Here’s how you understand steampunk, how you really understand steampunk.
It’s a reaction, and like all reactions, for its boiler to begin burning, steampunk needed something to react against.
Let’s skip back to the 1960s and 1970s. There was peace, and love. Everything was groovy, baby. Where there was war, it could be protested; where there were bayonets on campus, flowers could be hung from that sharp steel. Even if you weren’t there, kids, you kind of were–it was Mad Men, it was Swingtown, it was Life on Mars, and it was Forrest Gump, baby.
Then came the reaction. Simon and Garfunkel and their ilk got a headbutt in the face from a pogo-dancing brave who resembled someone who’d swaggered out of a Main Force Patrol jail cell with Max Rockatansky close on his tail. It was a visceral shock as Malcolm McLaren’s savages spat, swore, and urinated their way over the grave of Austin Powers. By the time they had finished, we were Thatcher’s children and Reagan’s sons. All that was left of the hippie legacy was a lanky dude and a talking dog with a permanent hunger and a ceaseless search for, cough, “Scooby Snacks.”
All of which brings us to the great steampunk timeline.