Steampunks: Welcome or Unwelcome?

In the steampunk documentary, Vintage Tomorrows, photographer Libby Bulloff says “When you walk down the street in a top hat and spats, you are causing a riot. You’re making a statement.”

What that intended statement is will be different for each of us, and it may be quite different from what any audience may hear for themselves. Some people will be interested and intrigued, some will perceive it all to be an amusing oddity, and some will give a “What the…?” reaction.

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Lindsay Dowd by MI Geek Scene

At conventions and the smaller regional and local events, we wear what we wear for the event, to embrace the festive spirit, and honestly, to look totally awesome. Those event spaces can also be safe spaces for our attire as we are among like minded people, and usually among accepting venue staff.

Sometime, however, we aren’t always among other who might enjoy the fun nature of steampunk. Several years ago, I commented on how the front desk staff of the St Anthony Wyndham made it quite clear they didn’t want us nor the convention there. Their attitude showed in every thing they did with the attending people. Aetherfest is sadly over, at least for now, and one can only hope that the hotel’s front desk staff has changed over and provides better customer service.

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Diana Vick, co-organizer of Steamcon

Another public event where steampunks weren’t made to feel welcome was in 2014 when security at the Westfield Plaza Mall in Carlsbad ejected a group of steampunks for “wearing apparel that disguises, obscures or conceals the face”. The mall operators never really made a public statement about it and while the situation made the news for a while, it died out as such news stories do.

In August 2016, Sarah Chrisman blogged about her and her husband’s experience at Butchart Gardens in Victoria, BC, Canada. In a nutshell, Sarah felt rudely denied admission to the park because of their everyday-wear, 1800s period style of garments. Apparently, there was sufficient feedback sent to Butchart Garden’s PR department, that they issued a public response. In summary, they said “No period outfits.”

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Jaymee Goh, Silver Goggles blog

Regardless of the accuracy of Sarah’s account, or the brevity of Butchart’s response, the bottom line is that if you are in your finest steampunk-wear, you’ll be denied entry to the gardens. And Disney, and several theme parks, and some museums.

When in doubt, call ahead to see if there will be any problems.

Thankfully, these stories in the media seem like exceptions more than commonplace occurrences. From my own experiences, the vast majority of people like seeing steampunks and our attire. Some pay compliments, some want to get a picture with us, some want to chat and learn more.

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Eric Larson, Teslacon, as Lord Bobbins

The hotel staff at the Madison Marriott West, home of the Teslacon convention, even get into the spirit of the weekend by adding some steampunk items to their workday attire.

When I fly around the country, I’ve taken to wearing at least a vest and dress pants, if not always a steampunk coat (even with those air vents, it gets HOT on the plane!), and my experience on almost every airline is that I feel treated with friendlier, if not better, service.

Lastly, I’ve been in full steampunk attire outside of the actual convention space – restaurants, stores, parks, etc – and while most people might have glanced my way but didn’t say anything one way or another, some people did pass along friendly compliments or inquired about what the outfit and event was all about. There was one time at Steamcon in Seattle, where a gentleman had follwed a group of steampunks back into the hotel, asked about what was going on, and wound up purchasing a ticket for the day.

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Dr. Mike Perschon, Steampunk Scholar blog

What has been your experience?

Has your corset or top hat caused a riot in the streets?

Was there pandemonium and breathlessness caused by your polite mannerisms?

Did you find yourself surrounded by new fans and Facebook friends?

 

Share your stories below, and keep being awesome!

 

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Published in: on August 17, 2016 at 8:55 pm  Comments (7)  
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Supporting Steampunk

As another year wanes to a close, we often cannot help but to look back in review before stepping into the next adventure coming our way. With Teslacon and its review still fresh in mind, there are two ideas which stand out to describe what has been and what is coming up – the effect of steampunk, and supporting steampunk.

First, the effect of steampunk. Our community, our fandom, is all about people. We are a giant global family, complete with charismatic cousins and the crazy aunts and uncles. It’s a wild ride sometimes, there’s drama waiting around the corner, the occasional duels at dawn followed, usually, by drinks at the tavern, but in the end, we are all in this together to create an amazing, wonderful, fun experience where we smile and laugh and sing and dance.

