The Greyshade Estate

It seems nearly every day I find myself debating with someone on whether Steampunk is or isn’t Punk. People seem all too willing to nit pick definitions of punk and insist that Steampunk has no need for the counter-cultural elements that makes Steampunk more than just an aesthetic and a genre of fiction. Steampunk to them is all about dress up and make believe. It has nothing to do with their realities, and that, in my opinion, is a damn shame because they’re completely missing the point of the subculture.

One person who has definitely not missed the point is Professor Greyshade of San Diego Chrononaut and the Greyshade Estate. His ongoing project in the Greyshade Estate is an effort to live a truly Steampunk lifestyle. Here’s the introductory paragraph of their blog, which explains their undertaking perfectly:

In 2010 a family of four sold their charming little condo in the increasingly fashionable neighborhood of University Heights. With the money they bought a stripped out house in East San Diego previously owned by human smugglers. Their goal was the pursuit of a truly steampunk lifestyle. They are already known in the steampunk community for projects such as the Chrononaut clubMachina Fatalis, and the SoCalSteam list. Now they hope to bring DIY Makerism, self reliance, alternative technology, permaculture, and urban homesteading into their lives in ways their HOA would have never allowed.

This is Steampunk as a lifestyle and philosophy that so many insist does not exist.  Professor Greyshade’s article Towards a Steampunk Lifestyle presents their individual notion of lifestyle Steampunk in a beautifully articulated manner and should be required reading for anyone who thinks Steampunk cannot be a way of life or a philosophy. This is one of the many ways in which the Punk in Steampunk is real and alive for the community.

The Greyshade Estate’s blog updates regularly and is definitely worth your attention as an excellent read and an amazing example of the Steampunk Lifestyle.

When Punk Gains Steam

I love that Steampunk has such a strong emphasis on individual artisans and makers. In a time when most of what the populace consumes is mass produced and disposable goods, Steampunk makes a stand and consciously supports its artists and creators. And that’s a good thing because it gets people asking a lot of the right questions they should be asking about everything they buy. Questions like, “Who made this?” “Where did it come from?” and “How do I take care of it?” aren’t questions that need be limited to the arena of Steampunk.

That Maker Ethic plays a huge role in Steampunk philosophy, lifestyle and politics, and recently an article entitled When Punk Gains Steam by Jennifer Hendrix was published that focuses on the DIY aspect of Steampunk and is definitely worth your attention. Here’s a blurb of the article I found particularly insightful on the whole idea of what it means to have Punk in Steampunk:

As does punk, the steampunk community applies the idea of individual freedom and openness, beginning with our relationship to technology, to an entire lifestyle involving everything from a unique style of dress to music and film.  Through its aesthetic, it provides a way to question the status quo definition of “progress.”

The article goes on to talk about how Steampunk has and continues to adapt to an increasing audience as more people become interested in it on a variety of levels.

Although something of a lengthy article, When Punk Gains Steam is certianly worth your time and consideration, so do be sure to give it a look.

The Punk in Steampunk

I make no secret about my belief that Steam and Punk are both important facets to the Steampunk philosophy and lifestyle. That combination of mindset and aesthetic makes Steampunk as beautiful as it is counter cultural.

The Steampunk Bible, edited by Jeff VanderMeer, was recently published and features some of the best in the many facets of Steampunk at present. This compendium of the movement is a beautiful and enlightening volume of which the subculture can be genuinely proud.

Introducing the Steampunk Bible is science fiction writer Bruce Sterling in his article, “The User’s Guide to Steampunk.” He offers some fantastic insight to Steampunk beyond Steam:

“Frankly, the heaviest guys in the Steampunk scene are not really all that into ‘steam.’ Instead, they are into punk. Specifically, punk’s do-it-yourself aspects and its determination to take the means of production away from big, mind-deadening companies who want to package and sell shrink-wrapped cultural products.”

– Bruce Sterling, from his essay “The User’s Guide to Steampunk” in The Steampunk Bible

I honestly couldn’t agree more with Sterling’s assessment, and so does Jake Von Slatt. Go here and read the entire article right now. Your views on and interpretations of Steampunk may be forever changed. 

