Requiem for Steampunk
Eric Renderking Fisk | March 4th, 2017
Since it has lost the anti-authoritarian, anti-establishment aspects, 'Steampunk' is no longer steam 'PUNK.' It’s something else now and I’m not sure what to call it... So either Steampunk is dead, it’s dying, or it was never what it should have been and what is now called "Steampunk" is a bastardization.
Either way, what many of us think is “Steampunk” is grasping to life via social media’s life support machine or it’s has pass away a long time ago and resurrected into something else. Maybe what used to be “Steampunk” is a rotting husk and its decomposing flesh serves as fertilizer for what’s growing out of its corpse. We call this – whatever it is – “Steampunk” because we don’t know what other label to use.
The only people who are actually a part of the true Steampunk movement are the #SteampunkEveryday crowd who are integrating steampunk aspects into their lives every day and not when it suits them or believe steampunk is only appropriate at conventions and gatherings with like-minded groups.
It’s those fair-weather steampunkers who are the ones who are actually killing steampunk. You’re either in a punk movement all the way, or you’re not. There are no half measures in punk.
Maybe it’s in bad taste to write a eulogy for another branch of the retrocentric tree, and maybe I’m the wrong person to do it. If Eric Renderking Fisk of The Fedora Chronicles (an obvious dieselpunk publication) writes this article, then maybe it might come off as gloating and it might be misconstrued or misappropriated as an invitation for all the former Steampunks to come on over to our side. Some people might think that by my writing an article called “Requiem for Steampunk” might be a smug, tongue and cheek ‘I told you so’ rant.
Nothing could be further from the truth; I’m mourning the loss of steampunk and I’m pissed off about it. If Steampunk is dying or it’s already dead, are other aspects of “retropunk” not far behind?
More succinctly; Maybe it’s “Steam-powered Fantasy Dress-up,” or “Steam and Gears Cosplay,” or “Victorian Sci-Fi happy playtime” but it’s not “punk” anything anymore.
It’s “Steam-X” and I don’t know what “X” represents; I can’t solve this equation because I don’t know enough of the other variables.
The actual “punk” movement that began in the late 1970’s was about the youth in open rebellion, anarchy, and protest against the establishment of that period. Punk was a middle finger at our parents’ generation who lied to us when they said “Work hard, get good grades, get a good job, conform to social norms and you’ll be happy,” and when most of us did that and followed the rules we discovered it was bullshit.
When it was “Generation X’s” turn to come of age there was nothing there for us and we discovered that what they were really telling us was… “Work hard, get good grades, get a good job, conform to social norms and you’ll be miserable just like everyone else!”
The original “punk” movement was about absolute rejection of what we were taught that were absolute nonsense; it was a repulsion of consumerism, advertising and marketing, and other aspects of modern culture that were taught to chase but brought nothing but misery.
You’re supposed to live in a house that you hate, because it was a job that you hated and you drove back and forth in a car that you hated so you can provide for a family that you learned to hate and resent and they hated and resented you, too. You’re supposed to conform and become a “responsible adult” and you’re supposed to force your offspring to conform and become “responsible adults,” too.
In short, what we were being taught is that we must become a cog in “the machine” and reproduce to make more cogs. And the original punk movement was a repudiation of all that.
All the other “punk” movements should be that, too – renunciation of the current norms – not an effort to be approved and accepted and eventually assimilated by the system that’s trying to subjugate us.
In Steampunk, there is none of that angst anymore. There’s no sign of protesting against the establishment, there’s no sign of any resistance against the status quo beyond the mere visual aesthetics, and there is nothing that resembles social anarchy beyond the outward appearance. Let’s all conform to the modern norms of society and allow the ruling class to crush us while we put on our Sci-Fi Victorian and Edwardian costumes to distract us from the inevitable.
What’s worse is the notion that there is a movement within Steampunk (and to a lesser degree Dieselpunk) for there to be more conformity within the “steampunk” community with its self-appointed authority figures policing the steampunk community making sure that everyone knows what is “steampunk” and what isn’t “steampunk.” And since folks within the steampunk community really don’t have strict definitions of what is and isn’t ‘steampunk,’ the enforcement of these vague rules with strict condemnations and rebuke feels more like a witch hunt against a few non-conformists.
Non-conformists, policing the non-conformists who are even more non-conforming then those who are acting as the “Steampunk” police!
The perfect example I can think of now is how some of the self-appointed police in the “Steampunk Community” is treating “The Original Girls of Steampunk” Kevin Serres and how some purity activists are trying to ban him from Facebook (again… and again…. And eventually make that ban permeant…) and constantly reporting images displayed in that group for being too “NSFW” or not steampunk enough.
And then, there are those who are trying to cash-in and trademark the genre and the movement as their own. That's a rant in its own.
The Steampunk community isn’t going to read this rant and jump to their collective feet and yell, “you know – ERIC’S RIGHT!” before taking to the street turning over police cars and trash cans. Steampunkers aren’t going to behave more like the original punks from decades ago and fight the establishment that demands that we all conform and strictly wear the civilian uniform of the underclass – denim jeans, hooded sweatshirt, t-shirt and so forth.
None of the steampunkers reading this going to agree that they should stop calling their subgenre “Steampunk” something else like the “Steam-powered Fantasy Dress-up,” or “Steam and Gears Cosplay,” or “Victorian Sci-Fi happy playtime.” The name “Steampunk” is too established and to ingrained into the lexicon of western civilization. But…
If “Steampunk” isn’t about changing the culture and hacking the establishment, then what is it and what should it be about beyond its appearance? Unless steampunk has been and is only about the aesthetics and I’ve been wrong this whole time. Maybe “Steampunk” is a mere word and used as a label that doesn’t mean what it should mean. What I really hope is that the few steampunkers who read this take a moment and think about what made them want to get involved with this retro futuristic genre in the first place and eventually take steps to take it back to its roots.
If Steampunk – and for that matter Dieselpunk, Decopunk, and so on – isn’t about flipping society right-side up with a splash of non-conformity and anarchy against the ruling class, we should find another suffix besides ‘punk.’
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