Imagining a Better Future by Re-imagining the Past

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Flavors of Dieselpunk: Part IV

Becoming Death: Post-Apocalyptic Piecraftian Dieselpunk

"Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds." ~ Julius Robert Oppenheimer quoting the Bhagavad Gītā after the first atomic bomb was detonated in 1945.

As if Dystopian Piecraftian couldn’t be terrifying enough it gets even more ominous. In this installment I plan to explore the ultimate failure of humanity: its own destruction. It is the ominous vision of a dead or dying world combined with a diesel era esthetic or element that is Post-Apocalyptic Piecraftian sub-class of dieselpunk.

Diesel Era Source

By 1945 the world had seen the worse that Humanity could become. Depending on the source World War I may have cost as many as 16 million lives while World War II as many as 78 million. These two wars, combined with the evil of the Holocaust along with other atrocities, had shown the depths of depravity that the human race could sink to. But, as though these horrors were not enough, the end of World War II saw that the Human species had finally gained the ability to annihilate all life on earth with the creation of nuclear weaponry. This ability to destroy on a scale never before envisioned, when combined with the evil humanity had shown it was capable of in the prior wars, warned of the potential for a disaster of an unimaginable magnitude.

Image of the Trinity Test, which was first atomic explosion

It is the potential for catastrophe that arrived during the latter part of the diesel era that rests at the heart of Post-Apocalyptic Piecraftian Dieselpunk.

Post-Apocalyptic Piecraftian Dieselpunk

“I do not know how the Third World War will be fought, but I can tell you what they will use in the Fourth—rocks!” ~ Albert Einstein, 1949

Ottens and Piecraft were right to include the Ralph Bakshi’s animated masterpiece “Wizards” as an example of Post-Apocalyptic Piecraftian dieselpunk (The Gatehouse Gazette, issue 1).

In the prologue of the film we learn that five terrorist had exploded a nuclear device that set off a chain of nuclear attacks that had destroyed the world and making it nearly uninhabitable. All that was left were mutants created by centuries of radiation. Then after two million years the elves and fairies returned to occupy the healthy green lands while the mutants continue to live in the radioactive wastelands.

One night the fairy queen gives birth to two wizard babies: a wise and good wizard named Avatar and an evil wizard named Blackwolf. After their mother’s death the two wizards, now adults, battle. Avatar wins the fight and Blackwolf is driven off into the wasteland. For over five thousand years Blackwolf studies black magic and digs up pre-holocaust technology in the hopes of finding the means of conquest but his discoveries are not enough to motivate his army of mutants to defeat the powers of magic. Then we’re told that he discovers something special.

Until this point the film, after being told by the narrator that the story concerns the ongoing battle between technology and magic, seems more Renpunk than Dieselpunk. The first hints of dieselpunk are seen when we’re shown a swastika painted under Blackwolf’s throne. Nazi uniforms and symbols appear, primarily with the mutants, throughout the movie. After learning about the President’s assassination, as he walks through his factory surrounded by war machines, Blackwolf states, “It’s time to strike, Sieg Heil.”

At one point Blacklwolf pulls back a curtain consisting of a Nazi flag and announces, “Attention, leaders of tomorrow’s master race!” He then uses a projector to show Nazi Germany propaganda along with German World War II military assaults. We learn that the projector is in fact a dream machine that transmits images of the German blitzkrieg into the minds of the fairy and elf warriors, which paralyzes them with fear to be slaughtered by his army of mutants and demons.

The majority of the story that follows is the quest by the wizard Avatar, the fairy princess Elinore, and the elf Weehawk to destroy the dream machine as well as Blackhawk and to save the world of the people of magic.

Warnings for Us All

What we see in the animated feature Wizards, and in Post-Apocalyptic dieselpunk, are two warnings. One warning is a reminder that humanity now has the power to destroy on a scale beyond anyone’s imagination, which is a responsibility that we must not take lightly. But it’s also a warning not to take our liberties for granted. After the defeat of Blackwolf, the narrator states that “Hitler was dead, again.” While the man named Adolf Hitler died decades ago we need to remember that the evil he embodied may always return. Post-Apocalyptic dieselpunk stands as a reminder of humanity’s capacity for self-destruction and for evil.

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