s a possibility it could be down to the trader charge debacle. I was told by one trader that in the first year, there were only a small selection of stalls and everything was great. The following year, the sales area was expanded to try and create more of a market. This worked (it was the year I attended and it certainly felt like a market) but there were rumours of some traders getting free spaces in order to fill it up and there were a lot of duplicated stalls. These are all allegations, though, and have no firm evidence to support it. If that wasn’t enough, the cost of entry to Steampunk Doncaster in the first year was £5. A very reasonable sum and the proceeds/profits went to the Doncaster Deaf Trust where the event is held. In the second year it rose to £10 and many people didn’t go because of that. According to sources, this also included some evening entertainment, but this wasn’t communicated to visitors very clearly.
I think it just goes to show that there are all sorts of people in the steampunk culture. Being the polite ladies and gentlemen we are, we accept everyone regardless. That does mean that some people that we accept may not feel the same way. What can we do about that? Not much, really. I’ve taken them off my social media list so that I don’t see those types of hard political messages again. They’ve upset people I know and care about and that annoys me.
As steampunks we must take the splendid approach of acceptance, or maybe in cases like this it’s more tolerance. After all, it’s not my place to tell someone to leave steampunk because I disagree with their political motivations. Nor would I expect to be listened to, but that doesn’t mean I have to be happy about it.