Typogram I.II - Future Ethical Transgressions

Allana: I also want to do a historical exploration of Whitechapel, the place, because I know almost nothing about England or London and really need to get my bearings. The descriptions of the neighbourhoods and streets aren't so rich that I feel lost without it, but it's worth checking out regardless.

Bill: I can recommend reading the notes at the end of Alan Moore's From Hell - and actually his whole book... it all takes place there and you get a really great feel for place. I'm not sure how much more of our current book is going to be set there.

Allana: Good point. Too bad I know nothing of Paris, either. It's funny that the period language (or, what period language the modern writers could scrape together) isn't bothering me nearly as much as it usually does. The reason I can read sci-fi but not fantasy is usually that fantasy keeps up this stilted, feudal-era brogue that I just can't get down with. Even with "snicky humbugging" and the like, I was able to keep my composure. Though I did hiccup at the words "flash mob," because of the contemporary use. The thought of a real flashmob popping up in a town square in 1855 took me a minute to get over. I can't ever imagine Victorian English types having that much fun, for any reason. I wonder if the writers themselves had a snicker when the flashmob concept came about.

Bill: I don't think the concept of a flashmob as we currently know it had been coined even at the time of this book's publication! I think at the time I first read this, knowing both of these authors as cyberpunk authors, the slang came off as clumsy attempts to do cyberpunkish neologisms in a period context. Now it's just reading more like period slang, which is a bit more natural.

Allana: Yeah, that was probably my big stumbling block, too. Young as I was and entrance by Gibson's fancy futures, dreaming myself as a dextrous young hacker saving the world - this book was a pretty big disappointment back in the day. But I do feel bad for blaming Bruce Sterling. What can I say? I was a stupid kid.

Bill: I think victorians were probably as publicly rowdy as anyone...

Chartist Riot
This picture of a Victorian Flashmob linked to from the Wikimedia Commons.

Bill: The interesting thing to remember is that elaborate social rules and restrictions tend to come about in reaction to the ubiquity of the bad behavior being restricted. No need to even invent rules if the society is generally well behaved. So any era, such as the victorians, that leaves behind a written legacy of elaborate, detailed rules of propriety is probably one in which those rules were routinely broken at the time. I suspect there was quite a bit of raucus public fun in the streets of London.

Allana: Maybe. It's hard to keep track of the class differences. If we stick with the flashmobbing example, it's typically a white middle-class urban pursuit: people with cellphones and free time. Public rowdiness back in the day seems more a lower-class, gin-addict sort of thing. Or at least, things back then seem more like serious political concerns, while we're pretty much all about having fun here in the privileged western world. Again, I'm almost useless when it comes to history and politics, but didn't the Industrial Revolution have a huge part to play in making the middle class we now belong to? In Victorian times, the pen-holders were of the strict upper-class (as Sybil herself refers to when she splits her two lives into Jones and Gerard), so of course we hear about primness and propriety.

Bill: That's probably right... but there was quite a thriving practice, at least among upper class men, of slumming for fun. Charles Dickens used to do it quite a bit himself... it was easy for an established male to cross social boundaries downward temporarily to engage in disapproved behavior, and still return to his regular station. Probably not as easy for women... though I did se an article recently that suggested Victorian women had quite a bit more naughty fun than has generally been suspected.

Allana: It's on BoingBoing, and I've seen it as well. But I'm not sure it really implied that much fun. Mostly just that women, after marriage, were a lot less shy about sexual acts. And those studies were conducted in an almost entirely academic and upper-class demographic. I don't really think that men seeing prostitutes or indulging in drugs and fighting is such a big deal. I tend to compare it to Greek men taking beautiful young boys when and how they wanted, and then retreating calmly to their homes and wives. But I swear I'm not trying to win any points for the feminist oh-poor-women-so-deprived argument. It just seems to be the way things have been, more often than not, in many cultures.

Bill: You're right with regard to industrialization largely creating what we think of as the modern middle class - thought that process began with international trade much earlier in the middle ages... men who traded goods accumulated great wealth outside of the medieval system of nobility, so they started to wield political and social power far out of proportion to their station.

Allana: It's funny to read dystopian predictions of the future where things we find shocking now are still supposed to be shocking later. In Transmetropolitan, when Spider tries to oust politicians for having sex with little boys or drugged-out half-humans, I always wondered "Yeah, but why would the people on the streets really care?"

Bill: Yes, I always think dystopian fiction tends to fall down when imagining future ethical transgressions... Robert Heinlein used to write in things like incest as almost matter of factly acceptable in some of his future societies... he was often trying to push boundaries of acceptability for the very reason you cite - that mores often change as dramatically as technology... but I think many people shy from that for fear of not being able to sell books!

Allana: True enough.

To be continued in Typogram I.III - Watching Someone Hang From Hooks is Different From Doing It Yourself

1 comment:

  1. Allana - your conviction that the Victorians were stodgy is really bugging me. I'm going to recommend that you watch a film if you haven't already seen it, it's called "Topsy-Turvy":


    Its a Mike Leigh film about Gilbert and Sullivan, their associates, their working relationship, and the culture they thrived in. It's a very very well made film, and very funny - but in a completely natural, matter of fact way, not as a vehicle for jokes.

    It plays like you are just a fly on the wall of their actual, daily lives. It's very naturalistic. It will give you a much better sense of the kind of sense of fun that suffused daily interactions in the Victorian era.

    I'm not saying times were exactly the same, or that the risk of impropriety ruining one's reputation wasn't a bigger danger in those days. I'm just saying that the kind of subversive, weird sense of humor that fuels things today like flashmobs was very much a part of the daily Victorian experience as well.