by Professor Elemental
Being a grown up is hard. Mortgages, illnesses, car payments, credit card bills, parenting and politics; these are not activities for the faint hearted. So it’s no wonder that all of us seek some kind of escape from time to time. There’s the telly and the computer, sports and video games, a cornucopia of exciting drugs and new sexual combinations- all there to help ease the pressure of modern life. Still, some of us like to go that extra mile; for some of us, it’s not enough, to watch science fiction- we want to be science fiction. Why sit around imagining an outlandish fantasy when you could actually go out and live it for a while, or at least a fair approximation of it?
That, to me, is the joy of Steampunk. To don a metal arm, squeeze into an impossible corset or even just pop on a top hat for a night out on the town, all takes a certain sort of commitment. There is a specific mind-set, particular to nerds, that says; ‘Yes world, I appreciate this is a little outlandish, a little ridiculous even, but you know what? I DON’T CARE because what I get out of this is totally worth it.’
Steampunk comes easier to nerds, because (a) we already live in a world partially chiseled out of our own imagination and (b) at some point in our lives, we have dealt with ridicule before. That is huge part of what brings us together, an inherent sense of our own ridiculousness. It’s an ability to tap into the imagination we accessed so readily as children and to play again, with little regard for the outside world. Except this time, we are allowed to stay out as late as we like and can also get served at the bar. Brilliant.
And it is fun isn’t it? Whether you spent all year prowling junk shops for old watch pieces to create your own chest plate time machine which will accompany your character on a journey to recover the missing pieces of a Steamship stolen from a rival captain who you hunt across the chronal skyways…. or you just saw a nice dress one day and thought- ‘that would make a great look for next week’s party’. Either way, Steampunk is a blast.
Like any subculture with more than four people into it, there’s a lot of talk about what’s ‘ruining’ steampunk. The same thing happens in Hip Hop or comic fandom- I am sure it happens with sports fans too or Bronies or Furries and anything else discussed by nerds on the internet. Some have said that commercialisation could kill steampunk (although fortunately, the mainstream never really found a way to make money off it, so has thankfully moved on to kill something else), some say it’s the lack of commitment to the steampunk ideal (as set out brilliantly in Reginald Deviant’s ‘Just glue some gears on it’). I have even seen talk recently with people wringing their hands at those who chose to show off their particulars and get semi-naked for Steampunk. I find this particularly vexing; if you can make steampunk music or comics, then why not art? If you can show off your costume, why not your body? Steampunk is an expression of self, a means to frame a particular form of creativity and focus it to create your own world. If that world is naked, clothed or part robot, that’s your concern. If it’s something I am not keen on, I shall simply wish you well and head over to more like minded folks. There’s no need to take a tinkle on anyone else’s carefully laid out picnic**.
In fact, where some people would argue that Steampunk is ‘let down’ by people who don’t make their own costume or have a fully thought out persona, I would argue that the opposite is true. We don’t need purists, we need newbies. We don’t need judgements on whether a costume is good enough- we need support and ideas and friendship and fandom. And of course, for the most part this exists, as I have said before 99.9% of Steampunks are all these things. We are a fine people who welcome in all who want to join us. But we do need to be careful. There are blogs and facebook posts and speeches and panels that seriously undermine our silliness.
Panels on ‘Problems with the historical accuracy in steampunk’ or that ‘Steampunk and the hegemony of Eurocentric, male perspective’ are about as much fun as being trapped in a corner, with a man who wants to tell you exactly the process he went through to make his robotic arm, while your favourite song plays and you are aching to have dance but don’t want to appear rude. I.E. NOT FUN AT ALL. Of course Steampunk is a romanticised version of Victorian times! Of course it’s wildly inaccurate! I feel like shaking these over serious sods by the shoulders while shouting ‘Take a look at yourself for god’s sake! You are a middle aged person in a Holiday Inn, on the outskirts of town, dressed in a corset and a top hat and carrying a blunderbuss! Get over it! And while you are doing that, would you get me a pint? Thanks’.
It’s not historically accurate, it’s 500 people in silly costumes having a party with a very specific theme. Don’t waste your time on waffling on about it***.
In conclusion, don’t be a grumpy goose- lighten up, jump on the dance floor and join the party! There is room for everyone and the music is excellent. And most of all, remember to make room for the newbies, because a warm welcome to all, will guarantee that our make believe past has a bright future indeed.
Listen to this special track, available during Steampunk Hands 2015 – You Remind Me of a Car
(* In fact, I can safely say that the only subculture that no one is worrying about who is ruining it is ‘chap hop’. There’s only Me, Mr B and a couple of other fellows involved and we are all awfully keen on each other. Why not make up your own obscure subculture in 2015? It’s both fun and rewarding.)
(**I have decided to add to the fray with my totally nude professor calendar for next year, wearing nothing but a pith helmet in selection of seasonal images. Sadly it was banned under the obscene publications act. The authorities said that my knees were too inherently erotic for public display. A tragedy really).
(***Hmm, Which I am aware I may well be doing here. I should probably wrap up this article before anyone realises).