Is steampunk more than gears and goggles? According to Pablo Vazquez, “We can’t ignore that even though the name began as a joke, we are punks through and through.”
Writing for Tor.com, Vazquez tries to postulate steampunk as an anticapitalist “revolutionary spectacle” that is able to fill the “something” he feels is missing from our world today.
Vazquez admits that “we can’t exactly pinpoint” what’s missing, “but we know it’s missing.” He just feels it, you know. The future looks “cold and endangered,” Vazquez adds, so we must look back at the steampunk era for inspiration.
Of course, there is “no place” in steampunk for the elitism, racism, sexism and “various other cruel prejudices” that existed in Victoria’s days, but we can rehabilitate the “technological optimism” of the past — as if we have lost confidence in technology as a society today.
Vazquez claims that it’s despite if not because of our technological advancement that we feel we lack “something”, so we don’t need steampunk there.
But there’s more to be learned from the Victorians. “Communal harmony” and “individualistic development” — two nice things that point in opposite directions.
If, like Vazquez, you want people to be “majestic individuals,” able to achieve whatever they want to, you cannot have “communal harmony” at the same time. Which is it? Does steampunk celebrate the individual for his accomplishments? Or does it promote a form of communalism in which the individual is necessarily bound by conformity?
Vazquez doesn’t reflect on this dichotomy. He does complain that individuals are chained by the “trite vestments of the modern religion of branding and greed”. That “modern religion,” of course, is capitalism, the ideology that sets the individual free to achieve at the expense of communal harmony.
There is nothing revolutionary nor spectacular about what Vazquez likes steampunk to be. It’s not as if the ideology he describes didn’t exist yet. It’s called socialism. You can dress it up with gears and goggles; that doesn’t make it steampunk.