Better Be Meta: hey steampunkers
abney park still sucks hard
robert brown is a racist, mysoginist and ableist kind of guy, who thinks there’s something wrong with you if you have any form of autism, or mental illness like depression
re-evaluate who you support
LBR the SCA has *plenty* of similar problems, but it encourages actual knowledge of history in a much more complete way than steampunk does. in order to get anywhere in the SCA, you need to buckle down and research shit, even if it’s just cooking a period meal, or learning how to sew that garb properly. you can seriously make archaeological strides in this, and I know that actual archaeologists do present work they study, such as at Pennsic University, where historians and professors or hobbyists present actual research, handouts and all. that is not something that happens in steampunk, at least not yet.
It’s actually encouraged in several steampunk circles but it’s not something many convention chairs do; you can’t make money off having a lot of presenters and panelists the way you can make money off vendors. A lot of steampunk’s appeal has to do with the spectacle of it, BUT you can in fact find a lot of steampunks who are deeply invested in learning about historically-accurate stuff because that’s part of the “easter egg hunt” aspect of steampunk.
of course, i am not saying that it doesn’t happen, but it’s not as central to it the way it is to the sca. if you google steampunk, you have so much more about how it looks and how fun it is and wheeee (which is perfectly fine!) but a similar sca search will yeild a bajillion garb patterns with proof about how THIS PATTERN IS PERIOD LOOK I DID A RESEARCH and that’s significant, because the fun isn’t wholly divorced from actual historical context, not completely or totally, the way it is in steampunk. it shouldn’t have to be an easter egg thing, it can and should be just as part of the movement as citing your sources is a part (but not all of) the sca.
part of it is, of course, that steampunk is very con-central, as a culture, in a way that the sca isn’t, and therefore it is going to more tied to the capitalist venture and money making necessities that come with it. the sca costs too, you don’t have the disposable time and income to sew shit or research shit if you’re busting your ass with three jobs, for example, (which is why i only do like, one event a year, oh well), but it is fair to say that this cost is more horizontal; you aren’t paying all these vendors unless you WANT to, you can and indeed, it is encouraged, to DIY it all yourself, if possible. steampunk is also DIY but there is a stronger consumerist edge to it, i feel.
steampunk is fairly young, as retro-futurist movements go, and i do think these are all barriers that can be overcome.
I’m not so sure that steampunk is con-central; the cons really started up in 2010 (earliest was Steampunk Exhibition in 2005? then there was SteamCon in 2009… suddenly, BAM, fuckton of cons); it definitely is extremely young so far as subcultures go, but steampunk has also attracted people who have been part of other subcultures (goth, SCA, punk, etc).
I’m working through an idea that steampunk is about physicality (as SCA is tied to historical accuracy) hence why you see a lot of spectacle and non-discourse wheee articles about it, and also why there is a DIY component at all, rather than just being about buying stuff (and also why there is such a strong negative reaction when conglomerates like Disney take it up).
Consumerism is definitely a HUGE component of steampunk, due to the mix-and-match nature of the steampunk look.
As long as steampunk relies on spectacle to attract people to it, the consumerist aspect will only keep growing. /direprediction
Bringing it back to an earlier comment for just a moment (though I LOVE the SCA/Steampunk comparison thing going on here!)
“one kind of uncomfortable thing they don’t challenge is the colonialism thing. Steampunk to me is sort of like the SCA in that it’s supposed to take the ‘good bits’ and leave the nasty bits behind or discuss and engage the ideas without invoking them. But leaving it behind doesn’t matter if you just refuse to depict the stuff that replaces the racism, the sexism, etc.” -thearcanetheory
^^this. Exactly this. I’m not going to hate on Abney Park (though I’m not impressed by what I know of Cap’n Robert) and I’m not going to comment on their music… but yeah, Steampunks, we’ve got a prime opportunity—nay! an obligation! to examine to context of our fantasy play and comment on it. The Victorian age was FULL of conflict. Sexual, racial, cultural, economical… CONFLICT EVERYWHERE. Why aren’t we embracing and exploring this more fully? We’re a subgenre of science fiction, for gods’ sakes. Dude, that’s a genre that makes a living off of addressing social ills. Get on that, Steampunk! For real!
I…. I hate to burst your bubble, but this is not really the reason why a lot of people get into steampunk, or even science fiction.
You cannot tell a whole community that they have some sort of special obligation to examine issues that they don’t already do in their own daily lives, science fiction OR steampunk. It just doesn’t work. It just makes them feel like you’re delivering some sort of guilt trip and judging them for it. And it makes them even more resistant to having the discussion.
The bad news is that a lot of people who get into steampunk often get into it because of how it looks. And how it looks makes them feel good. I have sat in crowd after crowd listening to them explain why they got into steampunk, and over and over again, I heard “age of exploration” “simpler time” “wonder and discovery” “adventure and excitement” and interrogating the violence of the period always comes with the caveat of “it’s interesting therefore fun” but I have always gotten the sense that this is never the main thrust of the discourse.
Also? Same with science fiction. Your average SF geek is interested in technology and in worldbuilding and in distant planets and in chromatic spectacle. Oh, sure there is a huge bloc interested in addressing very deep philosophical questions, but there is The Canon, there is the Groundbreaking Literature, and then there is the bulk of the literature much of which is tangential to discussing social ills.
From the very beginning when beyondvictoriana and I started doing our thing, it was pretty clear that we always always always had to have a reason, a good solid justifiable reason for why multicultural steampunk should even be a thing. We practically have a third of a presentation on it. And then we have to segue into anti-racism by telling people not to fucking panic at the thought of the word “racism”. It’s a great and hilarious presentation and I will always give it and it’s always a good time (well, almost always, I did have that one douchebag trying to tell me how to run my own show). But it does say quite a bit about how these things simply do not occur to the everyday person, even the folks into steampunk.
And part of the problem here is the whole WE STEAMPUNKS LOVE EVERYBODY and the aim to be as inclusive as possible. I’ve heard folk not want to call out Robert Brown “because the steampunk music scene is so small, we need to support each other”. There is an implicit aim to get steampunk bigger and welcome as many folks in as possible… but not so big that Disney and Justin Bieber get into the action. (And you want it to get bigger… steampunk artists need a larger market to make a living.) Adding to that is the whole desire to break free of limitations of what steampunk could look like, which also means no limitations on what steampunk could BE, and we open the doors to some scary paths as a result.
There is no cohesive vision of steampunk because it has always been an aesthetic. And there can be no cohesive vision of steampunk that allows us to push forward an agenda addressing justice unless we are willing to alienate some of the major people who have shaped the community into what it is.