A blog devoted to the Tommy Thunder and The Aether Age pulp fiction series. It's Dieselpunk fiction at its pulpiest with two-fisted brawls, biplane dogfights, mysterious safaris, Prohibition gin-running and swanky art-deco speakeasy hopping as far as the eye can see.
Dieselpunk Manifesto: Some Examples of Dieselpunk.
Sometimes the easiest way to teach something is to show it.
So here is some good mainstream examples of Dieselpunk – and Dieselpunks – in
With one big exception – music.
Music is by far and away the easiest
form of Dieselpunk to point people towards because the Diesel era was where
popular music began (as we know it, anyway). There always has been, and always will be, bands and
artists who will look back to the era for inspiration, and the examples of
their creativity are legion. So rather than go for the low hanging fruit I’m
going to delve into some of the other Dieselpunk examples kicking around.
Star Trek: The
Next Generation - Holodeck Punks.
If you’re a geek then there’s nothing more mainstream than Star
Trek. Less so if you’re not, but you should at least know that out there
somewhere is a sci-fi television series called Star Trek where they ride around
in spaceships etc. Well, one fancy part of the USS Enterprise ‘spaceship’ is
the holodeck, a room where tangible holograms are used to recreate environments
that the crew can then hang out in for recreational or educational experiences.
The holodeck provides some of the most blatant examples of
Dieselpunk in mainstream media because the captain of the Enterprise, one Jean
Luc-Picard, loves the old hard-boiled detective pulps of the 30s and 40s. So
when he goes to the holodeck he ‘punks out in fedora and suit and sets out to
solve a noir mystery with fellow crew members in tow.
Picard’s love for Dieselpunk goes so far that he wants to live the era, something most Dieselpunks
can only pine for. Dressing up and speaking like he was from the era, what the
captain does is straight up Dieselpunk. About the only thing preventing this from being the ultimate
expression of Dieselpunk-itude is that they visit the past but can’t actually
bring the past back out with them into their everyday lives (the literal message of this particular episode).
But it does go to show that a holodeck would probably be on
the top of every Dieselpunk’s Christmas list.
One Femme Fatale to Rule Them All.
"I'm not bad. I'm just drawn that way."
Jessica Rabbit is the distillation of everything the femme
fatale represents, all in a caricatured, kid-friendly and fun package.
Femme fatales are a dime a dozen in any thriller and there have been plenty of
memorable renditions of the character archetype (Sharon Stone, we’re trying not
to look at you). But the Diesel era was where this character emerged in its most well-known form, mostly
because this was the era in which women started to emerge as individuals. Powerful but dangerous,
the femme fatale heralds an historic gender shift and society’s nervous twitch
in the face of this age of the single independent female.
But it’s the attitude of this powerful, cool and unapolagetically
calculating – yet paradoxically sensuous and urge-driven – character that marks
the archetype. Established in the early pulps that would later inspire what
would become known as ‘noir’, it’s an attitude still evoked today in every
woman who vamps it up at a fancy dress party, wears that extra sassy dress out
on the town or goes for the alluring and dark rather than the bright and fun.
The femme fatale of the early 20th Century (what Americans would
call the ‘vamp’, short for ‘sexual vampire’) is an idea of sexual danger,
coldness that gets what it wants, and power. In its most stereotypical version it references those early noir examples in the true spirit of Dieselpunking. And in its fun, playful guise that Dieselpunking is
He's wearing a Zoot Suit. Enough said.
Here’s another easy one. The Chrysler PT Cruiser:
It clearly takes
its design cues from an earlier era of automobile. Something more like this:
Making a modern car in the mould of something from the
1930s? That’s Dieselpunk baby.
And just because I can: the Maybach Excelero. This is what I
imagine a Dieselpunk Batmobile would look like:
<Sigh with longing...>
Finally, we’ve bypassed music, glanced at attitude, noted
character, gloried in design... it must be time for fashion.
I could go straight to the Ultimate Example of Dieselpunk
fashion but I want to do an in-depth exploration of the character in question a
little later on (maybe next week) but if you’re talking Dieselpunk fashion then
you’re talking this guy:
Bond. James Bond.
Bond isn’t just about fashion, he’s the one stop shop for
most things Dieselpunk. I mean this guy was ‘punking the Diesel era just after
the Diesel era finished. He dresses
the lifestyle when all others around him are casualwear slobs, he takes his
cocktails seriously and, although he can punch on like the best of them, he
prefers to do everything with a truck load of class, from the sly wit and sharp
banter to the classic cars. He was evoking aspirational deco-punk long after it
was popular, proving that it would always be cool.
But I want to do a much more in-depth expose later on so we'll pass for one of the many examples inspired by Mister Bond-James-Bond. One such recent character
is Neil Caffrey from the tv series White Collar.
Neil Caffrey, the
Debonair (but sort of reformed) Art Thief/Forger/Con-Man/etc etc etc...
White Collar is a tv
series about an FBI agent in the white collar crimes department who finally
takes down one of the world’s most successful art thieves, Neil Caffrey. What
results is one of the best odd-couple heist procedurals on tv where the everyman
Peter Burke has to show the world that Neil has reformed his ways by setting
him to task catching the sort of people he used to be. Neil does not make this easy for Pete.
He likes his hats. Always a good sign.
The Dieselpunk aspect of the television series comes mostly
from Neil’s sense of style and the house he rents. Neil has a thing for hats,
suits and the finer things in life, refusing to use a gun because his wits are
enough on their own. He’s charming, he’s debonair and he’s also appalled by
Peter’s lack of refinement. However, his Dieselpunk credentials are made
possible thanks to the house he stays in. It belongs to June Ellington who,
along with her late husband, was often into the same trouble Neil is today. A
talented jazz vocalist herself, June is a connection to the history of New York's underground
and therefore a direct link to a lot of Diesel-era related stories. A recent
example would be their attempt to prove the brother of a jazz club was
illegally selling taxi licenses. June is brought in to sing at the club while
the agents are dressed up as sexy cigar vendors and forced to prove how much
they know about real jazz. As always it’s a great episode and illustrates how
the series creators draw on the (late) Diesel era in order to provide the
necessary cool and class both Neil and the show are famous for.
So there you go, Dieselpunk everywhere. Hope you enjoyed
these examples and no doubt I’ll get round to discussing more in the future.
Who knows, maybe next week I’ll get to discussing Mister Bond-James-Bond. Stay