On Cosplay

I know that this post is likely to irritate some members of the Steampunk community. I know that I will likely be accused of making Steampunk into way too srs bsns. But, quite frankly, I don’t care. This is a movement for which I care deeply, and this particular topic is one that I sincerely spend a lot of time thinking about.

This post started as an amalgamation of events, both virtual and otherwise, that were called to my attention. The first of which was a post, Stop Punking the Genre on the blog Worlds in a Grain of Sand.

While this post likely annoyed many people associated with Steampunk, I think that the author does have a valid point: many participants in the Steampunk subculture view the “Punk” aspect of Steampunk as a powerless suffix. As a member of the Punk movement, it bothers the writer that -punk gets affixed to new and fashionable subgroups without regard for Punk as it’s own set of ideologies. And you know what? It bothers me too.

What’s the difference between Steampunk and Neo-Victorianism? In my view, it’s the Punk in Steampunk that indicates our ability to draw from, but disdain replication of, the past. The Punk in Steampunk allows us to turn all sorts of Victorian conventions on their heads: gender, government and politics, race, culture… it’s all up for redefinition in the Steampunk I love.

The deeper I get into Steampunk, the more I realize the rift between the lifestylers and the cosplayers. As a lifestyler, I believe that the Punk aspect of Steampunk should mean something. I believe in incorporating Steampunk into as many aspects of my life as is possible. To a lifestyler, Steampunk becomes part of their identity.

Cosplayers, on the other hand, see Steampunk as a purely aesthetic notion. It’s a costume and an identity they assume for the period that they wear their Steampunked garments.

Which is why, when the local Steampunk community was invited to the Crow Collection’s Next Top Cosplay Model Competition, I became somewhat distraught by the notion of Steampunk being viewed simply as cosplay. I understand that there are many Steampunks, perhaps most, that are cosplayers over lifestylers. But what’s a lifestyle Steampunk to do in a situation like this? On one hand, I’d love to go out and represent local Steampunk, but I would be troubled to do so under the label of cosplayer.

So, for all those cosplayers out there, I really sincerely want to know… what is the disconnect in your mind between the Steampunk aesthetic and Steampunk culture? Why do you feel you have to “act” Steampunk when there is a respectable community of Steampunks who are Steampunk? Are you just not that into it? Are you not aware of the other aspects of Steampunk? Do you prefer Steampunk without politics?

I mean this all in the nicest way possible. I’m sincerely trying to understand, because to me, it seems so strange to cosplay something that is so much more than just  a visual style.