Interview with Great Steampunk Debate Moderators – Part 3

Welcome back for the conclusion of this interview with moderators from the Great Steampunk Debate – Amanda Stock, John Sondericker III, and Tome Wilson.

Part 1 can be read here.

Part 2 can be read here.

AA: Welcome back everyone. Continuing our discussion about the Great Steampunk Debate, there were several contentious and very heated discussions once the debate started. One thread was temporarily locked, another was deleted and restarted. What happened behind the scenes in moderator discussions about how to handle those types of situations?

AS: There were threads dedicated to each one of these issues for discussion of how to deal with it. Temporary thread locking was used to prevent things spiraling out of control before we could come to an agreement on how to handle the situation. All possible courses of action were discussed and the best one was chosen as soon as possible in order to help keep things on track.

JS: I missed this. I think I was traveling.

TW: Behind the scenes, we really wanted to let everyone to voice their opinion, regardless of viewpoint.  This was made very clear.  No matter how negative the opinion, it was still protected.

However, halfway through the event, we noticed a trend.  A handful of very vocal participants were consistently using personal attacks to make their arguments, and were creating an uncomfortable environment for the other participants.  While their viewpoints were as valid as any other, their debate styles lead to moderation of their threads and eventually of their accounts.

Like any organized event, there are usually a few rotten apples who would rather stay and spoil the bunch than leave in peace.  So, after multiple warnings and a ton of behind the scenes discussions by the mods, those accounts were disciplined by being temporarily suspended.

AA: There were several postings in GSD and elsewhere that a handful of participants were intense enough in their postings so as to dissuade many others from participating and posting their own thoughts. At least one of them commented a few times that he was prohibited from replying, commenting, or responding. Was this situation discussed beforehand as a possibility, especially by those who operate their own forums?

AS: It was discussed very briefly before the debate, and especially once some familiar names of people known to have caused trouble on forums in the past had registered. We didn’t want to stop anyone from sharing their opinions outright, so everyone was allowed to register and join the debate, but there was a warning system in place to deal with anyone who repeatedly caused problems.

JS: I expected this.

TW: While the existence of internet trolls is an unfortunate truth, we truly wanted the Debate to be as open as possible.  However, when some of the debates turned into personal attacks, we needed to get the debate back on the rails in the best way possible.

AA: Was it a surprise in an online forum for some people to be aggressive, vociferous, even relentless, in their mode of expressing their opinions?

AS: It wasn’t really surprising. Thankfully this seems to be less common in the steampunk community than some other places online, though.

JS: Not at all.

TW: In general, the members of Dieselpunks and most other retrofuturist sites I frequent are extremely genial and friendly, regardless of personality or differenced opinion, so it was a minor surprise that this kind of childish activity would pop up on a similar website.  As a matter of fact, the only person that I’ve had to ban from Dieselpunks since we started the website was a member of the same group who was temporarily banned from The Great Steampunk Debate.

AA: In retrospect, some people seemed to be anti-steampunk, felt that what steampunk is today isn’t the way they want it to be, or defined steampunk in an unusual way. Valid or invalid, honestly questioning or intentionally provocative, what value do you think those critiques presented to other participants?

AS: Those critiques were of value, no matter how inflammatory they sometimes were. They often showed how steampunk had grown and changed over the years, and helped members new to the community see what sort of divisions were present within it.

JS: There is a lot of this out there. Steampunk has been around for a while and some people are pretty tired of it. Look at the comments on most any post for steampunk and you’ll see a string of complaints of the coverage Cory [Doctorow] gives steampunk, and you’ll see a fair number of people just saying, “Steampunk is gay.”

TW: I think it brought a sense of history to those unfamiliar with the genre previous to its current incarnation as an arts & crafts movement.  However, when presented with an orthodox viewpoint, most members of the Debate expressed that they enjoyed the personal freedom and artistic flexibility of the genre, which heated some topics to the point of flame wars.

AA: Heated rhetoric aside, there were several other (calmer) threads discussing things like manners, role play, music, and literature. Do you think these topics had easier agreement, or people had less strong opinions to voice, or something else?

AS: Well, those topics are by nature less personal. Things like politics and social theory have important ramifications for members of different groups and can be intensely important to many people. On the other hand, everyone has different music taste, but that’s fine because we don’t all have to agree to listen to the same thing.

