There is a gaggle of different people to be found within steampunk culture. Everyone has their own opinion about what it means to be a member of the steampunk community. Trying to find a specific mindset that unifies steampunk as a subculture can be a difficult undertaking therefore.
Some steampunk enthusiasts like to reconstruct a past that wasn’t that embodies an idealized vision of the Victorian era inspired by their optimistic aspiration that modern industry and scientific advancement will create a brighter future.
There are others who seek to express the opposite, portraying the tragedy that could have been realized throughout the nineteenth century’s era of progress, showing how industry crushed craftsmanship and the dangers of treading the waters of science too casually. They paint a romantic dystopia filled with pollution and rust.
Others yet are thrill seekers that view steampunk as a grand fantastical adventure represented within classic Scientific Romances and “Penny Dreadful” novels.
And then there are steampunks who cast away modern convention and stand against a world that relies on commercialism and mass manufactured goods. They intend to reclaim technology and construction from a larger society and give it back to the people.
Most steampunks, however, involve themselves by appreciating the Victorian aesthetic by dressing in costume and participating in social events. Steampunk is a fun way to keep them amused and they take the spirit back to their mundane lives.
Some are natural tinkers and see the genre as a chance to create and modify things with their own hands. They feel that the Victorian aesthetic represented within steampunk is a source of inspiration to be used in fashion, art and music.
Many people have different positions on what ideals are most strongly held in steampunk. All of these viewpoints, and more, are generally accepted ways to see the movement. With such diversity, it can be boggling to imagine how anyone could come to an agreed ideology. Yet somehow a strong community has evolved from all of these various ideas to create a coherent, unified culture.
One of the reasons that steampunk is able to thrive is the unbridled passion that is found within the soul of every person involved within the community. This indomitable heart lays the foundation of the core principles that steampunk stands for.
Every person within this society is brimming with a vibrant desire to achieve their dreams. Whether their passion is expressed in the pursuit of knowledge, art, revolution or amusement, all steampunkers are inspired to live their dreams unrestrained by the reigns of common convention. Their spirits are overflowing with an unquellable fervor to achieve their goals. No amount of hindrance can crush the hopes that each person cherishes.
While there may be setbacks and failure, they will not remain disheartened for long. To allow despair to persist would encourage doubt and apathy. These feelings may threaten to overwhelm the ardor and enthusiasm that are central for the persistence needed to attain their dreams.
Although everyone may have different thoughts about what steampunk is, all can admire the motivation and sincerity that lives within them. Through their bold commitment other individuals become inspired to chase their own goals. These passions drive people further toward improving not only themselves but the world.
In order to express their passions, many people in the steampunk society create. Creativity and invention are the tools of this community and nothing has inspired the steampunk culture more than the resurgence of DIY (do-it-yourself) hobbyists.
While not all do-it-yourselfers are involved in the steampunk society, the inspiration to make one’s own projects has become central to the subculture. It motivates people toward becoming more involved in the world they live in. People want to understand the environment which surrounds them, which is one of rapidly increasing technological prevalence. They must learn about their world in order to affect a modicum of influence; to leave their unique signature upon the Earth.
In order to encourage invention there must be know-how. Without it there would be no way to grasp the dreams to transform them into reality. Because steampunkers pursue their dreams on some fundamental level of their being, it is not enough to make empty wishes and wait for external forces to bring about their desires. It is important to be able to be involved in the obtaining of one’s goals on a personal level. By building technological gizmos, writing stories, developing fashion, etc., steampunk inspires people to expand their knowledge and become part of it. Through this understanding they are better suited to pursue their dreams.
The best way to come by this knowledge is by working within the environment that is most inspirational. By experiencing the things loved first-hand, a person gains a deeper understanding of how it works.
People desire to comprehend why it works, not only that it does. It is not enough to simply exist, never questioning why. It is immensely important to learn how the world works so that people may be involved within their environment; not merely survive it.
By learning to build and create their own effects, they gain hands-on experience to strengthen their understanding. The world relies upon technology and because of this, it becomes increasingly important to gain knowledge of its workings. It is filled with machines that are comprised of wire, chipboards and circuits. Electricity flows though everyone’s life. If people do not become involved soon there won’t be any way to comprehend the world that they live in.
By building not only do people deepen their levels of knowledge but also strengthen the bonds of the community.
By sharing creations with each other they encourage new ideas and inspire a greater involvement; they contribute one more piece of understanding to a larger society. Whether it is a remodeled computer, a clockwork sculpture, or an elaborate costume, inventions foster understanding of the mechanics of the universe. And by describing the creative process behind the creation to another person they are able to pass on a bit of that knowledge.
Another reason that making is such an important part of the steampunk mindset is that it is completely unique to each individual. Every invention or creation belongs to its creator alone. It is not owned by monolithic faceless corporation that enforces contracts with every idea. Every creation belongs to its creator and with this comes a strong sense of pride and accomplishment.
This pride encourages people to continue creating and develop new thoughts to participate with the world in order to ensure that they have left an impact on history.
With everyone working to develop themselves through passion and knowledge, it becomes easier to see how the steampunk mindset coalesced into a complete form.
It is natural for people to desire to share their successes with one another. By expressing pride and delivering praise when they themselves are impressed with another’s ingenuity, soon it becomes a source of inspiration to many people to get more involved with life.
Inspiration can never be labeled or quantified and through this wisdom came acceptance of a great many ideas.
Because the nature of steampunk is so versatile and broadly accepting of new ideas, the culture will continue to flourish. The mindset of the steampunk world must remain subjective in order to grow. This ensures that steampunk will be able to continually adapt to change more rapidly than an ideology with strict and rigid views about how the world should be. By embracing all the different viewpoints the dynamic nature of steampunk will never stagnate or wither.
While its current popularity may return to obscurity, the fluid nature, passion and pride will never allow the romantic ideal to be forgotten!
This story first appeared in Gatehouse Gazette 12 (May 2010), p. 7-8, with the headline “Steam Canon: Thoughts on the Ideology of Steampunk”.