Punk Pride

Because I love both Steam and Punk, I love showing off how Steampunk as an aesthetic and subculture go hand in hand. What is ultimately recognized as the most beautiful in Steampunk, regardless of the creation or its medium, is something that has been created by hand.

Punk Pride is an article published recently in the City Weekly, an Australian newspaper based in Docklands, Victoria. It describes Steampunk as seen through the eyes of some of the local Steampunks out there. I particularly love this article because it succeeds in going beyond the surface layer of Steampunk as an impressive aesthetic and delves into the Maker ethic. It’s fantastic that people as far away as Australia are delving into Steampunk not only as a way to look, but also a state of mind.

Read all of Punk Pride here. If you’ve found yourself enamored with Australian Steampunk, do be sure to visit the multitude of resources for Aussie Steampunks including (but certianly not limited to) the Australian Steampunk and NeoVictorian Live Journal Community and The Antipodean League of Temporal Voyagers.

Why Steam Needs Punk

Recently Diana Vick, the co-chair for Steamcon, published an article entitled “‘Seven Steampunk Fallacies,” a discussion on preconceived notions of what Steampunk is and is not. There are aspects of the article with which I agree: Steampunks in general do not take themselves terribly seriously and not everything with a retrofuturistic twist can be considered Steampunk.

However, there is one of her points that I vehemently disagree with: that Steampunk does not need “punk.”

I’ve long advocated for the notion that the -punk in Steampunk is not a powerless suffix. It is integral to the way that I view and live Steampunk and the backbone of Steampunk philosophy and lifestyle.

Without the Punk in Steampunk, Steampunk is nothing but an aesthetic. It becomes impossible to be a Steampunk without your Steampunk clothes, your Steampunk art, or your Steampunk house. For those who live Steampunk, it is about more than the things you own; it’s a counter-cultural mindset that welcomes rebellion from the mainstream and rejects passive living.

Without the Punk in Steampunk, we deny our own historical roots. The Victorian Era was a revolutionary period in the course of human history. Discovery and the questioning of established orders, beliefs, and political systems marked the era. This plunge into the seemingly limitless expanse of discovery and change is what birthed the science fiction that frames today’s Steampunk. As a subculture, Steampunk carries on in that revolutionary and indomitable spirit by refusing to submit to the status quo and question the mainstream.

Without the Punk in Steampunk, we would lose our cultural focus on the Maker culture that supports individual artisans, musicians, and makers. Steampunk promotes a genuine relationship between creator and consumer. The value on handmade and individually produced items, whether you make them yourself or you buy them through an independent artist is a counter-cultural idea in today’s world of mass produced garbage. Without that Punk mentality, it would become okay to buy your Steampunk gear from Wal-Mart, Hot Topic, and other corporations that are good at replicating the look, but not the spirit, of Steampunk and by doing so, shirk accountability and ownership of your own movement.

Without the Punk in Steampunk, we become nothing more than reenactors or Neo-Victorians. Punk allows us to look back on the Victorian era without feeling the need to replicate everything from the period. It allows Steampunk women to be whatever and whoever they want to be. It allows for the open expression of one’s own gender or racial identities. It breaks free of the conservative mindset and sensibilities of the Victorians. The Victorian Era informs but does not define Steampunk.

Without the Punk in Steampunk, our subculture has no meaning, no purpose, and no opinion about our world.

We Can Do It!

On December 26, 2010, Geraldine Doyle, the model for the Rosie the Riveter “We Can Do It!” poster passed away due to complications with arthritis. The iconic “We Can Do It!” poster became an image of the women’s liberation movement that today and an unmistakable feminist image here in the United States. During my college days, this poster was among the many that graced my walls, and I hope to replace it once I get settled into a more permanent dwelling.

Rosie is by her very nature also Dieselpunk source material due to her World War II origins. But the people over at A Case of Do or Die have redesigned Rosie from her original image into both Diesel and Steampunk imaginings. And the results are AWESOME.

I love that A Case of Do or Die has reimagined Rosie in both Steam and Diesel aesthetics. Feminism is something that both period-punk movements can embrace, and as a proponent of political Steampunk I’m thrilled to see the use of the “We Can Do It” poster.