JS: Those topics allow people to talk about what they like, rather than state their opinions, so it was automatically easier to agree on the content.

TW: The Debate in general became a sharing ground for ideas rather than a “you must feel this way or that way, because of XYZ reason.”  While this helped us gather an opinion about the current state of steampunk, not many black-and-white questions were hotly debated.  Rather, many people stepped in and said, “it’s okay to live in a world where grey exists.”

AA: What are your thoughts in review about the event, the process, the discussions, and any outcomes?

AS: I’d have to thank the rest of the team, especially Nick and Allegra for their dedication to the event and their vision of what it could be. The process of organizing it was so smooth with them at the helm.

I wish we could have had the actual debate run a little smoother but I think that overall it was a reasonably successful venture. It did what it set out to do; it brought members from across the online steampunk community together and gave them a structured place to discuss steampunk ideology and culture.

JS: Thanks Nick & Allegra. The whole thing was obviously a lot of work and I half suspected that it would lead to unmanageable flame-wars. Nice job.

TW: At the end, I’m disappointed that people weren’t as active, primarily because a few vocal members, while still working within the framework of our rules (by the letter if not by the spirit), made it uncomfortable to participate.  Next year, we’ll have those issues ironed out and we’ll have the experience needed to anticipate the things that could be problems.

As for the process of the debate, its outline, and the organization needed to set it up, I’m very happy how that went.  Plus, I have to give Nick and Allegra extra kudos for handling the website setup and programming.

AA: Was it worthwhile for you, or not, and why?

AS: The debate was certainly a worthwhile experience, for the chance to better connect with members of the steampunk community I was not previously well acquainted with as well as the chance to discuss the finer points of steampunk ideology. It certainly helped me to solidify my positions on a lot of the issues debated and really made me think about the serious side of steampunk.

JS: It was worthwhile because I got to hear from a nice cross-section of the community. That hadn’t really ever been done before.

TW: I helped because I wanted to.  There was no reward other than knowledge.

AA: For each of you, what comes next? Any changes in what you are doing in your blogs, ezines and forums?

AS: I am continuing to run the Toronto Steampunk Society, planning more events and trying to promote steampunk within my city. Apart from that, I am trying to write more about steampunk in both the Gatehouse Gazette as well as the newly established publication from Steampunk Canada, The Dominion Dispatch.

JS: Steampunk Tales is charging along. Issue 8 should be out mid August and we have great things planned for the future!

TW: Not really.  The Great Steampunk Debate didn’t settle any pressing issues that are going to change the world.  Instead, we built a place where a community can express their views and hopefully gain an appreciation for other viewpoints within the genre.  For me, I’ve always been pretty open.  I don’t own the genre, no one does, and therefore I don’t take a hard line stance about what it should or shouldn’t be.

I believe it had underground roots, a solid trunk of work, and is now growing distinct branches.  As it continues to grow, it will drop seeds, and something new will grow.  It won’t replace the original, it will just be different.  What that will be is up to the next generation.

AA: Will there be a GSD 2011, and would you reprise your role, or is it too early to tell?

AS: The debate was originally planned to be a one-time event, although it would be interesting to see this repeated with the knowledge we have now about how to keep things running smoothly. Tracking the change of opinions over the years would certainly be of value. If another debate were held, I would definitely be willing to moderate it again so long as it still seemed like a group of people I could work with running things and keeping a similar goal in mind.

TW: As far as I know, we’re opening the site up again next year.  I think it would be helpful, because as steampunk continues to grow, it’s helpful to know what the new generation is doing to change it.  Barring any complications, I would be glad to help again as a moderator.

AA: If there is a GSD 2011, what would you like to see people (participants) do in the next year beforehand as preparation?

AS: Stay active in the steampunk community and keep thinking about the sort of topics that were covered by the debate. Also, come up with new topics they’d like to see discussed.

Oh, and I’d like to see everyone educate themselves on feminist theory and gender studies a little more before participating in the “Gender and Steampunk” debate 🙂

JS: Can I say “learn how to spell” and get away with it? Seriously, I don’t think anyone would need to prepare.

TW: I think that it’s important to know your history and to research a topic before starting a debate with someone else.  While steampunk is a freeform and individualist genre, it does have a history prior to 2005 that people should be aware of.