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For Teslacon, my friend and fellow Fan Guest of Honor, steampunk author Karina Cooper, and I were on the same flight, and it’s so rewarding when something like a convention, and the travel to get there, is a shared experience. Events in our lives are generally more fun when shared, and is a great way to learn more about others, and connect. Conventions can be like family reunions, too. It’s not just getting to see current friends in person again and catch up, it’s a way to meet new people and make strong connections with others.

In addition to events, we connect with each other online, in social media, forums, and blogs. Internet searches bring a world of creativity right to us, to inspire and motivate us. New friends are just an email, a tweet, or a comment, away.

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In addition to our typical politeness and general willingness to share information and talk, and talk and talk, we are there to really help each other. Not just with a loose button or bit of emergency repair sewing, or even the how-to instructions about something, we are there for each other as people. Sometimes, our smallest actions make the biggest differences to others and we should never forget that. At a convention and just in the community, a simple hello, a compliment on someone’s outfit, can mean a great deal to someone.

During this last year, I heard several stories from fellow steampunks, and shared my own, about how being part of the community affected, and even changed, lives. One person commented on how getting involved helped he and his daughter reconnect through a common interest; people in their teens and twenties shared how steampunk helped them learn more about themselves and others, and find a happier place and path in the world. Steampunk brought some people together, and even kept relationships together.

My own story starts with the death of my partner by suicide. His alcoholism killed him in the end, and the overwhelming grief I felt at his loss remains the most traumatic event of my life. The future we had planned together was suddenly, instantly, gone. Everything changed in that moment, and the world I knew ended. Whatever one might think about losing a partner or spouse is only the palest shadow of what it really feels like.

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While it seems like I was on autopilot most of the time that first year, going to work and taking care of my dogs, the rest of my life just stopped. Greif swamped every other aspect of my life and sucked the energy out of everything. Watching my life was like watching TV, caught up in the story at any given moment but still disconnected from it. Food had no taste, behavior was only routine, and the world seemed to have no substance. A year’s worth of memories are just static, like the old analog tv and radio stations with no signal.

After that first year, I slowly re-engaged with my various interests. There was a bit more reading, a few more movies, a bit more landscaping, and certainly more dinners out with friends. It was about that time when my periodic internet searches for steampunk started turning up more results. There were more crafts, more DIY. There were amazing creations by Jake Von Slatt and the late Richard Nagy. There were some stories, and then music. And finally, there was a local convention, Steamcon.

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It was practically in my backyard and I couldn’t not go. It was a great experience on so many levels and was the next step of my involvement in the burgeoning community. Soon after that, I started this blog, interviewing people, going to more conventions, and generally getting back out in the world in a meaningful way.

So, thank you, all of you who make up our community – everyone I’ve met out and about, those who have emailed, and those I haven’t met yet. Each of you have an impact on someone every day, whether you ever know it or not, so please keep being the wonderful steampunk that you are. You matter, and you matter to me.

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Which leads us to the second idea, supporting steampunk. As Eric Larson reminded the attendees of Teslacon this year, steampunk is our fandom, our community. We make it ourselves. It continues because we continue, because we support the idea of steampunk in some, many, most, or all of its expressions. Steampunk as a whole endures because of our interest and our actions. Without us, there would be no steampunk, no community.

If we want our community to not just continue as is, but to grow and thrive, then we need to continue our support in all the ways we can, according to our interest and abilities.

When we ‘like’, comment on and pass along a blog, we support that writer and let them know we want more. When we buy that book, cd or art print, we do the same for authors (and their publishers!), musicians and artists. When we buy anything, we support a vendor and their livelihood, and in so doing, make it possible for them to do more for us, too.

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When we attend conventions and events, there we really shine in our support, especially for and to each other. People outside the community see that, too, and for some, it will draw them in to join us.

Our community is made better and stronger by each other, and for each other.

With each action, we support each other, we support the community, and we support the idea of steampunk, and even what it means to be a steampunk.

