It’s getting harder to maintain that steampunk is just resting. It may not be dead, but it certainly isn’t as alive as it used to be.
I was never big on steampunk events and I’m not into steampunk music, so I can’t speak for those scenes. But when it comes to art, fiction and the online fandom, there has been a noticeable decline.
Type “steampunk” in DeviantArt, filter for “newest” and don’t tell me you’re impressed. The most recent Hollywood production with steampunk elements was probably The Three Musketeers (2011, our review here). Most of the steampunk blogs and forums I used to frequent are either gone or dead.
The Steampunk Forum at Brass Goggles used to be bustling with activity. Now there are barely a few new posts each day. Our own community, the Smoking Lounge, has seen better days. The Brass Goggles blog hasn’t been updated in six years. The once-lively steampunk community on LiveJournal has withered. Krzysztof Janicz took his English-language Steampunkopedia offline in 2010 (archived PDF here) and his Polish Retrostacja last year. SteamPunk Magazine promised a final edition in 2016 but hasn’t been heard from since. The Steampunk Tribune returned in 2017 after a four-year hiatus but hasn’t been updated in a year. Even The Steampunk Museum, which was founded in part to preserve the memory of the rapidly disappearing online steampunk scene, is inactive.
Exceptions include Kevin Steil, who is still going strong at Airship Ambassador, and Chris Garcia, who still edits Exhibition Hall.
A frequent lament is that the mainstreaming of steampunk has made it less interesting. But if steampunk were truly mainstream, shouldn’t it be more popular?
A related theory is that steampunk was taken over by unserious tinkerers and cosplayers.
Eric Renderking Fisk made this argument in 2017 (he wasn’t the only one, but his is one of the most recent commentaries):
Since it has lost the anti-authoritarian, anti-establishment aspects, “steampunk” is no longer steam “punk”.
Fisk accused “fair-weather steampunkers” of destroying the movement:
You’re either in a punk movement all the way or you’re not.
But that assumes steampunk was more “punk” than “steam” to begin with. That’s not how I remember it.
It wasn’t until the first SteamPunk Magazine appeared in 2007 that anyone explicitly tried to put the “punk” into steampunk. (Although they insisted they were putting the punk “back” into steampunk.)
Much like Fisk a decade later, a steampunk manifesto in SteamPunk Magazine (that had originally been published online in 2004) lamented that, to most, steampunk was little more than “dressed-up, recreationary nostalgia”; “sepia-toned yesteryear [that] is more appropriate for Disney and suburban grandparents than it is for a vibrant and viable philosophy or culture.”
(Disparaging the enormous contributions Disney has made to the genre, by the way, from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954) to Tokyo DisneySea’s Mysterious Island.)
Steampunk had to be more than Neo-Victorianism and an “escape to gentleman’s clubs”. It had to be aggressive, do-it-yourself and sympathize with the “traitors of the past” in order to rebel against the present.
Other examples of this mentality included Phenderson Djèlí Clark, Jaymee Goh and Diana M. Pho. All insisted that steampunk not only ought to be but was political, whether we liked it or not — and anybody who disagreed was naive.
If anything, it was this activism that drove people away. They were drawn to steampunk because of the stories and the style — and told they weren’t doing it right if they didn’t share the radical, anti-capitalist ideology of a loud minority that tried to mix steampunk and politics.
Cory Gross, who ran one of the first steampunk websites, Victorian Adventures in a Past That Wasn’t, and who now blogs at Voyages Extraordinaires, blamed both the tinkerers and the punks, writing in 2010 (in a blog post that is no longer online) that an influx of enthusiasts from “countercultural movements, such as Punk, Goth-Industrial and DIY hobby groups,” marginalized, “consciously and unconsciously,” the science-fiction and role-playing background of steampunk.
Steampunk’s uncritical recreation of empire didn’t help. Susana Loza and Damon Poeter, among others, have pointed out that steampunks seemed more interested in the grandeur of Victorian Britain than the colonialism, misogyny and racism of the era. This provoked an overreaction. (Which I experienced firsthand when we devoted an entire issue of our webzine, the Gatehouse Gazette, to “Victorientalism” without including a single critical word about this then-ill-defined subgenre.)
It’s not that the critics of steampunk’s imperialist nostalgia were wrong per se; it’s that they had no patience for ignorance and cried “racism!” whenever somebody donned a pith helmet. That’s not how you change minds. It’s how you turn people away.
Imagine you came into steampunk after seeing Wild Wild West (1999) or reading The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, with no strong political views and only a dim awareness of the history of European imperialism, and you’re told on the one hand that being steampunk means being an anarchist and on the other that your interest in the Victorian era is borderline racist and sexist. Would you stick around?
It’s up to us
The surprising thing is that so many did, and it in fact were the punks who left disappointed that they could not remake steampunk in their image.
But many fair-weather steampunkers left as well, and who can blame them? An escape to gentleman’s clubs is what they wanted and they were scorned for it.
