Does Steampunk Promote Violence?

Author Gail Carrington, creator of the Parasol Protectorate series Bartitsu instructor Terry Kroenung. Courtesy io9

Author Gail Carrington, creator of the Parasol Protectorate series Bartitsu instructor Terry Kroenung.
Courtesy io9

In the wake of the trial of George Zimmerman and the verdict, which was disheartening and disappointing for many – not me, I expected it to go just the way it did, but that’s another story, for another time –  we feel a desperate need to know why, so we can understand how – how can we keep this from happening again? When someone shoots up a school, a mall, office building, or a child many of us blame lax gun laws, and recommend those laws become stricter. Others blame it on cultural factors – violent video games and films have sickened our culture, glorifying wanton violence and desensitizing our youth to its effects.

So, where do we draw the line?

Do we wrest firearms from the cold, dead fingers of the American public (and they will, most certainly, have to be dead because people are not just giving up their guns in the U.S. of A)?

Do we wrest wireless controllers from the sweaty, dead palms of the players of Call of Duty, and Halo (and they will, most certainly, have to be dead because game geeks are not giving up their COD)?

Rza, in the Steamy martial arts movie Man With the Iron Fists. Universal Pictures

Rza, in the Steamy martial arts movie Man With the Iron Fists. Universal Pictures

Should we ban violent films and books like Braveheart or Homer’s Iliad? Should we edit out the kills from Shakespearean plays?

Should I cut the fight scenes from Rite of Passage and replace them with Steamfunk rap battles? Wait…can’t do that…rap also inspires violence.

In truth, violence is a great – perhaps the great – staple of the entertainment industry.

We gorge ourselves on violence in television shows, novels, films, sporting events and video games, but a half century search for real-world consequences of violence in the media has found no conclusive evidence of any link. Hundreds of millions of people watch violent television and play violent games and never develop the slightest urge to kill.

Most Steampunks and Steamfunkateers insert their personas into imaginative scenarios in which they play the role of a hero who bravely confronts the forces of chaos and destruction. When we play most video games, role playing games or cosplay we aren’t training to be mass murderers or serial killers; we are emulating the good guy who races to place himself between evil and its victims.

The same applies when we engross ourselves in more traditional fiction formats like film, television, and novels.

Almost without exception, when the villain of a story kills, his violence is condemned. When the hero kills, that kill is righteous. Fiction preaches that violence is only acceptable under defined circumstances – to protect the good and the weak from the evil and the strong. What Steven King says of horror stories in his book, Danse Macabre, applies to all forms of imaginary violence: “The horror story, beneath its fangs and fright wig, is really as conservative as an Illinois Republican in a three-piece pinstriped suit…It’s main purpose is to reaffirm the virtues of the norm by showing us what awful things happen to people who venture into taboo lands. Within the framework of most horror tales we find a moral code so strong it would make a Puritan smile.”

violence 3So how should we respond to the tragic shooting of Trayvon Martin or the shooting of the students at Sandy hook?

Resist the urge to find and torch a scapegoat – whether in the entertainment industry or the gun lobby.

And remember that the portrayal of heroes armed with steam-powered rifles, aether pistols, or gear-driven retractable claws are just portrayals. We Steampunks and Steamfunkateers are – in general – friendly, mannerly and relatively sane.

Now those anime cosplayers? They’ll kill ya’.

Just kidding! *looks around nervously for a teenager with disheveled blue hair and a wildly oversized sword*


About Balogun

Balogun is the author of the bestselling Afrikan Martial Arts: Discovering the Warrior Within and screenwriter / producer / director of the films, A Single Link, Rite of Passage: Initiation and Rite of Passage: The Dentist of Westminster. He is one of the leading authorities on Steamfunk – a philosophy or style of writing that combines the African and / or African American culture and approach to life with that of the steampunk philosophy and / or steampunk fiction – and writes about it, the craft of writing, Sword & Soul and Steampunk in general, at He is author of eight novels – the Steamfunk bestseller, MOSES: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman (Books 1 & 2); the Urban Science Fiction saga, Redeemer; the Sword & Soul epic, Once Upon A Time In Afrika; a Fight Fiction, New Pulp novella, Fist of Afrika; the gritty, Urban Superhero series, A Single Link and Wrath of the Siafu; the two-fisted Dieselfunk tale, The Scythe and the “Choose-Your-Own-Destiny”-style Young Adult novel, The Keys. Balogun is also contributing co-editor of two anthologies: Ki: Khanga: The Anthology and Steamfunk. Finally, Balogun is the Director and Fight Choreographer of the Steamfunk feature film, Rite of Passage, which he wrote based on the short story, Rite of Passage, by author Milton Davis and co-author of the award winning screenplay, Ngolo. You can reach him on Facebook at; on Twitter @Baba_Balogun and on Tumblr at

7 responses »

  1. palmettoauthor says:

    I agree that censoring our materials isn’t the answer either. I do like your is point about players and readers being the hero not out to destroy humanity. I think what is lacking is parents sitting down and explaining to their children that guns on the screen are pretend and real guns do real damage. Sheryse

    • Balogun says:

      I agree. Parental involvement and education is key to our youth understanding when violence is real and not real; when it is okay and not okay to use violent means to defend oneself and the consequences of violence. Thanks, so much, for your feedback! 🙂

  2. Jessica Burde says:

    Overall I’d say we have a very unhealthy relationship with violence. It is either something to be enshrined or condemned, but never really dealt with as just part of the way the world works. (And if anyone seriously thinks it is possible to have a functioning world without violence, I invite them to stop breathing, so they will stop massacring millions of microbes with their very existence. Oh wait – that would be suicide, which is also violence.)

    I think you spot on here and wish more people realized that the time they waste looking for scapegoats is time not spent learning for themselves and teaching their children about the reality of weapons and violence. Because as long are we are treating guns as toys AND the root of all evil, as long as we can’t get a grip on our relationship with violence, we won’t even be able to start figuring out how to deal with incidents like this.

  3. The problem is that violence has always been a basic part of human communication. They say (s)he who resorts to violence has lost already, but it isn’t about winning or losing. Violence IS a way of speaking. We cannot remove it from human discourse just as we cannot remove sex or art. Yes, you can have a smart narrative with non-violent conflict, but violent narratives will never go away. The oldest narrative in the English language, Beowulf, is full of violence. The Bible is full of violence, sometimes sexual violence and sometimes psychedelic like Revelations.
    We can’t strip it away. We can only depict it well, and with the consequences that it brings.

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