Steampunk Is Not a Subculture — Yet

There are too many differences to speak of a subculture yet.

Not a long time ago, Nick wrote that steampunk means different things in different places. He talked about how in Europe, it is a kind of aesthetics while in other places, including the United States, it looks more like a cultural movement.

Because there are so many differences between people who enjoy the steampunk aesthetic, Nick suggested that it’s hard to call steampunk a subculture. Rather it should be understood as an aesthetic that’s applied in different ways. But it’s not just a matter of preference. When a lot of people around the world realize that they share appreciation of an art style or a genre or an interest in reviewing the possible political implications of the steampunk ethos, we are talking about a community that’s organized around a particular theme. While some marvel in the aesthetic, others are attracted to steampunk for another reason.

What we’re really talking about then is a movement.

People around the world have started wondering what else there is to steampunk and are working to shape and design it with a sense of belonging to something more than an aesthetic. Artists are participating, local meetings and events taking place where enthusiasts can learn about steampunk or rejoice in their shared appreciation of it. Virtual forums exist to meet and cluster as do magazines, games and political activists.

In this sense, steampunk is comparable to previous movements like punk and Goth. Indeed, members of both these subcultures have been filling the ranks of the steampunk community during the last six years or so. They’ve contributed to a lack of unity in some points of view while strengthening it in many others.

As Ian Brackley observed in response to Nick’s post, what steampunk lacks compared to previous subcultures is a sound that can identify steampunks.

Without something as universal as steampunk music, the argument can be made that steampunk isn’t a subculture. If we reach agreement on what steampunk should sound like, we would be nearer to becoming a subcultural community. Although without a definitive sound, we do have some parameters that allow us to identify steampunk’s music.

Not everyone who is attracted to the steampunk aesthetics is a steampunk and not every steampunk is obligated to create something to be one. Sometimes you simply want to dream of exploring thousands of worlds that never happened. But these differences mean that the community isn’t a subculture — not yet.


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What did you think of the coverage that CBS Sunday Morning did last weekend on the Steampunk World’s Fair? Did it give a reasonable view of the SP universe?

Ah thanks for the link, Kevin! I think they did an all right job. They even got some of the history right. The emphasis was on the aesthetic and fashion, obviously, not so much the genre, but for a 7 minute clip, they did that properly.

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