I think I look at steampunk differently from most folks I run into.
To me, it’s a fandom. I am a member of steampunk fandom. When I mention this to people, especially folks who have never been a part of other fandoms, they tend to deny it.
When you look at the development of other fandoms, science-fiction, Star Trek, comics, what have you, you’ll see a very familiar activities curve. It develops through correspondence and connections made through other groups. Then publications dedicated specifically to the topic are formed. Artists latch on to the movement and create new works specifically for the fandom. Gatherings are then held, first small local groups, sometimes as a part of a larger event, and then there are conventions. Numbers grow, some academic interest is kindled, factions form, numbers grow more and individual groups with specific interests start to splinter off somewhat.
That’s what’s happened in almost every fandom I can think of and we’re presently in that process with steampunk.
I’m not sure why, but there seems to be a tremendous pushback whenever I mention this in forums, particularly from Europeans. I’m still not sure why, it makes complete sense to me that steampunk is a fandom, that we’ve got something out there that we’re fans of and we’re dom-ing it.
Maybe they see it as frivolous, or maybe the connection to other fandoms is distressing.
Of the known dedicated publications dedicated to steampunk, mine is the only one that calls itself a fanzine. Exhibition Hall does tend to be lighter fare than either SteamPunk Magazine or this illustrious publication, but even if it weren’t, I’d still consider it a fanzine because it’s a zine done by a member of a fandom.
I’ve had this discussion several times and there are folks who see it as a silly point and there are those who take it as a major piece of work that I’d insult their chosen path by reducing it to being a mere fandom. That’s part of the reason I’m so excited for the Great Steampunk Debate!
The thing is, the one thing that most of the earlier fandoms didn’t have was access to the Internet. The Internet has changed all of the known fandom, giving them a place to communicate with larger numbers. Steampunk is the first of the fandoms I can think of that grew in the time of the net. It did its early correspondence phase in e-mail and on bulletin boards and forums. Steampunk, somewhat ironically, managed to take full advantage of the modern age! The growth of steampunk websites was fast, hard and well-done.
There is a stage in the growth of fandoms where people start to ask questions. What’s the purpose of all this? What do we all think? Where are we all going? Why are we building such a big ship?
These questions used to be hashed out at conventions on panels and in the bar or in fanzines. Earl Kemp’s Why A Fan? was an attempt to look at what brought people to fandom and how it affected them. There are no end of fanzines looking at the effect of Star Trek and Star Wars fans funnelling into science-fiction fandom in the 1980s. We’re lucky that we have the Internet and can have these discussions in a centralized place dedicated to getting into the tough questions that us steampunks want to get to the bottom of.
When the Great Steampunk Debate gets going, it’ll be a place to discuss steampunk and the role of politics, of the literature, of the scene and how it effects the lot of us. I’m certain to be most active in the areas of the scene and trying to come up with an idea of exactly what it is we’re all a part of. A fandom? A lifestyle? A movement? A warm cup of coffee on a cold day? What are we and how does that effect what we do?
This will be a location for debate and let’s be assured that we’ll see some fiery battles around the politics of steampunk. I personally have a thing for politics, I even ran for mayor twice, and looking at steampunk in a political light can be maddening, but it also provides an important view for what the nature of this gathering of like-minded individuals is. Do we all share the same politics? If we don’t, then do we all even careaboutpolitics?
The other great advantage of the Great Steampunk Debate will be the location. Recent events in the pages of Gatehouse Gazette led to an explosion of commentary in various outlets, too many for me to keep track of, at least. This will be a repository for those kinds of discussions, a sort of one-stop shopping for controversy and serious discourse. Except some fireworks, but, like any good pyrotechnic display, it will be at least somewhat controlled to avoid massive damage. A little smoke, some fire, but no devastation.
So, maybe we’ll finally nail down exactly what this whole steampunk thing is. Maybe we’ll find that we’re really a quilting bee that has lost our way.
I kinda doubt it, but we’ll see.
This story first appeared in Gatehouse Gazette 12 (May 2010), p. 5, with the headline “The Steampunk Fandom”.