Parliament and Wake

Parliament and Wake is a website that features a series of incomplete books that explore the outer reaches of their Steampunk world. The stories are entertaining to read and accompanied with some fantastic Steampunk fashion photography. The website is updated often with new segments to ongoing sagas, so it’s worth visiting often.

Here’s the lead photo on Part Four of the Fenn Cycle, published on the 27th of December:

But what really attracts me to Parliament and Wake is their take on Steampunk philosophy. The believe, as I do, that the “punk” in Steampunk is more than just a powerless suffix. In their section entitled, “Are We Steampunk?” they have this to say about the political lens through which they view Steampunk. This is just a segment of a larger article on the topic, but this is the heart of their argument:

… we understand that people want to dress up as airship captains because it’s escapist and fun. Go for it, have your costume contests and carry around all your guns. We just want you not to stop there. Think, even if it’s just for thirty seconds while you’re adjusting your goggles, whether it might not be worthwhile to be a little bit “punk.” Go tear down a minor tyrant who tells you that you can’t wear a 20th century helmet and still be Steampunk. See how it feels. We bet you’ll like it. Maybe you’ll like it so much that you’ll decide you’d like to take on some bigger tyrants too. Maybe you’ll start wondering why we tolerate the existence of a company like BP, and whether tax cuts for bankers when 10% of the United States is unemployed are a good idea. Maybe you’ll want to tear a little bit at the belly of a social behemoth while you’re throwing your pageant for its grand, decrepit, so-called golden ages.

Any group that promotes the arts and political awareness is sure to get my vote of confidence, and I’m happy to say that Parliament and Wake definitely fits the bill. You can follow their every developing stories through their website, and connect to them through Facebook.

Buy Nothing Christmas

Today is Thanksgiving, which means tomorrow is Black Friday: an annual practice in economic indulgence where we stampede over one another to buy things we can’t afford and will probably never use.

Every year, a few people die from the violence of Black Friday, from stampedes running to the latest trendy item to people settling disputes over items with a gun. Blame the government for stroking our fears of the economic downturn and making us think that our overspending can save the economy. Blame the media that stands outside stores at obscene hours of the morning and makes us think we should be there too. Blame the mainstream culture which values things more than relationships.

Blame whatever forces you wish. But I think we can all agree that Christmas in general has spun out of control. I’d like to propose that tomorrow, and for this entire holiday season, that you buy absolutely, positively no presents.

Nothing at all.

There’s no better way to counteract the crass materialism of the mainstream culture this holiday season by simply refusing to participate in this madness. Buy Nothing Christmas started out somewhat strangely. Here’s how it happened, according to their About section of their website:

Q: Who started Buy Nothing Christmas, and what is its relationship to Adbusters?

A: It started all over. Like in Ellie Clark’s family, back in 1968, when her family decided to nix the whole Christmas splash. “By a family vote (unanimous) we decided it was not for us: no decorations, no wreath, no tree, no cards, no gifts, no big dinner, nada.” Her kids are now over 50 years old, and seemed to have turned out fine, she says. It also started with things like the Christmas Resistance website, The Center for a New American Dream’s Simplify the Holidays and Bill McKibben’s booklet, 100 Dollar Holiday.

This website and the name “Buy Nothing Christmas” first became official in 2001, when I rallied a small group of friends, who happen to have Mennonite backgrounds, and extended the momentum from Buy Nothing Day into the whole shopping season. Our first act was to launch full page ad in a national church paper, and then share the good news with the world through this website.

Since then, we’ve seen exponential growth of website traffic, we’ve gotten kicked out of shopping malls for carolling, nurtured a network of organizers, and put on a full-length musicall in seven different venues.

Fortunately, we have an excellent working relationship with Adbusters — it helps that I worked there for a couple of years, finishing in 2003 as managing editor. In 2002, Adbusters ran a full page ad – if you can call it that – for BuyNothingChristmas.org. Since then, Adbusters has helped with links from their website and more promo, especially recently.

Now, I know many of you will be like, “My family will think I am just being a cheapskate this year if I don’t buy them something.” It’s true, the social pressures to buy are very, very strong this time of year. And some of you just may like giving presents to people you love. If this is the case, consider some alternatives to buying them from some corporate giant who doesn’t care about your traditions or your loved ones. Try making something yourself.

