Recently a group within the steampunk movement has stood up and loudly proclaimed we are a left-wing, politically active and even radical activist movement.
These people spread the word with vim and vigor and thus it may very well seem to many, especially those new(ish) to the scene, that this is what steampunk is about.
You don’t need to be political
Let me start by saying that there are few rules to steampunk but that the core of the movement is simple: Steampunk is to you what steampunk is to you.
You don’t have to be left wing, you don’t have to be politically active, you don’t have to be a feminist, pro-recycling, etc., to be a steampunk.
You can be in it for the fun, for the aesthetic, because you want to build epic machinery or simply make brilliant accessories and outfit/costume pieces.
You can be in it because you love the Victorian history behind it, the retro-futurism and anachrotechnofetishism or simply because you love books by Jules Verne and/or H.G. Wells.
It’s fine to be a steampunk and not be an activist, to not be politically active.
But you can be
Of course, it’s equally fine to be a steampunk and politically active. Like I said: it is to you what it is to you.
I’m a steampunk and I’m interested in politics, I am left wing and I am a feminist and active in environmental conservation.
But I don’t think everyone should be, it’s up to them. If they want to be, sure, awesome!
Will I tell people why I am doing these things and why I think more people should do them? If people are open to listen, then sure. But I will never tell them that this is what steampunk is about and what steampunks should do, because it isn’t.
Let’s remember one of the core values of steampunk: help people when they need it, give out constructive criticism where asked or needed but let’s allow others to do their thing within the movement. That, after all, is what created the great fabulous diversity within its ranks we have these days.
Yes, there are a few basic rules about (the) steampunk (aesthetic), every scene has those, it’s logical because the basis must be there to set us all apart from the other scenes and make us recognizable for each other.
But that’s it, as long as you follow those, it’s fine!
Also, it’s OK to delve in to the dark depths of (Victorian) history for your steampunk. Yes, some historical facts are dire, gruesome and a blemish on humanity, but they are still part of history. We don’t have to distance ourselves from them, they’re there, they sadly happened. Shutting up about history is a sure way of allowing it to repeat itself. By educating people about the (t)errors of the past, we may open a few eyes.
So if you don’t want to follow the “rules” this loud crowd is trying to set, don’t be afraid to speak up.
Sure, these people may be popular in your local scene, they may restrict your posting rights to the larger (or largest) online communities, but let me tell you something: If they have to go that far to enforce their vision, then they’ve obviously lost sight on things long ago.
The spirit of steampunk has never been about making others follow your rules or walk in line and I’m confident a lot of people will make sure it never will be either, whatever consequences the so called “leaders of the scene” try to throw at them.
You don’t have to be part of the in-crowd to have a good time, this is steampunk, there will always be likeminded individuals somewhere and they’re easier to find, especially on the web, than you think.
Be yourself, it’s allowed. And don’t be afraid to do your own kind of steam beyond the basic rules, even if other people tell you you’re doing it wrong.
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This is the first time than i read an article writing by a steampunk interested in politics who doesn´t try to tal steampunks as it was only politics.
Steampunk is diversity…
As I posted a bit earlier at http://www.ottens.co.uk/gatehouse/2011/10/is-steampunk-radically-political/#comment-226 and seems still relevant to this discussion:
Steampunk is both literature and aesthetics which either are a part of or visually reference the science fiction of the Industrial Revolution. As science fiction, these stories and ideas explore a ‘what if.’ If this technology or society were different, how would that change the world? Such explorations are, I think, inherently political, but NOT in a “party politics” sense. They are political in that they encourage people to use the fictional future, or the fictional past, to think about today.
So does that make steampunk political? I think so, but NOT in the way that is currently being claimed be eiether the loudest “political” or “apolitical” voices in many of these discussions today.
Many, if not most, of the “founding” stories which modern steampunk hearkens to include critiques of the culture of their day, be it Verne’s 20’000 Lieues Sous La Mer, or Wells’ The Time Machine, or De Mille’s A Strange Manuscript Found In A Copper Cylinder. This would, technically, make them “not conservative.” That said, current North American conservative politics are not conservative either, they are simply “progressive” in a direction differing from the “liberal” position.
So all this to say?
Great science fiction, in encouraging readers to think “what if” about the way society works, is political. This would include steampunk. Being political does NOT equate, however, to being a part of the Occupy movement. And being steampunk does not necessitate the same degree or form of political thought or activism in everyone. To assume such is to assume a fallacy. To attempt to drive off or cast out “the other” for not doing so would, in the end, be problematic at best.