When I was in my early teens, my older brother showed me Mad Max for the first time. From the dystopian theme to the crazed combat, I was hooked. What I didn't know is that there was a whole genre of stuff just like Mad Max—a genre called dieselpunk.
Dieselpunk is a fusion of futuristic aesthetics and diesel technology from the early to mid 20th century. It serves as a literary genre and a stylistic format for movies, video games, art and more. Much like steampunk, it exists purely because of the great imagination of creators.
I love dieselpunk because it combines unique imagery with a sort of dystopian feel. Many of these movies have an end of the world feel, but the use of diesel technology is a reminder that this genre has roots in the interwar period of the early to mid 20th century.
Like the other punk genres, dieselpunk arose because of a fascination with both futuristic technology and that of days past. The stylistic elements in dieselpunk are somewhat accurate according to the past, but skewed in certain ways because of the addition of postmodern technology.
Although I didn't know it at the time, Mad Max and Blade Runner were my first forays into dieselpunk. It wasn't until years after I saw it that a friend would describe to me what dieselpunk is and why these movies fit the bill.
Still a bit confused? I get it—so was I. Check out this article for a full breakdown of dieselpunk, including what it is, its history, examples and more.
What Is Dieselpunk?
The original "punk" genre of literature was cyberpunk, popularized during the 1980s by films like Blade Runner. This genre combines a futuristic world and fascinating technology with dire social conditions. Since the origins of cyberpunk begin with 1960s and 70s sci-fi, many of the social issues tackled revolve around drug culture and sex.
When William Gibson's Neuromancer was published in 1984, it helped cyberpunk become a legitimate genre. I would recommend this book if you want an early glimpse into cyberpunk literature.
Dieselpunk is a branch off of cyberpunk, taking the same futuristic aspects and counterculture style of cyberpunk and mixing it with early diesel technology. It's similar to steampunk but focuses on a different time period.
I love dieselpunk for its technology and themes. It fascinates me to see how fictional stories play out during the interwar period, especially in stories like Mad Max and Blade Runner that are so action packed.
There are two themes in dieselpunk: Piecraftian and Ottensian. Ottensian dieselpunk focuses more on the positive side of things, with stories frequently taking place during the Roaring 20s and revolving around the world being saved by diesel technology. Piecraftian dieselpunk focuses more on the war and its effects on society, including how constant warfare could eventually lead to the downfall or destruction of humanity.
Where Is It Found?
You can find dieselpunk in just about any form of expression. I would personally recommend starting with a good dieselpunk film or book, then moving on to other dieselpunk media like video games and art.
One of my favorite video games franchises, BioShock, is filled with retrofuturism and dieselpunk themes. I would also recommend the Fallout series for dieselpunk fans; it's a fun game and strongly embraces dieselpunk themes.
Beyond the basics like Blade Runner and Mad Max, I would recommend Brazil, The Rocketeer, and Dark City. These are all great dieselpunk films that capture the spirit of the genre even if they aren't necessarily well received by critics.
There are a lot of movies that aren't necessarily dieselpunk through and through but that incorporate many aspects of diesepunk. For example, Captain America: The First Avenger and Tim Burton's Batman both have strong dieselpunk influence that's present throughout the movie.
If you want to learn more about dieselpunk and find more concrete examples of it in media, there are some great forums online. I personally like the dieselpunks.org forum. Their homepage also has some great dieselpunk-related articles.
The best way to educate yourself about dieselpunk is to experience it for yourself. Watch a few movies or read a few books that are considered dieselpunk. When you're finished, look at some dieselpunk merch online for more. You can even pick up a copy of any of the BioShock games for cheap now since they're about a decade old.
Like all of the punk genres, dieselpunk definitely isn't for everybody. It's a genre unlike anything else in the world, and its many unique qualities make it a joy to consume. It's my favorite of all the punk genres. Whether I'm playing a good dieselpunk video game or watching a movie, it's always a lot of fun.
Now that you know all about dieselpunk, how are you going to experience it? No matter how you consume it, you're in for a fun, special ride.