One of the best things about the steampunk community is that it’s very grassroots-based. Small groups mushroom here and there, people get together to hang out and share ideas, and on the whole, there’s a focus on having fun.
That doesn’t mean we’re never in danger of elitism. As I said before in Steampunk as Subculture, we steampunks are still part of a larger cultural context that has taught us many behaviours—and most of us have learnt some form of elitism. It can be as ordinary-looking as preferring a certain method of steampunking and looking down at others who do it differently, or it can be as nasty as cronyism and ruining other people fun at events.
I think we all can agree that we got into steampunk because, on top of everything else about this which is terribly shiny, it is a hella lotta fun. And some of us, we don’t realize it when some things we say or do quash the fun for others. This is all right, but for those of you getting defensive—and some of you probably will—remember:
We are not immune to assuming certain standards are better than others. This is really fairly normal, as far any gathering of people go. Some steampunks think that everything that is built should be functional, and others scorn inaccurate costuming. Some steampunks expect a certain look from everyone who claims to be a steampunk. Others may simply think a slapdash look and feel to costuming or prop-making just isn’t good enough. It’s okay to have standards, not okay to complain about steampunk being cheapened by someone doing something you don’t think is good enough.
We are not immune to snobbery. Snubbing is the activity of the snobs who feel we must adhere to specific standards of behavior, dress, and craftsmanship. At an event, everybody should be having fun with each other, not sniping in the corner about someone we don’t like and look down on.
We are not immune to politicking. Oh, politics, and I don’t mean mainstream R vs. D politics, I just mean the tendency for some to try to grab authourity over others. If you want to take on a leadership role in your own spaces and events, that’s fine, but ultimately, the leadership position belongs to someone who wants everyone else to have fun. If the competition to get it is making things un-fun, you’ve completely defeated the purpose of it, eh?
We don’t all act like this. We know that steampunk is one of the friendliest subcultures out there. The people it attracts are, as a general rule, friendly, willing to share and participate, and not necessarily given to grousing their grievances.
However, it can happen. It may not have happened yet, but that’s no reason to not look hard at our own privileges and behaviours, our ways of imposing standards and judging others. There is no way of knowing how free we are of these little habits which will lead to elitism. It behooves us, as a community, to watch ourselves and, because we may not always be aware if we’re behaving obnoxiously, not get defensive if we’re called out on bad behavior.
Elitism has affected a great deal of other small communities—from calling for higher standards of dress to people being shunned because they’re “not [X factor] enough.” Let’s make sure it doesn’t affect steampunk.
Jha is an unbelievable snob, sometimes takes herself too seriously, and admits it. She would like to be ensconced in a high ivory tower, but academia takes money.