Steampunk: What Is It and How Is It Served?


The subculture of steam and goggles, Victorian threads and romanticized writings is relatively new. Steampunk is a subculture that evolved from the Victorian science fiction literature genre about the power and influence of steam machinery and technology.

The ironic term “steampunk” is a reference more to the cyberpunk genre rather than referring to the actual punk subculture. The description of the period often called “Long Nineteenth Century” and different fictional machines and gadgets might be noticed in the works of such authors as H. G. Wells and Jules Verne. Fascinated and inspired by they and other authors the subculture growth started in the end of the 1990’s and early 2000’s. A number of artists decided to explore the depth of this style and its potential. It started with fashion and visual arts, notably art student Kit Stolen in New York and the popular comic Girl Genius by Phil and Kaja Foglio and eventually spread to music around 2003. The Livejournal community and the Internet in general once again helped people from all over the world find each other and get involved in steampunk subculture. To have a view from the inside and try to understand this world of steampunk we talked with a respected author, lecturer and MC – G. D. Falksen. He studies the history of technology and the 19th century. Among his numerous writings there are such works as a famous steampunk introductory article Steampunk 101; adventure story Blood in the Skies (from The Hellfire Chronicles trilogy), which for many serves as an entertaining introduction to the genre. Mr. Falksen is often a welcomed lecturer and a very interesting character.
Mr. Falksen tell us what do Steampunks do?
This really depends, but for the most part they like to dress up in 19th century clothing and get together, whether informally or at events. Often they enjoy things like tea parties and croquet, although this depends on personal taste. Some enjoy music, others enjoy literature, others photography or fashion shows. Steampunk really is one of the most diverse subcultures out there.
Is it a way of life or just a hobby?
For the majority of steampunk fans, it’s a hobby. Most people work regular jobs and enjoy steampunk as an escape from the dullness of the modern world. At the same time, the artists working in steampunk (whether graphic artists, writers, tailors, etc) do it because it’s something that they love, something that is a part of them. They do art of this particular style because it’s something they must do to be happy in addition to doing it to make a living, and so you could arguably say that for them steampunk is “a way of life”.
How would you describe the “Steampunk look”? Are there any elements that are essential?
The time period that inspires steampunk is roughly the period of history from the French Revolution to the end of the First World War (1789-1919) and it can draw upon just about any aesthetic that existed during that period. Because of this the “steampunk look” has a huge range of options. The most common are inspired by Victorian England and other European nations (bustle gowns, frock coats, top hats, pith helmets, etc) but these are neither universal nor mandatory. I have seen very impressive examples of steampunk clothing inspired by cultures outside of Europe, including the Ottoman Empire, Japan, and India. Some people like to add accessories like watches, goggles, or mechanical prosthetics, but these are not mandatory.
Why steam out of everything else that is characteristic of the Victorian Era?
Steam power revolutionized the world when it came into widespread use. It magnified human labor and allowed for machine-tooled production and modern mass transportation (in the form of railroads and steamships). It is also very evocative of the 19th Century (the “steam age”), which is why it lent its name to steampunk. But it is important to remember that all of the technology of the 19th Century is important to steampunk, not just steam power.
What defines Steampunk music?
At this point it is hard to say, since “steampunk music” is such a young genre. But the general trend is an attempt to combine vintage music from the Steam Age with modern styles or instruments. This may include the remixing of old music with modern vocals, or the use of classical instruments to play modern music. Some steampunk bands don’t even sound vintage, but instead play modern music while dressing steampunk. At this point, it’s still a very large music genre that people are still experimenting with.
Do Steampunkers make any gadgets themselves and wear them as an element of their outfit?
Some steampunk fans make their own clothes and accessories, but there are numerous professional fashion designers, artists, and accessory makers who sell clothes and accessories to the steampunk community. One of the great things about steampunk fans is the degree to which they support small businesses and independent craftspeople who supply steampunk goods.
What Victorian era canons, rules and values are preserved by Steampunk if any?
While there is nothing universal, many steampunk fans are reacting to the extremely casual nature of modern society by turning to the gentility and manners of the Victorian era. Similarly, many fans are drawn to the more formal clothing of the period in reaction to the extremely casual style of clothing that people wear today. There is also a love of craftsmanship and quality found in 19th Century goods, which has largely been lost today.
What qualities and values should one possess in order to be a Steampunk and be accepted by the Steampunk community?
It’s very easy to be accepted. A person simply needs to be polite, friendly, and interested in joining. Of course, most steampunk fans have a love of history and of the 19th Century, but really anyone who is interested in steampunk is welcome.
What are the relationships between the members of the community? Is there a tendency for the members to date and probably marry each other?
Presumably, although it’s important to remember how new the subculture is (most people have only become involved in it the past five or so years). At this point it’s tricky to say just how much the subculture intersects with their private lives. However, there are certainly steampunk fans, who date other steampunk fans, and there have even been a couple of “steampunk weddings” over the past couple of years. On the other hand, the steampunk community is not any sort of “exclusive group” where its members only associate with one another.
What do you personally find fascinating about this subculture?
It’s been very interesting watching the steampunk subculture form and develop. For one, the speed of its growth is very impressive, and would have been impossible without the Internet. I also find it interesting that unlike most recent subcultures, which grow out of music, steampunk has grown out of literature and fashion.
What is your opinion on the movie Hugo, since it’s a Steampunk movie? Do you think that Steampunk will become more trendy, commercialized and popularized after this movie gained so much fame and won several Oscars?
Hugo is basically Scorsese’s tribute to early cinema, and I think that’s very beautiful. I very much like the fact that it involves the films of Méliès, since (at least in the United States) he has been all but forgotten by popular culture. Commercialization inevitably happens to subcultures. A number of popular fashion companies in the US have already begun producing clothes and accessories similar to those worn by steampunk fans (Victorian blouses, military-style jackets, key necklaces, etc). Video games are already being marketed as being steampunk. It happens. Some of this happens unintentionally (for example, the recent Sherlock Holmes films had steampunk aspects to them, which were accidental) and some of this is intentional.
How do you see the future of Steampunk?
Steampunk is going to continue rising in popularity for several years to come. I really do see it becoming the next big thing (as part of a larger neo-vintage trend in fashion and art). And I think that’s a wonderful thing. It means more people will know about steampunk, allowing fans of the aesthetic who didn’t know about the subculture to join other fans and share their love of steampunk.
In 2007 such events as Salocon and the Time Travel Picnic became real places for the gathering of young creative people, who are fascinated with the history of technology, Victorian Era fashion and the values that it imposed on people. And already in 2008 the Steampunk subculture became big enough to become a trend and caught The New York Times attention, who were the first ones to officially publish an article about it. The subculture is rapidly growing and spreading, so if you’re interested in steam, engineering, technology, have an appreciation of values and simply want to have a tea among the intelligent people, you know what to type into the Google Search.

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