This would lead to less “I think it is, therefore that’s what it must be” answers that, in-turn, piss off the orthodoxs.

AA: Any final thoughts to share?

AS: Steampunk is all about the spirit of discovery, so go out and explore it!

JS: Any social movement is hard to define because it is an amalgam of so many different perspectives from so many different people. The diversity of the steampunk demographic greatly exceeds so many other social movements. Young, old, maker, costumer, fiction enthusiast, modder… we cast a very wide net and one of our strengths is in how many things people consider steampunk, not how similar our visions are.

TW: If you’re going to dance in church, make sure you know what type of church it is first.

Thank you again, everyone, for your time and efforts for the Great Steampunk Debate and for this interview! We look forward to your continued work with the Toronto Steampunk Society, Steampunk Tales Magazine, Dieselpunks, and hopefully, the Great Steampunk Debate 2011!

Published in: on September 12, 2010 at 7:46 am  Comments (2)  
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Interview with Great Steampunk Debate Moderators – Part 1

The Great Steampunk Debate was an online event in May and June 2010 where everyone was invited to participate in discussing various topics related to steampunk – the formative history, the expressions of it today, and where it might be going.

This week, we talk with several of the moderators who built, coordinated and ran the event

Amanda Stock – co-founder of the Toronto Steampunk Society, an administrative member of Steampunk Canada, a moderator, community member and erstwhile contributor to the Gazette over at The Gatehouse

John Sondericker III – Steampunk Tales Magazine

Tome Wilson – the creator/admin behind Dieselpunks,

Other Moderators include:

Allegra Hawksmoor – one of the editors of SteamPunk Magazine

Chris Garcia – editor of Exhibition Hall

Russell Alexander – the founder of the Wings of Steam Anachronistic Society

Dylan Fox – administer the UK Steampunk Network, a contributing editor to Steampunk Magazine, member of Vagrants Among Ruins

Nick Ottens – creator and editor at The Gatehouse and the Gatehouse Gazette

Mike Perschon – author of the Steampunk Scholar blog, with a focus on literature

John Naylor – Chair of the Victorian Steampunk Society and creator of The Asylum festival, a professional TV art director and production designer

Airship Ambassador: Welcome to all of you, and thank you very much for taking time from your other responsibilities for this interview. As a project manager in my own day to day life, I could see how much work it must have taken to organize and execute the Great Steampunk Debate. As such, I am personally very curious about all of the behind-the-scenes work and activity. First, how did this event come about?

Amanda Stock: I’ll let the others handle this one, seeing as I was involved more as an additional moderator and not as one of the primary organizers.

John Sondericker III: As far as I know, Allegra contacted the moderators. The initial thrust was to decide if steampunk was inherently political. The topics grew from there.

Tome Wilson: The Great Steampunk Debate came about as an open, politically-neutral forum where people interested in the retrofuturism subculture could share ideas and help define what steampunk has recently become and give insight on where they think it is moving.


AA: How much planning and discussion went into creating the GSD before it launched

AS: Oh, months worth of planning things down to minutiae preceded the actual debate. All of the moderators and administrators had access to polls and discussion boards for deciding exactly how everything was to be structured and run. Most major decisions were made by majority vote and discussion of details. The planning went on right until the week before the debate started.

JS: Months and months. At times I wondered why we were taking so long, but in the end it seemed like it was well worth the time involved.

TW: A great deal of planning was needed to get The Great Steampunk Debate off of the ground.  Primarily, there was the need for a neutral area, unassociated with an established forum or group so the GSD contributors could feel at ease stating their opinion without the fear of backlash.  For example, you don’t try to hold an open political debate with anarchists and communists at Republican Party headquarters.


Once the groundwork was set, a call was sent to those whom the organizers felt were influential within the retrofuturist community.  This guaranteed a certain amount of publicity for the event, and helped bring a larger, more varied group of participants to the fore.

From there, it was a completely democratic matter of creating questions, and goals for the event.


AA: What were the important elements which kept all of you together and moving forward towards a common goal when each person’s perspective, personality and goals might be completely different and even in opposition to others?

AS: The desire to create a space in which all members of the online steampunk community could come together outside of their usual spheres was the overarching goal that kept us working together. There were some disagreements as to how certain elements of the debate should be run, but with the voting system in place, things went pretty smoothly. I personally really enjoyed working with the other moderators. Everyone was very friendly, civil, and willing to try and see things from each other’s point of view.

