Steampunk: A cultural dead-end reflecting the aesthetics of a long-gone time, courtesy of some SF and fantasy writers for whom a reformation of the past was more interesting than the future? Or shining (and well-bred) example for the future of humanity? Posters at the (steampunk-obsessed) Whitechapel message board are convinced that it's the latter, and are willing to make the case to convince you, as well.
The thread starts subtly:
I've been thinking about what Steampunk has to offer the world besides being another quaint subculture, particularly in light of the fact that it's about to step over the line of subculture and into trendy nonsense that will inevitably bring with it hoards of pipe clogging band waggoneers. What I'm really interested in is the Victorian enthusiastic amateur inventor/scientist part. The way I see it, most of the worlds problems - poverty, hunger climate change etc.- will never be effectively addressed by a top down, high tech research and loads of investment capital approach. Rather, I imagine that any progress that will have any real effect will have to be of the sort that a self educated person can make in their garage... I would like to propose that were there to be some sort of a Steampunk cultural ethic it should be in taking that amateur inventor approach to modern technology with an eye to addressing the issues that humanity faces today.
Since when has the amateur inventor idea been something that's mainly identified as steampunk? Nonetheless, let's continue with others' thoughts on the subject:
Considering the Steampunk Cultural Ethic, I would like to address my experience at SalonCon. SalonCon describes itself as The victorian Era for the 21st century. While not exclusively a "steampunk" convention, it's organization and attendance are certantly influenced and involved with Steampunk. What stood out for me at this Convention was the manners of those in attendance. I have never been to a cleaner, better smelling, better behaved convention... I think there is a longing for a place where there can be a structured formality - a place where the cultural rules call for respect, manners and a sense of grace. Perhaps steampunk, in it's formal expressions, provides the space to have that formality.
Coming from someone engulfed in the movement fully, I see it as a giant collaboration between polymath friends who have decided to reject pointless mass production and planned obsolescence... I just want quality, I've already seen what quantity is doing to society and the earth itself. I want to live a slower life, and I want to surround myself with people who appreciate the gentility of the British ideal of the Victorian Era without the stifling social mores... many of the steampunks I've met (and I imagine I fall in this category) are like well bred mad scientists... all the class and all the exuberant geekiness you can handle.
Steampunk Magazine is an awesome thing full of win and sex. To me, the Steampunk movement is really currently a mask for something deeper, the culture of people who want to get to the roots of being and actually do it properly, 'it' being... everything. This is, I think, part of what you were getting at originally, Thom. This is the aspect of Steampunk that we really need. The Magazine is a good example of it. It has roots in things like the Scouts too, even though saying the Scouts were good for anything is something one hates to admit. Being self-sufficient is part of it. Being less fucking stupid about things is a part of it. Doing things in a better way. And doing it with style. That's what we need to take away from Steampunk.. You can do life right, do it yourself, don't waste everything, but you don't have to be a grubby.. thing.
I think I agree with that last quote as much as anything - What seems to be driving the believers is the idea that people need to, you know, do shit and take responsibility for themselves, and that doesn't really seem like a steampunk idea as such as just, well, common sense. I think the idea of trying to pin the core idea of "don't be so passive" as a particularly steampunky concept is slightly desperate, myself. But then again, I've never invented any kind of mechanism, steam-powered or otherwise, so what do I know?
Image by Cryptonaut.
Steampunk Cultural Ethic [Whitechapel]