Monday, November 19, 2012

Germs, Gangrene, and Guts

In the course of my research a few days ago, I unearthed an excellent article about Florence Nightingale. Like most people, I grew up knowing vaguely that Nightingale was a courageous, brave nurse during a war but to my chagrin, it has only been in the past few months that I connected her with the Crimean War and began to understand the depth of her effort. What I have found fascinating is how common sense she approached her work and how very often this flew in the face of typical doctoring practices. She had the novel concept that keeping wounded soldiers clean rather than letting them lie in their own filth was a useful practice. Although she did not understand about microbes and germs, she insisted that her nurses use a fresh cloth for each soldier to prevent cross-contamination. She was an excellent statistician and a meticulous record keeper. Now, if Miss Nightingale could have had access to steampunk technology....hmm, story ideas? 

Roberts had a brief encounter with Miss Nightingale last chapter when he was bringing a load of injured patients down to the military barracks in Scutari. Here is what I have written:
Remembering Scutari, Roberts suppressed a shudder and turned his attentions back to the oncoming ships. He was not a man easily disgusted, but the sheer horror of the hospital was not easily forgotten. Then there had been the small, brisk nurse who had stormed up to the airship and immediately started directing the unloading of the wounded with the commanding air of a general. Roberts caught the name of Nurse Nightingale: she seemed a bit of both Victoria's and Molly's ilk - indomitable until death. If Roberts wasn't very much mistaken, conditions seemed to have improved a trifle at Scutari, and he wondered if the small, fierce nurse had any hand in it.

On a steampunk bent, my brother Sean is a security officer and he works quite a bit at Section 8 housing units. The other day he encountered a rather colorful individual who was busily fashioning a steampunk straight jacket out of seatbelts and gears. Sean told her a bit about my work with steampunk and the lady commented, "I don't understand this steampunk s...t. I just make it." This person's response was an interesting insight into the current state of steampunk in our culture. Not to put too fine a point of it, this particularly individual was in the lower echelons of society, not one who would have a detailed insight into fine arts, literature, and cultural trends. Yet she had heard of steampunk and was clever enough to understand that there was a market for steampunk-related items. 

However, that begs the question of if someone who does not "get this steampunk s...t" can actually make steampunk. Instead, that seems like it would lead to many more editions on the "Not Remotely Steampunk" section of Sure, anyone can "just glue some gears on it" but I think we can all agree that steampunk must, at heart, begin with someone who is interested in the genre for its own sake, not merely because of its coolness factor or commercial value. We may joke of "art for art's sake" but this is true on many levels: you should have a natural love and interest for the art you are creating or in essence you end up creating a lie. 

I have a feeling that steampunk is moving towards a zenith in popular culture, have its moment of popularity, then descend back into a niche subculture one again. Hopefully along the way it will attract a number of people who are genuinely interested in the genre and happy to learn more. The very all-encompassing nature of steampunk may very well end up being its downfall, but I think there are enough serious steampunks out there who are in it for the long haul, and it will survive more or less in its current state. 

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