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.