I hope it’s not too late. Steampunk has survived an arrogant attempt to politicize it. It has grown more inclusive. The fashion and do-it-yourself may have crowded out the science-fiction and role-playing side, but I think Gross went too far when he wrote that the new steampunk has marginalized the old. You don’t need to be into everything to call yourself steampunk. You don’t even need to call yourself steampunk to be part of the scene in one way or another.
So please, start blogging, drawing, sowing or playing. Don’t be discouraged by the purists and the pretentious. Don’t pay too much attention to self-proclaimed steampunk experts (including me). Don’t be afraid to invent something new. Steampunk didn’t happen because K.W. Jeter wrote down the rules in 1987 or when SteamPunk Magazine tried to reform it in 2007. It’s what we all make of it. Steampunk belongs to you as much as it belongs to me. If it dies, it will be because we let it.
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There are rules?! No one told me there were rules. Maybe that’s why my books contain a Jew, a lesbian, an octogenarian, a gay brother, a black brother-in-law, and at it’s heart, a wilful intelligent woman in an era marked for not particularly approving of any of these types.
Did I get it wrong or did the people trying to set boundaries on creativity mesh up somewhere along the line?
And if someone killed steampunk, then I’ll send Amethyst Forester to investigate and keep up with the Airship Ambassador and do my best to breath life into that penned corpse.
The point is more that you are, for some so-called steampunks, not allowed to write steampunk *without* a Jew, a lesbian, an octogenarian, a gay brother, a black brother-in-law, and a wilful intelligent woman without being called a racist. And for good measure you have to add a transgender Asian, a fysically challenged person, and an illegal alien. This goes for sci-fy as well, by the way.
True Steampunks will carry on regardless of popularity or an injection of “fair weather Steampunks,” because Steampunk is fueled by passion. Case in point, the Starburner Galactic Courier Service just finished constructing our full-size Victorian X-wing.
Start-up sequence: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lJhQUZzWMJY
For me, steampunk was always about the making. There was and are amazing pieces of art being created, but there was and still are “just glue a gear on and call it steampunk” works. The volume of junk steampunk crowded out the truly great art. I keep creating and hoping.
There is also this classic tune – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TFCuE5rHbPA
When did you start with steampunk? The first steampunk artefacts I have seen were photoshopped, and published via Worth1000.
great article. I agree with your analysis of the reasons why steampunk died/shrank drastically and also hope it will make a comeback. I would also like to offer an additional reason why it shrank drastically, one which I have blogged about over at meta-punk.com:
I think a type of elitism based on attire drove away newcomers. From what I noticed shortly before leaving the scene a few years ago, steampunk devolved into an extended fashion show where standing was determined by how elaborate your dress was. If you did not meet the standards of the self-declared elite, you were out. I also noticed (especially in my country of residence) that certain individuals claimed the office of gatekeeper for the online community. If they did not like you, you were out. Since the online community was were you got your info for events from, you would not attend if you were attacked each time you went online. This stopped the influx of new members and growth of the scene.
Also, a lot of scenes (notably Italy, France, and Germany) have fractured after the initial boom with various subgroups in the respective countries harbouring animosities against each other and various group leaders claiming to be the true representatives of the scene with the rivals being posers, in for the money etc.
The French scene has recovered somewhat from what I know. The Italian scene seems to exist only in the north of the country these days and the German scene is a mess. The major websites of the initial boom are gone, the largest forum has been offline for years and there are several competing Facebook groups each more sneeringly elitist than the next.
My hope in Europe lies with the Spanish scene. After some quarrels around 2015 they seem to have gotten their act together and are still active, especially in Barcelona and Madrid.
I find it incredibly satisfying that I apparently managed to outlive Steampunk. I started up my original website around 1997/8 or so, and here I am 20 years later still doing my little blog, still doing exactly what I want and doing it better than I ever have done it, still sharing Victorian and Retro-Victorian Scientific Romances, Fantasy, Horror, Retro-Futurism, art and history, which is all I ever was interested in.
I think you’re missing the most simple and obvious answer to your question though: Steampunk was a fad. Despite all the braying by the punks and makers and SJWs, they were just trendhopping the next big thing. Once that wore out, they discarded it and moved on to the next fad. It’s happened a million times before and will happen a million times again. Maybe it stings for them to face that for all the pretense of being counter-culture rebels, being a counter-culture rebel is itself a pretentious fashion trend.
But one thing I learned through that time, what was it? 10 years ago now? Is that “Steampunk” was just a word, not an identity. Once I let go of it, I was still able to like the things I liked and do the things I wanted to do. The people who actually like Victorian Sci-Fi will still be there, still liking it. Doesn’t matter what name it goes by. We’re actually not any worse off or better off than we were 20 years ago when I started.
I’m not sure.
On the one hand, I’m glad that steampunk today is more similar to the steampunk I got into ten years ago. (And I’m glad you’re still doing your thing, I love the blog!)
