There is a member of my local Steampunk group named David. David’s a great guy. He’s friendly, likes to show up and participate at get-togethers, and loves to talk about Steampunk. What’s a little different about David compared to others who attends our events is that when he started out Steampunk he did not want to wear a Victorian style hat, he does not have goggles, does not wear a vest, and is not interested in speaking in a faux British accent. The appeal for him is in making, in designing new ideas and putting them into physical form. David works with the other makers in the Steampunk society as they bounce ideas and techniques off of one another for how to better build.
Does not wearing a top hat and vest to events make David any less Steampunk? Not at all. He represents a part of our subculture that many enjoy and some choose to concentrate on rather than their outfit. They pull from the Do It Yourself ingenuity that is often cited as being a strong basis for Steampunk.
So what about those who aren’t into the DIY so much? The attendees who show up at teas and conventions dressed to the nines and concentrating more on how they look, act, and sound rather than being able to say they sewed their own dress? Are they in the wrong then since they aren’t doing everything themselves? Again the answer is not at all.
Steampunk means different things to different people. To ask someone what it is they love about Steampunk and what they get out of it is easier than getting a definition together. It’s a personal choice, a decision made by the participant rather than being a group sourced ideology. It allows for everyone to embrace the parts of Steampunk that they enjoy and they’re good at rather than feeling forced to be involved in everything. No one needs to be a maker in order to be called a Steampunk even if it’s a large part of what makes up our community.
Sometimes this can be a little lost as we get caught up in what’s going on around us. Several months ago the writers of Parliament and Wake came out with a lengthy essay about how Steampunk has failed as a social movement. It went on to discuss about what needed to be done in order to save the movement and make sure it could move forward to enact change in society. How Steampunks needed to band together in order to push past the corporate greed that was surely coming for our aesthetic and to not let base grabs for cash and power get in the way of embracing a simpler, more personal time frame.
The essay caused a strong reaction in the community including a response from myself. To be honest I don’t think I could’ve disagreed with the sentiment of the writers anymore as I watched several good people all but be accused of being traitors and fakes, at least in my interpretation of the writing, for working corporate jobs. My own wife felt like she was being slammed because the company she worked for was not only a medium sized corporation, but that they worked with other larger corporations as well.
Perhaps that wasn’t quite the intent of the authors, but that’s how some interpreted it. Were they wrong in their assessment? It depends on who you ask really. There are some who use Steampunk as a means of enacting social change, of trying to show the skewed view one might have on the world and a misunderstanding of the impact that means. Jaymee Goh is well known for being one of the leaders in driving cultural understanding in Steampunk for instance. The same goes for Miss Kagashi of Multiculturalism in Steampunk and Diana Pho of Beyond Victoriana. It’s important for them to help provide a broader view of what makes up our subculture. The Victorian Era in which Steampunk borrows heavily from was not well known for being open, inviting, and full of understanding of those different than us. To pull the subculture away from those attitudes is important.
Some find interest in other aspects of Steampunk. Mike Perschon, whom I’ve quoted quite a bit over the last few weeks, is the best known literary and historical Steampunk scholar. Jake Von Slatt and Datamancer are often viewed as being driving forces behind the maker aspect, as well as creating a market for Steampunked electronic items such as keyboards and phone cases. Thomas Willeford and Ian Finch-Field have had their leather work shown in several media appearances. Dirigible Days and The League of STEAM provide a great deal of visual entertainment. Quite frankly there are just too many excellent Steampunk bands and authors to really put any one forward here.
The point of that listing is that not everyone is into every aspect of Steampunk. There are plenty who find enjoyment out of it through its aesthetic and social aspects. Some want to be more hands on and design and make everything that they wear and present to the public. Others want to change people’s attitudes and understanding through education and attitude. Some just want to create something beautiful to share with their friends and with the world that they hope can inspire others. Everyone in Steampunk is drawn to the culture and community for different reasons and that is a wonderful thing.
If someone wants to keep things light and simple then they are allowed to. If someone wants to use it as a rallying cry for bringing down the oppressive bourgeoisie then that is their prerogative as well. If someone wants to dress up their pets and children in goggles and aviator hats, then they have to answer for the pictures later, but they’re more than welcome to do so.
So what does Steampunk mean? It means the freedom to latch onto different parts of the whole and to have fun with it. It also means understanding where others are coming from. If a person doesn’t want to hear your carefully constructed lecture on the differences between British and Chinese tea ceremonies and is more interested in winning a fez through tea dueling? Then so be it. If someone wants to rally Steampunks to march in the local parade in support of a cause but you’re not interested? Encourage them and those that do want to participate to do so. One of the most important aspects of Steampunk is to provide an accepting and friendly community that supports all of our varied interests.
It’s also about having fun which is probably the idea I’ve been championing the most during these entries. Both your own fun and the fun of others are equally important in making sure Steampunk works and continue to grow. As I’ve said at the end of many of my writings, if you’re not having fun then you’re doing it wrong.
As my Starting Out Steampunk series comes to an end I would like to thank some of the people who made it happen.
Thanks to my editor, Aaron Sikes who came up with the idea and has worked with me on most of my entries. Thanks as well to Matt Delman for giving me a chance to write for his fine blog.
Thanks to Trip Hope and DJ Doctor Q for providing insight and commentary for me to use in my writing.
Thanks to Mike Perschon for letting me crib him the last few essays on discussing Steampunk, as well as all of the others I’ve quoted here in.
Thanks to Syfer Locke and Scott Huber for being especially supportive.
Thanks to those whose photos I’ve used and have provided wonderful examples and backdrop for my writing.
Thanks to my wife for letting me bounce ideas off of her and being such a wonderful example in many cases.
And lastly thanks to the community, both locally and globally, who have read me works, supported me, and allowed me to use them as examples as well.