Steampunk Geisha – and the Gauche Gaijin Controversy

Your Observer has been spinning her wheels lately.

Chiefly because Mr. Antiquarian is ill nearly unto, as a former friend would have put it, non-viability – which rather precludes getting a whole lot done, at least a lot other than mopping his brow and trying to ensure he eats actual food on something approximating a reasonably regular basis.  T_T.

however. i have been revising some color schemes and plans for both 18th- and 19th- century escapades, and have been absorbing all sorts of Georgian chinoiserie motifs, as well as victorian japanoiserie and general Orientalisme. in particular, i’m a bit in love with Jean-Étienne Liotard and his beautiful pastels aux subjets Turq:

goofily idyllic? sure. hypersexualized? no. somewhat accurate? sure, why not. pleasing to the eye and piquant to the mind? Your Diarist certainly thinks so.

a very good resource for certain types of orientalism, as least as far as the 19th-century variety goes, is The Steamer’s Trunk; but i do like to do my own research on aspects of this and that, so i tend to hit her last if i’m looking for something particular; and in this case i’m looking at specifically French Enlightenment chinoiserie, since i plan to do a georgian crossover with chinoiserie motifs.
and of course, victoriana + multiculturalism = instant controversy among some circles – more so, it seems, virtually every day.

i ran across this charmingly-designed and well-executed ‘steampunk geisha’ costume from this year’s Steamcon, which surely must have given Jha and Company the (questionably metaphorical) Fits And Blind Staggers:

the palette’s a tiny bit tired, of course, but it’s lovely execution, isn’t it? your Diarist especially likes her use of demurely concealed, yet conveniently attached, Objets Utiles:

Steampunk Geisha – Dragonfly Designs by Alisa.
Your Diarist tends to attach her fans in places a little more convenient to hand – an asian lady would certainly have concealed it in the depths of her sleeve, whether in yukata or hanfu, and Yours Most Terribly just is too lazy to reach all up into her own skirt every time she wants her fan, sad to say. although it looks like a marvellously coy and blithely innocent way to Oopsie! – show a little leg, and who can blame her?*

(part of the reason i enjoy steampunk so much is because it lends itself so well to the wearer becoming one giant walking chatelaine – which i love, of course, because i love objects of use AND beauty; but since one intends to get to the theory and practice of the chatelaine in a post of its own later on, one does digress.)

*note the adorable little tabi-faux-geta-handmade spatlings combination, and how marvellously it works. i feel as if some other ladies are going to join her at any moment, and i’m going to be hearing the opening strains of Three Little Maids from School, complete with near-incomprehensible Bow Bells accents.

**and an aside to those concerned with imperialist issues: i pass no judgement on the intent of the wearer. she may be wholly ignorant of any controversy re multicultural appropriation in the sp scene; her character may be asian or part-asian or pan-asian or dwelling in asia or in whatever passes for asia in her personal steampunk universe; this may be an interpretation of something else that’s been backdated or something from genuine canon literature like the Hungry City Chronicles; or she may simply not care if any observers take offense. she may or may not have gone to Multicultural Brunch; she may or may not have even known about it.
frankly, my concern is with the costuming and not with the costumer’s intent, seeing as, though talented in a nearly dizzying array of fields of human endeavor, i have yet to grow a third eye and massively comprehensive telepathic powers, and cannot say for sure what her intent *was*.

there’s a great deal more on this set of controversies, of course, at Beyond Victoriana, Silver Goggles, and this post on the Steamer’s Trunk; interested parties may venture thereto for further information.

at any rate, one of Your Diarist’s actual *steampunk* characters is a globetrotting entertainer and information merchant, and she believes – as do i – that when in Rome, it shows respect to the Romans, as well as oneself, to do as they do. she dresses in the style of the place she’s inhabiting; she eats the local food and does her best to speak the local language(s) and shops and banks and pals around and performs for and with the local people, whoever they happen to be.
i’ve no plan, whatsoever, to dumb down her costuming to show deference to the pre-bruised sensibilities of those who are waiting to take offense to ANYTHING multicultural, either; you just can’t make everyone happy, and there’s no point trying to satisfy those who are determined to be offended.

as for my more historically-derived costuming; since Orientalism(e), chinoiserie and japanoiserie, among other cultural influences, are actually part of the picture, if i wish to leave those elements in, i’ll do that, as well. i love artistic dress, and many kinds of multiculturalist influences made their effects felt in different types of Artistic, Aesthetic, and even Rational Dress over the years; i see no reason why they can’t be included if doing so doesn’t inherently imply appropriation or cultural rape or disrespect. in fact, i see no reason why ANY decorative, decorous, and functional element of costume or lifestyle cannot be included if it’s done with love and respect: that’s what it is to be an eclectic. moreover, that’s what it is to be a neovictorian, in my view.

to be historically sentimental is escapist; to be mindlessly White-Western-Centric – and call that alone “victorian” – is to be a reenactor, as well as a barbarian; to be strident when it’s uncalled-for is merely boorish; to be overspecialized in any one field of endeavor is the particular achievement of the ants and the bees….but to be an enlightened, loving, rational, scientific warrior of secular humanism- involves the graceful interrelation of many different cultures, fields, worldviews, and systems of thought. and fuck all else; that’s how Yours Oh My And How feels about it, CDIB card and all.

signing off before it gets too late to get any beauty sleep at all-

i remain

your inconstant Diarist.


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