Retrofuturistic VS. Futuristic Retro.
Andrew Gearwood | June 11th, 2017
Let's talk about Retrofuturism and the difference between retrofuturistic and futuristic retro.
I know. Another head scratcher. To begin with, the label Retrofuturism has been so widely used and misused that it has evolved from its original usage and meaning. That's ok, that's what language does but it becomes an issue if different people are using it to mean different things in the same context. So let's have a dialogue about what it means to us, the Dieselpunk community.
Retrofuturism originally meant 'the study of the future as seen by the past'. One of the earliest published usages of the term was as the title of a book by TR Hinchcliffe published in 1967, which was talking about the art movement of Futurism and the nostalgia that was developing for retrospective futurism. This original concept of Retrofuturism dealt with how the past viewed the future in art, literature, science and so on. Examples of the subject matter are things like Popular Science magazine and HG Wells as always.
HG Wells is a good example of the area of retrofuturist interest and study. He imagined a future from the time in which he lived, a time that is our past. And so at this point, if the story ended here, neither Steampunk nor Dieselpunk is retrofuturist per se. They can't be. But..... You guessed it... the story doesn't end here. Retrofuturism evolved.
The prevalent use and meaning of Retrofuturism today takes into account two ideas. 1. The original concept of the future as seen from the past and 2. The past as seen from the future. And importantly, it doesn't just study these ideas - it actively creates new expressions of how the past might see the future and how the future might see the past.
The two ideas have become more or less inseparable. In Steampunk in particular the merger is successful when done well - the introduction of modern technology into an alternative Victorian history alongside the stylisation of modern technology with the Neo- Victorian aesthetic.
This version of Retrofuturism which combines the original idea of the future as imagined in the past with its exact polar opposite, the past as imagined (or perhaps, more accurately, re-imagined) by the future is now the dominant view though the Oxford English Dictionary currently defines Retrofuturism as "the use of a style or aesthetic considered futuristic in an earlier era". Those who enjoy Atompunk or Raygun Gothic will probably find this OED definition a perfect fit for their genre.
I personally am not sure it fits quite so neatly to Dieselpunk but it is close. My view is that Dieselpunk is futuristic retro in outlook. We start with a love and passion for retro art, cars, clothes, values, and so on - then we mix and match modern or futuristic techology with the vintage to create our own expression of Dieselpunk in a Futuristic Retro style.
So what is the difference between retrofuturistic and futuristic retro? Retrofuturism considers the future as seen from the past and in my view, futuristic retro considers a future that looks like the past as seen from the present. I believe this is an important theme in Dieselpunk.
In conclusion then, Retrofuturistic art and literature can be most easily be defined as the future as seen from the past. Things like magazine adverts, film, books that are authentic retrofuturist are source material that informs the retrofuturist genre which is a modern day contemporary expression of art, fashion, literature, film etc that adopts retro styles anachronistically and often adds modern or futuristic technologies to the historic in a way that can be either parachronistic or prochronistic, or just straight up anachronistic.
I have added some photos. The first couple are classic retrofuturist and the last two are futuristic retro. The pictures probably make the whole of this essay redundant.
What are your thoughts on Andrew's deninitons of retrofuturistic and futuristic retro?