Is Offensiveness the best defence?
Here's a thing I wrote for the The Steampunk Journal about getting booed at a recent event for being all political. After some internal debate, I decided not to publish it, but though some of you might enjoy it. I'm genuinely unsure about the place of politics in my live show, so I'd value any comments or thoughts. 


Here's the article thing: 

  

Is offensiveness the best defence? A personal look at politics in Steampunk

By Professor Elemental 

I got booed at a show the other day. Granted it wasn’t the terrifying roars of displeasure that I quite rightly used to receive in my early Hip Hop shows in South London, in fact, it wasn’t loud enough to make out from the stage. But people told me afterwards, there were definitely some unhappy folk. I got booed because of a brief joke I made about assassinating Jacob Reese Mogg with a blunderbuss. It was based in the context that the Tories had embraced Steampunk, if not in it’s visual aesthetic, but certainly their love of Victorian values…ho ho ho… However, it was the idea of popping Mr Rees Mogg in the chops with a vintage shooter that I think was too much for some people. I mean, personally, I would say that the erosion of the NHS, library closures, the Grenfell response, education cuts, police cuts, the dissolution of our rights as citizens and ruination of the lives of thousands of disabled people was more offensive than my brief gag about Jacob Reese Mogg and a blunderbuss, but there you go. You can’t please all of the people all of the time I suppose. 

Or can you? Should you at least try to? I mean, it’s fair to say that most if not all the audience had paid good money to enjoy a night of variety and music with a Victorian twist, certainly not to be lectured in a puerile fashion about hard left politics, no matter however devilishly handsome the raconteur was. I’ve long stated my opinion that Steampunk as a subculture is a just a big fancy dress party, a beautiful escape for the largely eccentric and kindly folk that inhabit the fringes of society. It’s one of our escape routes from the real world, and a very pretty one it is too. Does it really need the sharp edges of the real world intruding on its fluffy world of whimsy? 

Personally, I’m torn. On the one hand I am a desperately needy man, who delights in bringing crowds together in unison, no matter who they are. The very best thing about performing for me is getting everyone involved, until there’s no distance between stage the audience and we’re genuinely all experiencing joy together. 

On the other, I firmly believe it’s the duty of a hip-hop emcee, let alone a stand-up comedian to speak a bit of truth and to poke fun at authority. A rapper who worries endlessly about offending anyone, isn’t much of a rapper. Who can’t admire the uncompromising politics of, say, The Men Who Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing and their associated stand up acts? Music needs some balls, some rebels, some people who care deeply enough to shout about what they believe in, or at least take the piss out of what they don’t.  

I’m not brave enough to be a proper rebel, but I have had many walk-outs over the years for my anti-Brexit reworking of ‘I’m British’ and lengthy diatribes about Michael sodding Gove. If the government are hurting our libraries, our children’s education, our friends with disabilities- don’t we have duty to speak out if we have a platform to do so, however marginal? Or should I just shut up and do that funny song about tea, like people have actually paid to see? Caught between the spirit of ‘All In Together’ and wanting to make challenging art, I’m a white middle-aged man, unthinkingly dressed in a colonial outfit who is also passionately keen to contribute to Hip Hop culture, Steampunk and political stand up. You can see how it gets confusing.  

This may all seem like the ramblings of a performer that channelling his insecurities about losing his audience into a puffed-up piece of self-important twaddle to justify his left leaning political views on stage. And you’d be pretty on the nose. But, it is a subject I think which is genuinely interesting and its wider implications into the world of steampunk are worth thinking about too. 

Personally, I don’t really mind the echo chambers of social media- hanging out with people who genuinely agree with you or just aren’t racists, well, that’s what we aim to do in real life.  But when our isolated viewpoints spill out into the world of steampunk, does that mean that performers should be more watchful of what they say for fear of causing offence? (and I’m not talking about not being sexist, racist or humour that ‘punches down’, Steampunk thankfully has very little tolerance of that.) Is there a danger of our current divisive political climate creating rifts in our delightful world of steam powered badgers and flying corsets? I’ve seen Steampunk groups in America get bogged down with apologist politics and become humourless hand-wringing debating societies, and I’d hate for that to happen here. (I don’t think it would because of our reliance on booze and fun nights out as basic entry into steampunk). But what happens when we stop talking directly to anyone we don’t agree with? 

To finish, this isn’t a piece that has all the answers, or all the questions. Some of you reading doubtless think the politics should be shelved in favour of pure imagination. There might even be a few who consider me centrist scum for even considering a political compromise. But I do know that if Steampunk is to thrive, healthy and open discussion is the key. I hear a lot of back talk and indirect gossip on the scene, often instead of just addressing the person or persons in question to clear things up. We need to work on that and become more direct and clear, while staying entirely splendid and kind to each other. In the meantime, I’ll keep trying to create the best music and finest shows possible. After all you can’t get too serious when wearing your best party trousers. 

What do you think? Let us know. Comments and debate welcomed below. 

YES The prof should use his platform on stage for occaisional satire and political stand up comedy.

NO shut up and get on with rapping about tea you damned fool.

I honestly couldn't care less either way

124 votes total