And, if you absolutely must buy something, remember the many talented Steampunk artists and makers who create for a living. If you must buy, keep it in the community.

Think before you buy. Believe in your own purchasing power and don’t forget your ethics this holiday season.

Adbusters

Yesterday, in my tirade about Sarah Palin, I made the assertion that her incorporation into Steampunk symbolism was an absolute impropriety. I said that combining Palin and Steampunk didn’t respect any element of what political Steampunk stood for.

Politics in Steampunk is something of a touchy subject for some people. They want this to just be cosplay. They don’t want politics complicating the matter or their effort to have fun. And I can understand that. Politics is messy and divisive. Few people agree on all aspects of politics, and rather than drive a rift into a social group, many just avoid politics.

I’m not that type of person. I think politics is an important lens through which we interact with and understand the world. It is through the understanding of out political present that we are able to shape a better future.

When I first encountered Steampunk, it was through Steampunk Magazine, an overtly political publication. Through my initial introduction, I assumed that all of Steampunk was political. I’ve since learned otherwise, but I still hold very dear to my heart the notions that formed my initial conceptions of what Steampunk would mean to me. As a lifestyle Steampunk, Steampunk and politics are inseperable.

So today’s highlighted organization helps to frame some of what I think is political Steampunk. It’s an organization called Adbusters, and they aim to fight consumerism. Their mission, as stated by their website is:

We are a global network of artists, activists, writers, pranksters, students, educators and entrepreneurs who want to advance the new social activist movement of the information age. Our aim is to topple existing power structures and forge a major shift in the way we will live in the 21st century.

Here’s the TL;DR (Too Long; Didn’t Read) version.

Fight corporate consumerism. Change the world. Be a Steampunk.

More on the Maker Culture and DIY

A few weeks back, I wrote an article on why the handmade aspect of Steampunk is so important to keeping the movement for ourselves, rather than the corporations. As every corporation’s end concern is their profit margins, they have a vested interest in the production of cheap goods to sell at high prices to a growing Steampunk subculture.  It is a real threat to Steampunk as an organic movement. For a concrete example, please click here for my post on the theft of an artist’s original designs by Hot Topic.

And so you all don’t think I’m just one crazy Steampunk yelling out into the void of the internet insisting that his is how Steampunk should be done, I’d like to bring your attention to two other articles that do a great job of backing up and expounding upon my case.

Captain Robert of Abney Park recently published a post to his blog entitled, “Made By Makers – Save the World, Kill The Corporations.” In it, he talks about the band’s unique model of production. All of their goods, from their music to merchandise is produced by independent artists. This is one of my favorite examples of an incredibly Steampunk group that has made the conscious decision to go solely independent in their production, and has still enjoyed immense success in the Steampunk community. And, as an important aside, it is so evident upon meeting the members of Abney Park and experiencing their shows live, that are doing something that they genuinely love.

Why is this important? Why should you concern yourself with how things are made as long as you get the things you want? Captain Robert points out that when you buy from independent artists, you are allowing an artist to live their dreams. Rather than pouring your money into corporations that care nothing for your movement, the case for supporting the independent artist is a easy one to make.

The second article I would like to draw your attention to is one entitled, Making A Living in MakerCulture from The Tyee. This article covers the next question that invariably creeps into one’s mind when admiring the Do It Yourself lifestyle, “Wow, that’s neat, but I can’t do that! I have bills to pay!”  Turns out independent artists also have bills to pay, but are able to make a living by producing their own goods and this article highlights a number of artists, including a Steampunk, who are taking control of their production. There’s also a sidebar on the right-hand side with lots of clicky-links that can redirect you to tons of DIY resources.

If you are in love with the concept of the maker culture, you’ll adore The Tyee’s Maker Culture Series, a compendium of DIY articles that can serve to enlighten and educate.

So, DIY and handmade is really important to Steampunk. It’s about keeping Steampunk for the Steampunks, supporting artists and their dreams, and taking more control of your life and work. It’s not easy or for the faint of heart, but the rewards are great.