At a con, you will see a ton of us steampunks running around having a ton of fun. That’s our thing, having fun. There is a lot of shiny in steampunk.
Things get a little less shiny when people start asking, “Where’s the punk in steampunk?”
A lot of steampunks often decry the –punk suffix, claiming that bringing in political discussion would inevitably alienate swaths of the community. This, in turn, alienates those who do believe there is a definite punk aspect to steampunk.
I know we’re very different from the typical image of punks, who are apparently disaffected youth rebelling without a cause. For one thing, steampunks look good. And we’re mostly very civil, well-spoken people. That doesn’t mean none of us feel any identification with the –punk suffix. (And anyway, it’s not like there’s nothing in the world to not be disaffected about.)
Because I’m a bit of an asshole, I am going to point out a few things why things aren’t so shiny all the time.
Not all of us are into steampunk for the DIY or fashion. Really! I mean, it totally should be obvious, seeing as a major part of steampunk’s origins is literary, and a great deal of roleplaying personas tend to be based on pulp science fiction. Some of us don’t dress up, and even if we do, we may not choose to look spiffy or well-done. We may not choose to put thought into our costuming. Partly it is lack of skillz, partly it is lack of time and money, partly it is because we just don’t care about that sort of thing.
Some of us like tackling the hard issues. We do! We like talking politics, we like talking colonialism / postcolonialism, we discuss class schisms, and imperialism. When we research the Victorian era, it’s not for the fashion or the look of the engines, but for the politics and philosophies that emerged during that time. There are so many great writers – John Stuart Mill, Oscar Wilde, Charles Dickens, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, to name a few. They wrote about the problems of poverty, sexism, and other issues they felt were important.They're still important today. To write about the hard issues then is also writing about the hard issues today.
And some of us live with hard issues. Right? We haven’t forgotten the fact that most of us who are into steampunk are some form of middle-class, right? Some just hovering around the poverty line. We don’t have the money to buy beautiful clothes or make stuff. When we start touting steampunk as a fashion, with must-have gear and accessories, we place other people under obligation to look and dress a way they simply may not afford to do so. Some of us don't need that.
Aside from money issues, some of us are actually activists, whether or not we inject steampunk into that, and we carry over our activism into how we view steampunk.
There are plenty of reasons to justify the -punk in steampunk: the DIY ethic, the devil-may-care attitude of people who dress well even when there’s no reason to, the hard look we take at Victoriana’s problems, so on so forth. Some of us put the punk into our steam, and some of us steam up our punk.
This isn’t to say that if you’re into steampunk because you think it’s pretty and creative, that you’re not a “real” steampunk (determining that is an exercise which is both silly and divisive). However, when steampunks run around telling people “there’s no punk in steampunk!” it erases those of us who feel there is. As far as I can see, those of us who belong in the latter category aren’t denying the fact that some people are attracted to steampunk purely for the steamy side.
So, love you, but not loving your trying to take the punk out of steampunk. Without the –punk, we’d simply be Neo-Victorians. How boring!
Jha identifies strongly as a feminist, with a strong anti-racist streak in her. Apparently this is why her regular blog is called Rebellious Jezebel Blogging.