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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Things I Wish My Fellow Steampunks Would Remember

I know I am about the farthest thing from a reliable guru on Steampunk as a subculture. I, myself, am still fairly new to this world, even if I am a veteran of cooking and crafts. However, it seems that sometimes people forget some of the roots of our fiction and lifestyle. It is varied, and that's part of the beauty of it. I do not look forward to when those who have been into this style of culture longer start to refer to others as being 'posers', nor do I look forward to every Dick and Jane to slap on some goggles and call themselves Steampunk. I think there is an entire untapped potential to Steampunk, that maybe we need to be reminded of, in my own humble opinion, such as:

1) The Victorian era was all about useless, cumbersome articles of clothing for the sake of looking cool! Truth is, as far as the Victorians were concerned, as long as it was fashionable and showed others you had a lot of money, they were all over it. Take the classic corset for instance. As any feminist or fashion major will tell you, this particular undergarment made breathing more difficult, fractured ribs, and all for the sake of making one's waist as tiny as possible. What people tend to forget is that not only did it bring a woman's waist in, but it showed off how much money said woman had. A woman of class did not have to do manual labor, and as such was able to be bound in a tightly binding corset that restricted her movements, since she didn't have to do many, any way. Same is true for petticoats. Many cartoonists at the time satired such styles, as seen here:

So next time you see someone wearing a cool but impractical outfit and scoff, remember that, in many respects, such fashion would be more likely in a Steampunk universe.

2) More happened in the world than Victorian England during the 1800's. I have mentioned this before, but it bears repeating. When thinking of this time period, it might be refreshing to see more than just the typical "Victorian Gentleman/Lady" and see some more historic perspectives. Take the United States for instance. Over here, we had a civil war, the expanse of the western frontier, the gold rush, a boom in immigration. All of these would make excellent steampunk fodder. In Japan, they had the meiji period, a time when Japanese people had to choose between western ideals and native tradition. In India, they were dealing with being under the thumb of the English empire, struggling to maintain their culture in light of these invaders. China had a lot of events happen during this time, from the Opium wars to imperialist pressure from the west, to a decline in their Monarchy. Germany would not be founded as a unified country until 1871. This was an eventful period of time for almost all cultures. Then why is it that we concentrate on England? I love English culture and history, but it's a little strange to me. I know many others have characters that are from New York, The Confederacy, or who are travelers, but they are far less common. That's not even touching on the fact that, in an alternate universe or possible future, there can be thousands of histories all over the world being made. It's worth the research.

3) Science fiction and Fantasy have their overlap. While we all wish to live in a world where everything was logical and scientific, but the truth is that in a world with fantastic technology, there is always going to be an aspect of it that cannot be true. While there is some degree of suspension of disbelief to make people stop questioning it, it ends up becoming arbitrary to say "The way this technology works....It's like voodoo magic or something!". Of course it is, unless you can recreate said technology in real life. So what's the problem? Can we not just enjoy the ride?

4) Not everyone has to be technological in a steampunk universe. Remember that most people in the Victorian era still maintained their own unique folk lore and belief in magic. On top of that, occultism was extremely popular among the upper class, with people making a pretty penny off of seances and magic spells. Just like today, many cultures retain their unique superstitions. Take the United Kingdom. People in the country side of Wales, England, Scotland, and Ireland (A part of the UK from 1801-1922) held on to their time old beliefs of nature spirits and folk magic. A magic using character, if done just so, can fit in just fine in a steampunk setting, forming an excellent foil to the more scientific characters.

5) Just have fun with it for god's sake. I am so sick of people attaching arbitrary rules to what is considered steampunk, as if it is set in stone. This is like trying to decide what constitutes as art, it's impossible and pointless. So what if steampunk becomes popular. So what if people keep saying "It's so steampunk, see look goggles!" Honestly, shouldn't we be happy people are curious? That people want to know more about our culture? The same issue is true of genres of music. If someone dares ask "What would you say is a good goth band to listen to?" Goths scoff as if the asker should know already, instead of leading them to their favorite bands. It's pointless and elitist. So why are we getting our knickers in a bunch? Shouldn't we just cool our collective jets and let what happens happen?

But then maybe I'm just naive...

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