JS: For the most part we agreed on a lot of things, or didn’t feel strongly enough to pose much opposition. I recall there were a few votes on topics where we didn’t reach a consensus. We’d then typically just come together and agree, post poll.

TW: We used a very structured, democratic voting method for shaping all elements of the event.  This helped the process from being railroaded by one strong personality.  While it may have taken longer to come to a consensus, I believe it was the best way to create something we could all be proud of.


AA: The one agreed upon purpose of GSD was “to explore steampunk ideology’ – what other ideas were proposed, discussed, modified, and struck down?

AS: That was pretty much the point of the debate from the very beginning of the planning stages. The idea of coming to some manner of overall conclusion with regards to some of the questions was thrown around, but ultimately untenable because of the sheer diversity of opinions within the steampunk community. Instead, members were encouraged to post their own conclusions and what they had taken away from the two months the debate ran.

JS: We all were interested in what the demographic of the steampunk movement was, so in general we were posing the same questions and interested in the same topics.

TW: That was the core idea, and it influenced the entire structure of the event from the beginning.  Of course, it was reworded several times over for clarification, but the spirit of “exploring steampunk ideology” was what we truly set out to accomplish.


AA: It sounds like there was a great deal of discussion among the people involved as moderators, with widely varying viewpoints about what form and format the GSD should take. What were the challenges in finding common ground?

AS: Well, because of the way decisions were made it wasn’t too difficult to come to an agreement on what format suited the debate best once the basic idea had been established. Having been brought in as a moderator by Nick once this had happened, I can’t say I know how the initial round of decisions and discussions went.

JS: We were all more or less laid back and malleable. There were some points of contention, but I don’t recall too much that was heated.

TW: I was accepted as a second-round moderator after Allegra and Nick brought the idea past the concept stage.  My connection to both of these individuals was entirely professional prior to the event, so I can only guess what their criteria guidelines were for choosing the mods.


AA: I’ve read that there were heated debates and intense discussions among the group when putting GSD together. Did you find similar discussions happened among participants once the site opened?

AS: I didn’t personally end up in any heated debates. Most of the organizers seemed to mesh well and the whole process was fairly smooth. Of course, participants in the actual debate did have widely varying opinions about whether the way things were organized was ideal, and a small but vocal number certainly let it be known that they would have done things differently.

JS: Allegra really did a fine job in structuring things. As for the actual debate, I’m glad it was somewhat heated because a debate that isn’t is not much fun to follow.

TW: I wouldn’t say “heated.”  With any new project where there are several cooks are in the kitchen making the meal, you’re going to have disagreements and conflicts of personality.  Some people bowed out after they saw that the shape of the event didn’t fit their vision of what they thought it should have been, but it was more of a “I can’t support this,” rather than a “Screw you guys, I’m outta here.”  Once the ball got rolling, the voting method seemed to work very well for ironing out the little details.


AA: Some moderators were actively part of the discussions, some stepped in as needed to keep discussions on track, some weren’t apparent in any threads. Were there any general guidelines for participation in the debate being a moderator?

AS: It had been decided that moderators were allowed to freely participate in the discussions because their opinions on the questions being explored were important, too. After all, many of the moderators and administrators were prominent members of the steampunk community with well-developed positions on a lot of the topics covered.

The way we opted to separate personal opinion posts from moderation posts was decided part way through the debate, when it became clear that members weren’t certain when mods were acting as figures of authority and when they were simply acting as participants in discussion. We ended up placing “MODERATOR POST” in bold at the top of any post in which a moderator was exercising their duty in keeping things on track, and these posts had to be separate from any personal opinions being expressed.

JS: I posted some but spent much more time lurking. After already having time to think about the questions I found that I wasn’t really in the mood to try to bring folks in line with my own opinions. As far as the actual moderation is considered, that always seemed to be well taken care of by some of the more active moderators.

TW: There were no clear-cut rules for moderation at the start since most of us were veterans at the job, but it was understood by all that we were solely in charge of keeping the GSD running smoothly.  To give you an idea of our participation rights as moderators, it might be helpful knowing that we were initially going to call ourselves “ushers.”  We were there to show people the way and to keep the event from becoming unruly, but our active participation was to be kept to a minimum.

