Imagining a Better Future by Re-imagining the Past

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Dieselpunk Lexicon Part 4: Retrofuturism

The term 'retrofuturism' was coined by T.R. Hinchcliffe for his book Retro-Futurism, published in 1967  by Penguin Press. In 1983, avant-garde artist Lloyd John Dunn resurrected the term and published a magazine by the same name dedicated to Xerox Art that ran from 1987 to 1993.

Elizabeth Guffey and Kate C. Lemay in their article "Retrofuturism and Steampunk" published in the Oxford Handbook of Science Fiction, provides a good definition of retrofututism. They wrote, "Retrofuturism can be defined as an ambivalent fascination for a future that never came to pass. But, by engaging the popular strain of Futurism that thrived from the later nineteenth century through the 1970s, the term usually applied to an array of pop-culture ephemera from the early to mid-twentieth century, from robot toys to shark finned hovercrafts, pulp magazine covers to architectural utopias."

Pawel Frelik wrote in his essay "The Future of the Past: Science Fiction, Retro, and Retrofuturism", published in the Parabolas of Science Fiction, "The prefix "retro" may be used very liberally nowadays, but for the purpose of discussion I understand retrofuturism, or science fictional retroism, as a practice that specifically exploits the tensions between ideas about the future from our historical past - either actual predictions or fictions in time - and notions of futurity expressed in contemporary narratives." He goes on to write, "Retrofuturism, I suggest, refers to the text's vision of the future, which comes across as anachronistic in relation to contemporary ways of imagining it."

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow as well as Blade Runner, both mentioned by Frelik in his essay, are certainly examples of Dieselpunk Retrofuturism. However, neither Pan's Labyrinth nor Raiders of the Lost Ark, both Dieselpunk movies, are retrofuturist for they both lack a "vision of the future".

Dieselpunk Movie "Blade Runner": Retrofuturism

Dieselpunk Movie "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow": Retrofuturism

A good rule of thumb is that all diesel-era style or themed retrofuturism is Dieselpunk but not all Dieselpunk is diesel-era style or themed retrofuturism.

Dieselpunk Movie "Pan's Labyrinth": Not Retrofuturism

Dieselpunk Movie "Raiders of the Lost Ark": Not Retrofututism

I highly recommend Pawel Frekik's essay "The Future of the Past: Science Fiction, Retro, and Retrofuturism" published in the Parabolas of Science Fiction.

Click here to hear a spirited discussion about Dieselpunk and retrofuturism.

1 comment:

Tiyana Marie said...

Pan's Labyrinth was such a surprisingly good movie! One of my favorite non-English films to date (aside from Amelie). I never thought to look at it as a dieselpunk movie before, but its timeline certainly fits.

That podcast on dieselpunk and retrofuturism was a really good discussion, btw. I feel like Charles was reaaaaaally stretching the definition of dieselpunk, but at the same time, I like the way he thinks. (For the record, I'm more inclined to agree with you, Larry, haha.) On another note, as writer, I would love to see more dieselpunk stories in various mediums (books, movies, etc.) that are more inspired by the likes of Cthulhu, the fantastical, and even the spiritual. Something to play around with. :)