Eric encouraged and challenged us to bring two people, just two, to any steampunk event anywhere in the whole world in February and June. It’s a show of support, and quite a bit of enthusiastic sharing, for something we already enjoy so much.

I encourage you to support steampunk – the people, the community, and the idea – all year long. Make some noise, build some buzz! Try to do something each day; it doesn’t have to be big and extravagant, just something to show your interest and support. Let people know that you appreciate what they do, and also share what you are interested in. One small action each day by each of us will create a huge positive impact to our community and beyond.

Repeating myself, please continue to be the great and wonderful steampunk that you are. Your actions and support have an impact on someone else every day.

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Published in: on December 18, 2013 at 9:54 pm  Comments (1)  
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Facets of the Steampunk Community

The steampunk community is wide and varied, with participants from every walk of life, every corner of the globe, and every level of interest, exposure and experience.

Within our community there are a handful of areas of interest and entry points whereby a person discovers steampunk and finds their interests fulfilled. As I’ve met more people, read more articles, blogs, and forums, and generally became more involved over the years, I feel that there are four (very) general categories which describe how people express their interests in steampunk.

  • Narrative – literature, movies, fanzines, blogs
  • Cosplay – fashions, seamstresses and tailors
  • Makers – artists, musicians, builders
  • Ideology – politics, lifestyle

First, I admit that these are very general terms which encompass more granular detail, and that they really function as a simplistic label in communication to give people a common ground within which to work.

Second, each describes an area of interest in steampunk, not a person. A person might have an interest in only one area, or perhaps in all, and that person would still self-identify as a steampunk.

Which leads to a thought about the use of the word ‘steampunk’. As a single word, I have seen it used with multiple meanings and forms. It can be a noun, adjective and a verb.

  • I am a steampunk. (As in “I am a fan of ‘X’ ” Whovian, Trekker, Lostie, etc)
  • The steampunk aesthetic.
  • One might steampunk their computer.

Of course, the appropriateness and accuracy of such usage is open for a completely different discussion.

The Great Steampunk Debate site has had a number of interesting discussions since the forum opened on May 1, 2010. Topics range from reading lists to cosplay to politics and everything in between. Relating to this blog topic, there is one post by Jack Horner describing his impression of the various facets of the community and the details of each as he sees them.

When I first thought about the facets of the community, the mental image I had was of Steampunk City, where each type on interest was a neighborhood, all centering around a common park in the center. OK, yeah, I’m weird that way.

My initial official point of entry to steampunk was through the original gateway which started everything – narratives. For me, it was the 1990 release of The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling. I was fresh off reading Gibson’s cyberpunk novels, Neuromancer, Count Zero, and Mona Lisa Overdrive, and kept thinking “How cool would it be to have these cyberpunk stories set in the world of my favorite book ever, Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea?” And as fortune would have it, there it was.

K.W.Jeter’s term for such a story was already three years old by then, but even with my first computer, I still had to dig long and extensively to find other stories to read and other references for information. These days with the Googleization of all online data, there are a gazillion results to peruse for ‘steampunk’. Since my initial introduction two decades ago, there have been more books, movies, fanzines, comics, blogs, and in the last few years, mainstream media articles.

Steampunk Scholar, Mike Perschon, listed his top ten definitive steampunk books on this Debate site post.

  1. The Adventures of Langdon St. Ives by James Blaylock
  2. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Volume 1 – Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill
  3. Steampunk (anthology) – Ann and Jeff Vandermeer
  4. Against the Day – Thomas Pynchon
  5. The Anubis Gates – Tim Powers
  6. Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
  7. The Difference Engine by Bruce Sterling and William Gibson
  8. The Warlord of the Air by Michael Moorcock
  9. Whitechapel Gods by S.M. Stirling
  10. Batman: Gotham by Gaslight by Brian Augustyn and Mike Mignola (because it makes a great way to compare the original and the steampunked version!)

There are threads on Brass Goggles listing people’s steampunk movie lists.

