Here’s the thing: if your fandom doesn’t simply die out, its choices are either to stagnate or grow.
The Steampunk Renaissance has been leaping the coelacanth since day one. Folks started bitching and moaning about superfluous goggles and gears almost as soon as the paint was dry on the modded rayguns.
To some degree, this is a good thing; keeping folks honest and nudging people to be more creative and thoughtful about their passions is valuable and important. But living in San Francisco and knowing geeks means being exposed to a tiresome killjoy attitude of jadedness that is decidedly unfannish.
Everyone. Is. Always. SO OVER. Everything.
I don’t have a Steampunk persona. I never did. I don’t have an elaborate backstory for where each item in my wardrobe came from or what purpose each prop serves. I do have a vaguely general idea of what the ensemble is about, but there’s a reason I don’t LARP or join the SCA or cosplay. It’s a fucking outfit people, not a lifestyle.
Is the Colonialism issue problematic? Possibly, but I’ll quibble with the idea that everyone is doing British, or even Upper Class. And unlike some other genres, so far all of the Steampunk-centric events I have gone to have examined the class and historical issues at the roots of the genre. I don’t see any of the Pretty Princesses sweating over the issues involved in their terribly authentic period recreation costumes, and I doubt there’ll be a thoughtful discussion of the Peterloo Massacre held during the next Regency tea party. Neither are folks in Pirate garb examining the socio-economic causes behind real-world piracy, historical or modern. And don’t even get me started on the Klingon Slave Auction.
Anyway, Steampunk… a few years ago it was a handful of people and, consequently, you would see hardcore, well thought-out, never-seen-before costumes. Now, we have hundreds of participants and ninety percent are folks in their Dickens Faire outfits with goggles slapped on. They are to Steampunk as a Siouxsie tee and black nail polish are to Goth or a tail in your waistband (I’m guessing here) is to fursuiters. But there are also ten times as many people in amazing, realio, trulio, eyebleedingly awesome things they made themselves than there were at the beginning When it Was Still Cool.
What we’re seeing is what my snarky friends used to call the ‘extras’. The clubs would fill up with folks we’d never seen before, some in just barely passable goth attire, and mostly it was great because an empty club with twelve beautiful people sucks no matter how perfectly Gawth they are. And, frankly, a lot of the time that asshole in the tee-shirt knows more about the Goth scene, history and music than the other one with the perfect makeup and hair. Of course, I was a pretty crappy goth myself, but I always dressed the part
So here’s what I love about the popularity of Steampunk: More cool stuff in a genre I truly love. Without getting all OG, I’ll note that I was aware of Steampunk long before I slapped my first pair of goggles on at Silicon 2007. And I’ve been simply thrilled that, in place of a handful of old movies and links passed around between my friends who dreamt of building our own Nautilus and waited excitedly for the release of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen film, we now have an embarrassment of riches. Scarcity is only a value in an economic system. In the realm of ideas: the more, the merrier.
More new people: I was surprised by how many people at Nova Albion were at their first con. Noobs are a mixed blessing, but new blood is a good thing. This is how fandom regenerates itself. Being part of the cool club who know about one or two hidden gems is nothing compared to bouncing ideas and recommendations with fellow enthusiasts.
More people dressed like adults. I am so incredibly tired of the attitude that real fans wear jeans and tees and anyone else is a poser, a square or a narc. Steam-punk offers a wide enough variety that all ages, genders and body types can find something suitable. It’s not the only option, but it has allowed some people who seemed to feel intimidated by hall costuming (what is that outfit from? Uh… it’s not from anything kid, I made it up) to dress up and play along with less pressure.
More “-punk” derivatives: The bigger a genre or subgenre becomes the more opportunity for specialization and offshoots. Dieselpunk, Gaslight, Weird West, Clockpunk and other new and old variants have also been revitalized.
More books: Ironically, Steampunk comes from books but is a comparatively tiny lit and film genre compared to its current fashion footprint. As a result of its
popularity, fans have dug through every corner of the library and Internet looking for more. Jeter, Powers, and Blaylock get read, as do Wells, Verne, and Poe. After this, other more obscure authors are unearthed and reexamined, and contemporary authors have expanded the genre with new books like Cherie Priest’s current Hugo nominee, Boneshaker.
Doubtless some of those now involved now will wander off bored, and some folks will be snooty-although I saw zero negative reactions to Mette’s awesome SteamPunk Literal Costuming Guild costume at Nova Albion. In the meantime, I’ll put up with that in exchange for the wonderful spectacle of gentlemen in waistcoats instead of tradeshow giveaway tees.
Jake Von Slatt famously said ‘There is no way that someone else can ruin the thing that you are passionate about by liking it too!’ to which I will add ‘And neither can they ruin it by liking it the wrong way.’
Yipe! Volume 2, Issue 4, April 2010