October 3, 2011

Class and Steampunk

Think Progress has some graphs today about just how big the gap between the top 1% and everyone else really is. They make a powerful point about who has the wealth in America. I think I've seen charts like these show up in my blogroll about once a month for six months now, but I think they bear repeating again and again.

This is percentage of the country's wealth by percentile. That's the top 1% with 42% of the nation's wealth, and the bottom 80% - as in, 80 times more people - with 7% of the nation's wealth.

This is the percent of the country's income growth taken home by the bottom 90% compared to the top 1%. While income for the top 1% has shot way up in the past 50 years, income for the bottom 90% has dropped steadily.

But you knew all that. Let's get to the fun part: What does this have to do with steampunk?

Nothing, really, but Margaret Killjoy has a fabulous article on Tor.com about how steampunk can never be apolitical, and it made me think of those numbers. He argues that, coming out of Cyberpunk as it does, steampunk has deeply political roots: "Cyberpunk was the punking of science fiction, introducing as it did the corporate dystopia and a strong sense of class struggle, taking the stories away from interspace travel and back towards the problems here on earth." Being rooted in the 19th century, which we often remember as a time of deep inequality - Charles Dickens' street rats on the one hand and ladies in ball gowns on the other - steampunk seems to me uniquely positioned to play with themes of economic inequality and its consequences. So maybe if you're sick of seeing graphs like the ones above, you could stop reading blogs and pick up some good science fiction, and get a pretty similar message.

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