Such a list would include, among others:

  • 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
  • Atlantis: The Lost Empire
  • Captain Nemo and the Underwater City
  • Steamboy
  • The Time Machine

With more local meet-ups and conventions happening each year, more and more people are entering the community via the cosplay and fashion expression of steampunk. Within this group, there are seamstresses and tailors, custom made outfits and off the shelf wear, and people who just dress up to look good along with those who come complete with a character and back story.

People indulge their fashion interests for a wide variety of reasons, all very personal. For some, it’s their way of expressing their interest in steampunk, just like an author writes a story. For another group, it’s coming to the party in great looking outfit. For others, it’s about acting, becoming a character, a chance to step outside their own daily lives and be someone different.

My experiences with people who dress have always been positive. People’s creativity is amazing, how a common theme or archetype can be expressed in so many different and spectacular ways. Some people can pull together approval-winning outfits from pieces already in the closet. Some of us have no fashion sense beyond t-shirts and jeans but with a little inspiration from others can create a fun outfit, too.

However, other people have expressed negative experiences with cosplay and its participants. Some people’s ‘acting’ isn’t seen as a character performance but as real personal interaction, which has led to misunderstandings, and perceptions of all sorts of negative, offensive, and demeaning ‘–isms’. Also, there are people who find various outfits themselves intrinsically offensive as seen through a lens of stereotyping, and that an outfit means that the person wearing it completely supports and endorses the behavior of that given role in the nineteenth century – people who wear aristocratic dress are elitists seeking to control others, those in military uniforms believe in warfare and subjugation, those in street urchin/ruffian attire are engaged in unethical behaviors…

While people are people, with all the good or bad characteristics that may be accurately applied to them, steampunk cosplay and dress per se are not strict Victorian recreations, nor are steampunk attitudes and beliefs completely Victorian in substance. A steampunk wears their outfit of choice for their own reasons which usually have more to do with resources, abilities, and a desire to look good than to advance any display of or support for outdated, non-inclusive sociological or cultural views. If a person is inherently a jerk, they will still be a jerk if they wear a steampunk outfit or not.

In the last few years, online images of the steampunk technological design aesthetic have been another way for people to first experience steampunk. Artists and builders have created images, props and technology which entice the curiosity and imagination. The recently concluded Museum of Oxford Steampunk Art Exhibition drew crowds to see objects from the future that never was. Conventions this last year were also venues to display this form of creativity, such as Tom Sepe’s motorcycle at Nova Albion.

There’s always a discussion somewhere about how this design aesthetic started, how important it is and where it’s headed. Check out the Great Steampunk Debate site, and the forums on Brass Goggles, and Steampunk Empire, among others.

More recently, there’s a growing group of people who see or promote an action oriented, or political, agenda within the steampunk community. This ideology is as varied and wide ranging as the people in the community. Some follow the philosophy of reuse and recycle in every aspect of their daily life. Others encourage more self-reliance, personal accountability, and self determination over government assistance programs and perceived forms of interference. There are philosophies to buy locally, avoid excessive consumption, and resist crass commercialization; engage in conservation and cooperation.

Are these ideas, values and actions necessarily part of the evolving steampunk community, or should they reside as a choice of the individual? Is a political agenda the expected result of how a person adopts those Victorian, neo-Victorian, and steampunk attitudes and philosophies into their daily lives? Is it important that the community have any stated or defined political agenda or actions? Or is it sufficient that members will find others of a similar temperament to talk with about issues of the day? Is it even possible to have one set of political ideas that the whole community could agree upon?

There’s also a small group of people who say they live a steampunk lifestyle. I don’t see it, personally, but that’s how they describe how they live their own lives. There are a few threads on the Great Steampunk Debate site which discuss this and how one considers their life to be steampunk in nature. I also came across this post from 2008 where many of the comments relate to a lifestyle, or not. This other post had several good ideas and was more convincing that other postings which seem to indicate that wearing Victorian clothes, having antiques in the house and using a straight razor constituted a lifestyle instead of being a decorative veneer or affectation.

The steampunk community has grown and changed over the years in some significant ways, not always to everyone’s satisfaction, and chances are that it will continue to evolve. Whatever one’s initial entry point and interests are, there are other facets of the community to explore.

Published in: on June 13, 2010 at 9:30 pm  Comments (2)  
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