Overdone Steampunk Fashions at WWWC

As people are returning home from their adventures from the Wild Wild West Convention in Old Tuscon, the commentary about the event is starting to pour in. While most of the commentary on WWWC has been largely positive, there is something about it that has apparently offended Fashion writer Niki D’Andrea of the Phoenix New Times: our Steampunk sense of fashion.

It’s true. In her article, Seven Overdone Steampunk Fashions at Wild Wild West Con, Ms. D’Andrea expresses her passionate distaste for our top hats, stripey stockings, and goggles. We’re apparently an uncreative and lazy bunch according to her refined sense of fashion. Here’s what she had to say about our steamy top hats:

Abraham Lincoln would so not wear that.

Alas! All these years I’ve spent as a Steampunk, I’ve been striving to replicate Abraham Lincoln’s wardrobe. *dies from shock of failure*

Ms. D’Andrea seems to be under the impression that Steampunk needs historical accuracy and our inability to execute Steampunk in the way she imagined it means we are all failures. Our version of historical inaccuracy is, ironically, entirely inaccurate in her mind.

Fortunately, Steampunks aren’t ones to need approval from anyone to dress as we wish. Each of Ms. D’Andrea’s Overdone Fashion Points are all popular aspects of Steampunk fashion. Saying too many Steampunks wear top hats is like saying too many punk rockers sport mohawks. It shows an apparent ignorance of the subculture and its aesthetics.

Ms. D’Andrea’s snobbery is far more unfashionable than anything anyone could have worn at WWWC.

Sarah Palin and Steampunk

Remember when, just a while back, I had hoped that by ignoring the bastardization of Steampunk by Disney, that it would simply disappear?

Well, I’m afraid that this is another one of those types of posts.

I’ve, again, been putting this one off in the hope that it would just go away. Like an annoying person you just refuse to acknowledge until they saunter off to bother someone else, I keep hoping these usurpations of Steampunk would just leave me and Steampunk the hell alone…

And then there came this:

Speaking of Annoying People...

AHHHH! What the fuck is this?!

I can’t even begin to say how wrong this is, or how far off from political Steampunk. Palin and her backwards viewpoints have no place in Steampunk and seeing her bedecked in our aesthetic makes me more than furious.

Some idiot thought it would be a great idea to make a comic book out of the US’s most popular quitter (Alaska governorship, anyone?). Here’s the comic’s summary straight from the website, because I’m too miffed to even try to paraphrase it:

Story: Fred Perry; Art: Ben Dunn

Energy catastrophe has struck worldwide! Massive oil spills, nuclear meltdowns and more leave us desperate for viable energy sources to rebuild global society and technology. Inspired by a little tea party, Sarah Palin hits upon the answer: steam power! She begins the ‘Steam Initiative’, touting geothermal energy as the cure for what ails ya. The heads of Big Oil and Nuclear Power are less than happy with this trend, and they send their agents to do in the Rogue Republican. Luckily, she comes prepared with a set of steam-powered armor! (Standard equipment, don’cha know.)

The best news out of all this is that it is a one-shot. Hopefully, we won’t see any more of this atrocity.

Disney Trading: Time For Steampunk

Part of me had been hoping that by ignoring the topic of tonight’s post, that it would simply cease to exist. That my refusal to recognize it would cause it to simply vanish from my mind and the collective Steampunk aesthetic.

I’ve been putting this post off for a week, in that feeble hope.

I’m very sorry to announce that Disney is at it again. Apparently, they weren’t happy enough with just the abomination that is the Mechanical Kingdom. Oh, no! Just redoing all their main characters into a Steampunk aesthetic wasn’t enough for them. They sense there’s money to be made with this whole Steampunk thing, so Disney is apparently determined to squeeze every last penny out of the causal Steampunk who cares only for the look.

These abominations are part of the upcoming limited edition Vinylmation Steampunk set created by Disney Design Group Artist Mike Sullivan and will be purchasable sometime in early 2011.

Here’s what really gets me about this set… it’s just a bunch of figurines with brass paint and cogs. They are literally going to do nothing more than sit on someone’s shelf collecting dust for its entire existence. This wanton spending on positively useless crap produced by large corporations is exactly what Steampunk is against. Disney obviously doesn’t get it, and neither does anyone who buys this.

Atomicpunk by Philip Reeve

A post by author/illustrator Philip Reeve caught my attention today, and I’m afraid  it’s not because I’m pleased with what he’s been saying.

In a post entitled Atompunk, Mr. Reeve takes note of a recent Guardian article about Steampunk, and pronounces his dislike for the genre. Fine, I say. You don’t like Steampunk. To each their own. Could you perhaps, tell me what it is about Steampunk that bothers you so much? Here’s the introductory paragraph to this entirely inane post:

The Guardian sat up and noticed Steampunk this week . The article itself is so cursory that it’s barely worth reading, but there are a lot of interesting comments, including one by Lyndon Ap Gwynfryn which echoes my own growing doubts: “Steampunk is the stupidest of all subgenres of speculative fiction…  To retrospectively associate contemporary Victorian science fiction, which was forward looking and progressive, with a self consciously anachronistic and frivolous genre like steampunk is deeply insulting to great writers like Wells and Verne.

