I didn’t realize it (Steampunk) was that widespread beyond con-goers and BoingBoing’s constant fellation…but then again, my experience at NYCC and ConectiCon lead me to believe that cons are closer to the mainstream and actual useful methods of cultural connection these days.
Anyway, the problem with Steampunk is the ‘punk’ part, and has always been for me. There isn’t much ‘punk’ about it – there literally can’t be. There isn’t really much that’s ‘punk’ about punk anymore, if you
really get down to brass tacks. In the light of capitalism’s complete triumph, that is, corporate control of government, media and culture, especially in the 80s and 90s, anything that can be marketed is
immediately stripped of it’s ability to be purely a rebellious or DIY movement the moment someone sees a profit in its mass-production and mass-marketing. Thus we have shoe ads that say, “The mainstream is
polluted,” or that mimic the first minor threat album cover.
What does that have to do with steampunk? The consciousness of this causes some folks to get a little too excited when something stays around long enough to gain a distinct identity and be recognized
culturally with first being co-opted by corporate interests. This same po-mo consciousness leads folks to be suspect of anything that seems to be a fashion of rebellion without being the real thing. I
think there is an urge to try and compare anything with a distinct aesthetic to an imagined past punk rebel utopia, and it will inevitably be found wanting.
My personal interest in steampunk is that I think it can be pretty, hot ladies like it, and it takes some DIY doing to make it. I also like aesthetics that inject a little whimsical fantasy or fantastical thought into the everyday, people that you immediately invent little adventure stories about in your head. That said, when
confronted with people dressed this way, most of the time I have to choke back my own revulsion at anything that smacks of pretentiousness or conscious thought and effort put into clothing. This is a result
of the grunge mentality that was drilled into me as my generation’s (really those a few years older) first feeling of independence from what came before it/us/them.
(note: in case it isn’t clear, my general feeling is that people should buy/dress/act however the hell they want. That said, everything is open to discussion/theory/criticism. Also, SteamPunk can be liberating/interesting/hot. I thought I should add those points after re-reading.)
The Design Observer article linked in the i09 post linked above is worth your read.