This meant that once the event was able to stand on its own, most mods took a step back and watched things unfold from behind the curtain, only appearing when it was necessary to keep things on topic.


End of Part 1

Please join us next week for the continuation of this interview with moderators from the Great Steampunk Debate.

Click here to read the rest of the interview

Part 2

Part 3


Published in: on August 29, 2010 at 7:26 am  Comments (1)  
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Steampunk is Intellectual

Steampunk encourages intellectualism, valuing independent thinking, questioning, and the pursuit of knowledge, on many fronts and for many reasons. Investigate the unknown. Challenge authoritarian proclamations. Validate speculation and hypothesis. Experience your erudition as a positive and meaningful life for yourself.

Intellectualism is an act of rebellion against the control of fear, falsehoods, and ignorance by basing our actions and beliefs on informed logic and reason combined with curiosity and creativity. It is a fight against immutable ideology, prescribed doctrine, and contradictory precepts. It is a confrontation of infallible authority, conformist truths, and hypcritical perceptions.

Therefore, using information as our flame, inquiry as our sword, and experimentation as our shield, steampunk is rebellion.

Even the most minimal participation in the various forms of steampunk culture and community practically begs for, if not demands, ongoing, open ended, ontological education. We are not content to be told how things are, what we must do, or how we should act. In our steampunk revisions, reinventions and recreations, we seek to understand how things originally work so we can make our own changes and build something new. We seek to analyze in order to know the underlying meaning and significance. We seek to try new experiences so as to expand the boundaries of our lives.

Our stories are not just about literacy but requests the ability to comprehend, understand, and relate to an alternate, if not altogether new, world, to analyze the underlying themes and symbolism, and to interpret the messages beyond the surface plotline.

Our fashions are not just imitations but new creations, not just pulling together disparate elements in a haphazard way but with structure and desire to project a specified image.

Our technology is not just reimagining or reinterpreting but forging something new from reusable materials using a different perspective.

For all of these things, we need to constantly review and deduce how people are, what history is all about, and why things actually work. It goes beyond a desire to merely learn new topics, it is an innate drive to experience and absorb those untried ideas and concepts and then to combine them into something hitherto unforeseen. Much like our symbolic brass, our inventive enlightenment is about the connection and integration of the unrelated, the fusion of contradictions, and the amalgam of diversity.

Writers learn the techniques of their craft but then must also go on to learn about the people and the world around them. Successful steampunk authors aren’t telling a formulaic story with the superficial trappings of the nineteenth century. Their characters aren’t one dimensional caricatures or stereotypes. Their commentary is not shallow. In creating a believable world setting, they must understand cause and effect and real world history in order to present plausible explanations for differences. For characterization, they need to understand the psychology of human behavior and motivations, how people change and why they stay the same. There is an understanding of symbolism and metaphor, of structure and tactics, of the form and impact of the very words themselves.

Designers learn the initial construction process, but then examine history for inspiration. The fantastic outfits we see at conventions and in artwork are not mirrored replicas. They are not even simplistic interpretations of a bygone era. There is thought and planning behind the image to project, the character to be, the attitude to own. The colors and patterns are not splashed together like abstract art, the shapes and functions are not cubist elements brought together as crude building blocks, and the final collection is not just the sum of its parts but is a greater composition with its own substance and meaning.

Makers learn about technology and how things work but then move on to experimentation and pushing the boundaries of mechanics and imagination. In all forms of the arts – technology, sculptures, drawings and more – they create realities out of dreams. They are the ones who bring the tools and toys to life, transforming the potential into the tangible. It is hands-on skill combined with creative vision which creates objects of inspiration and wonder.

All of this is the result of investigation, research, and practice. It is questioning what is and asking “Why not?” It is that inherent drive to take one idea and walk down multiple surprising new paths of study and interest.

Every steampunk is an author, a designer and a maker in their own right. Each of us has those aspects, grown and nurtured in everything we see, read, and do. Each of us writes a story every day in our beliefs, actions, and attitudes, if not actually on paper then on life writ large. Each of us creates images of how society and culture might be, how people could be, and how we as individuals should be. Each of us builds new constructs, if not tangible artwork then as imaginings, discussions and friendships.

You rebellious steampunks think you are so smart.

Thankfully, you are.

Published in: on May 2, 2010 at 8:13 am  Leave a Comment  
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