And then he leaves his opinion at that. He doesn’t bother to expound upon why Steampunk upsets him; he simply lets some person on the internet speak for him. Brilliant. Unfortunately, it appears as though Mr. Reeve has to resort to others to form his opinions for him. Fine, that quality is quite common in our society, though not a trait I hold in high esteem. It’s also not very Punk to have other people think for you.

Mr. Reeve goes on for a while qq-ing about how authors only write Steampunk before deciding that he should make his own punk genre named Atompunk (which, mind you, was around long before he conjured up the term) and that this would be a far more interesting topic to explore than the backwards Steampunk.

Never mind that the very comment he cites as being his reason for being against Steampunk, the notion of retrospection and self-conscious anachronism, could easily be used against his precious idea of Atompunk. He’s certain that his Atompunk concept is so much more worthy of your time and imagination because Atompunk is clearly the metaphor for our own times that Steampunk could never be.

People, this is just stupid. Mr. Reeve’s reasons for disliking Steampunk are ethereal and unintelligent. All “period”-punks from Steam and Diesel to Atomic and Ren are bound together by an anachronistic Retrofuturism. We all have a lot in common. Rather than tear one genre down for the promotion of another, why not stand together as Retrofuturists united by the yesterday of tomorrow that never was?

And please, if you’re going to have an opinion about Steampunk, do try to form one yourself. 😉

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.

The Mechanical Kingdom

Okay, so I know that I don’t have to tell you all that one of the greatest things about Steampunk is that it is anti-corporation and supports the individual artisan over the mass produced. I know you all know that.  Steampunk tells corporations to shove their mass produced crap into unspeakable orifices and go to hell.

So, what the hell is this shit?!

If you are as infuriated as I am, I’m going to have to take a moment to encourage you to breathe.

What you see before you is a pin set that will be for sale beginning this month at the Disney theme parks.

Obviously, anyone who buys this shit is not a serious Steampunk. You can’t get much more mass produced than the Disney label. If I see anyone who claims to be a Steampunk wearing this abomination, I can assure you all that I will at the very least not be able to take them seriously. My more likely reaction might involve punching them in the face lectures to the ignorant party on the philosophy of Steampunk and how they are contributing to its commercialization.

Disney, I’m very angry with you! Bad! Keep you hands off Steampunk. The fact that you would even think to create something like this reveals your ignorance of everything that Steampunk stands for and your intent to make a quick buck off of our aesthetic tastes.

No real Steampunk will buy this garbage. It nevertheless irritates me by its very existence.

Steampunk’d, Or Humbug by Design: A Rebuttle

In the second half of my two part series on attempting to educate Steampunk’s critics, I turn this evening to an article written by designer Randy Nakamura, Steampunk’d, Or Humbug by Design.

Mr. Nakamura’s article is an attack of Steampunk and the Steampunk aesthetic. In a pedantic and verbose article, he attempts to downplay Steampunk by claiming that it is a backward and non-functional trend that fails at mimicking the Victorian influences that shape Steampunk’s aesthetic. Clearly, he needs a lesson in understanding what Steampunk is all about.

Steampunk is not about “some sort of inspired return to a prior era.” Steampunk is a subculture that blends the past and present to counter our plastic riddled modern world. It’s about taking the best from both worlds and turning it into something new. It’s about rejecting the disposable and low quality nature of today’s products and technology for something well made and built to last. Steampunk is hardly regressive. It isn’t about looking back to the Victorian era and pining for some non-existent notion of the “good old days.” Steampunk is a reaction to the corporate and mass produced products of today’s world and a return to a time when the local artisan was more than just a hobbyist at weekend craft fairs.

Which is why his comment that Steampunk is more Disney than punk really irritated me. Mr. Nakamura has clearly no idea of the incredible influence that the Disney corporation has on people’s psychologies and the products they buy, especially that of girls with the “Disney Princess” line.

Steampunk is a movement of independent artists and freethinkers connected through the internet. It cannot be compared to the corporate structure of Disney, which has it own theme parks, film studios, clothing lines, music labels… need I go on? Steampunk, however, has rightfully earned its place in the punk movement. It is anti-corporation, anti mass-production, and rebels again traditional concepts of power and gender.

And to assume that an entire subculture sprang forth from a single book, Gilliam’s Brazil, is incredibly misguided. In fact, in all my expertise of Steampunk, I can’t claim that I have read Brazil, which Mr. Nakamura seems to think is the seminal Steampunk work. Steampunk isn’t a unified or singular subculture. It’s focused on individual interpretation and exposure. Perhaps, if Mr. Nakamura wishs to rail against Steampunk, he should consider more than just one piece of Steampunk literature and a few DIY projects before coming to a conclusion on Steampunk as a whole.

Mr. Nakamura, your poor understanding of what Steampunk is and why it appeals to so many people hardly qualifies you to comment on the subculture. Your article is nothing more than a pedantic over-intellectualization of personal taste that achieves nothing more than preaching down to people who enjoy modding their own possessions. Perhaps, you would rather them buy your pre-made designs and submit to your (clearly) superior sense of art?

And, by god, it’s Steampunks, not Steampunkers! Who the hell told you we are Steampunkers?

Phew, that’s certainly enough ranting for the time being. If you have any thoughts on the topics I’ve brought up, please feel free to comment!