Today we welcome author Mark Hodder. One lucky commenter gets a copy of Expedition to the Mountains of the Moon.
Mark Hodder is the creator and caretaker of the BLAKIANA Web site (www.sextonblake.co.uk), which he designed to celebrate, record, and revive Sexton Blake, the most written about fictional detective in English publishing history. A former BBC writer, editor, journalist, and Web producer, Mark has worked in all the new and traditional medias and was based in London for most of his working life until 2008, when he relocated to Valencia in Spain to de-stress and write novels. He can most often be found at the base of a palm tree, hammering at a laptop. Mark has a degree in cultural studies and loves British history (1850 to 1950, in particular), good food, cutting-edge gadgets, cult TV, Tom Waits, and a vast assortment of oddities.
Dancing Amid the Ruins
(A Peculiarly British Perspective)
By Mark Hodder
We, in the Western world, are dancing amid the ruins of fallen empires. They died slowly, those great, lumbering beasts, and there are those who think to revive them, or to create new ones, but we won’t let them. We know that empires benefit the few whilst enslaving the many. We cannot support such injustice, such avarice.
In Britain (God bless her, and all who fail in her)—once the seat of the largest empire in history—it was young satirists who alerted us to the fact that the beast must die. The world wars had already destroyed the myth that the privileged were special, deserving, superior. Forced by conflict into close proximity with the smelly commoner, the Lords and Viscounts were revealed to be a mite funky themselves—rather ordinary, in fact—and, by golly, they got needlessly slaughtered just as efficiently as plain old Tommy Watkins.
After the conflict (which was really one long war with an intermission for ice cream), those toffy nosed twits who’d managed to survive dug in their claws and clung on to their riches and, of course, continued to propagate the cultural myths that kept them in their stately homes. But they were much weakened. And now they had a new enemy. Not Johnny Foreigner this time. No, it was Johnny Bird and Johnny Fortune and the other satirists of the snarky Sixties. Those guys ridiculed the heck out of any pompous idiot who tried to maintain a delusion of dignity. The aristocratic, the rich, and the powerful became the laughing stock of the country. Respect your betters? Are you serious? Take a look at what they get up to! Listen to the gibbering nonsense that spews out of their mouths! They’re too busy bothering foxes to understand the real world. Down with the upper class! Up with the lower class! We’ll mingle in the middle!
The gloss came off the posh.
The killing blow, the true end of the empire, was struck in the late Seventies. Again, it wasn’t at the hands of Johnny Foreigner. This time, it was Johnny Rotten. The punk movement jabbed the knife in good and proper, and did so with one very clear, very basic, very deadly war cry: “We don’t respect you.” You might have a plummy voice, country tweeds, a Range Rover, a family crest, and a comfy seat in the House of Lords—but we don’t care what you got; if you want respect, you gotta earn it, you greedy git.
Empire only functions when you know your betters. Punk didn’t know any.
So the British Empire snuffed it, just like the Portuguese Empire had done, and the Spanish and Dutch and Italian and Russian and all the many others. The time of empires is gone, but their ghosts still haunt us. Obviously, the pitiful remnants of the elite would like to resuscitate them, but, even more, now it’s the economists who want empires. Shiny new ones. Great big cash cows. Come on European Union, get your act together. Trust me, it won’t. We have no will for it.
Enter Johnny Steampunk.
Steampunk embodies the ghost to remind us that the dead are dead. It plays at empire with a wry smile. It toys with the romance of it—the unexplored territories ripe for exploitation, the pioneering spirit required for imperialistic colonisation, the promise of fabulous contraptions that will cower the less “civilised” into submission—but it does so with a knowing wink and a gentle dose of self-mockery. It’s the cool clothes without an evil bastard inside of them, it’s an airship that doesn’t drop bombs on the natives, it’s a blunderbuss that won’t mess with your face. See, a lot of the propaganda produced to bolster belief in the empire was actually tremendous fun. You just have to filter out all the guff. Back in the day, stiff upper lips and prodigious whiskers adorned the faces of heroes who, just beneath their very, very, very white skin, were racist cads of the highest (which happens to be the lowest) order. Now, though, you can square your shoulders, grow a fine pair of Picadilly Weepers, don a stove pipe hat, and everyone recognises that you’re affiliating yourself only with the joy of the wrapping, not with the filth of the content. Steampunk gives the icons, symbols, fashions and mores of empire a damned hard shake until all the confounded nonsense has fallen out of them. What’s left signifies that which deserved to die and must never be allowed to live again. It’s a celebration—a happily nihilistic jig on a well-earned grave, stamping down the earth so the corpse can’t rise, while a curious and optimistic eye is cast to the future.
Punk was the murder. Goth was the mourning. Steampunk is the wake.
THE STRANGE AFFAIR OF SPRING HEELED JACK
THE CURIOUS CASE OF THE CLOCKWORK MAN
EXPEDITION TO THE MOUNTAINS OF THE MOON
One lucky commenter wins a copy of Expedition to the Mountains of the Moon. North America only, please. Contest ends 11:59 PM PST, April 23, 2012.
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