On the other, it was an exciting time when steampunk became popular. There was a lot of new art, a lot of new writing, a lot of debate. Steampunk is definitively quieter now — and I don’t know if we’ve reached a new equilibrium or if we’re still on the downward trajectory.
I think Cory is right. Lots of people moved in adopting steampunk, copying what was already there. They did not add anything new to it. Then it was not that exciting anymore, and they left for the next big thing.
Unfortunately, the hordes had already droven the real creative people out of steampunk. As Cory, they moved on with the same thing, but stopped calling it steampunk, because steampunk had taken a wrong turn.
I’m not sure I agree entirely. I don’t need steampunk to be constantly evolving in order for it to be interesting. It seems to me that within the confines that have been more or less established (which are fluid, of course), a lot of interesting things can be done in terms of art, aesthetic and storytelling.
It’s also normal, I think, that a movement or a subculture is more open-minded in the beginning. You talk about the early 2000s, when few people used the term “steampunk” and it was still ill-defined. By now, we have a pretty good idea of what steampunk means and what steampunk looks like. That means there’s less experimentation, but I don’t know if that could have been avoided.
Of course – we need to be mindful not to go to the other extreme and start writing down steampunk “rules” and shutting down artists and authors who do try something new. We saw a bit of that when steampunk was at its peak (and it seemed to me it was coming mainly from people who, ironically, came to steampunk pretty late and immediately moved on when it lost popularity).
Well, if nothing new comes to it and people do the same thing for 15 years or more, it becomes boring. Especially when it gets restricted to what SJW aprove of. Steampunk is very limited now. It’s not that you open a steampunk page anywhere and are just blown away with innovation of the style or creativity or “a new take on steampunk”.
Same with the music, it is still basically Industrial as we had about 30 years ago, including goggles and rivets.
I do agree with that, that’s one of the things that motivated me to write this story. I guess my point is that in order for something to be new, it doesn’t have to reinvent steampunk. I think there’s (still) a lot of interesting things you can do within the definition of steampunk we have — or by trying to test the limits of that definition.
(I don’t know about the music, I never got into any music that was labeled “steampunk”.)
“On the other, it was an exciting time when steampunk became popular. There was a lot of new art, a lot of new writing, a lot of debate.”
Sure, “exciting” was one word for it… One of my problems was that so little of it reflected anything that actually interests me about Victorian Scientific Romances, being the romance of scientific discovery wedded with the beauty of Victorian-Edwardian style.
One of my hobbies in the last five years has been visiting National Parks through Canada and the US, taking as many photos of the historic architecture as of the natural wonders. That is a far closer expression of what I love in Victorian Scientific Romances than some ugly contraption or terrible novel made by some punk SJW hipster telling me to bend the knee. That debate was just annoying, that writing was just bad, that art was just ugly.
Dieselpunk is having its own similar crisis! A new meme and slogan has popped up recently: “Vintage fashion, not vintage values.” Which many of us have taken to mean “if you’re not on board with progressivism, you’re not welcome here.” Something that I’ve railed against in the forums, Eric Fisk has written against on his blog and John Pyka has blasted from the digital airwaves. Even Piecraft has weighed in on it!
Will this new meme dominate? Is dieselpunk destined to walk down the same path? Only time will tell, but not if we have anything to say about it! We are and always have been for a fully-inclusive subculture! And we’ll go down fighting!
– The Famous Jonny B.
PS. I also think the other big movement that killed it was the “anything can be steampunk” mentality. As soon as they blurred their definition to the point that there was no definition, they lost what it meant to be steampunk. To paraphrase Syndrome from The Incredibles, “Once everyone is steampunk… no one will be.”
I with Marcus.
In Mexico and other atinoamerican countries the people who claiming the true representatives was attacking, blocking and even bullying to others, incluiding international artists.
Constant discussions and the so many autoclaimed experts ignoring the rest of the world killed the activity of the most active and enthusiastic members of the communities.
Even magazines as El Investigador was constantly attacking and blocking that was very frustrating and and rhe end we just quit.
Also, the scene always wih new people saying “you are not to put rules on my steampunk” wich only made the things worst.
I published five anthologies, one monthly magazine for three years in a row and a short novel, all about steampunk thematics, and thanks to the ostracism made by some people, mostly steampunk enthusiastic on ny country doesn’t know a thing about it.
I don’t things politics kills steampunk. I say that ego battles did.
The problem Marcus and Paulo raise presumably happens in every movement and subculture, though? There are always people who try to dominate and get others to play by their rules. Those are probably the people who, as Cory mentions, hop onto the next trend when it comes along.
We’ve always tried to promote a live-and-let-live attitude here at Never Was, and The Gatehouse before it, but maybe people even felt that way about us, when we published our views of the genre. I remember several years back, one of the people promoting a political steampunk wrote she felt frustrated when she read arguments from people (like me) that steampunk wasn’t inherently political…
As Edward and Johnny point out, not everything can be steampunk either. It’s about finding the balance between being inclusive and open to new things on the one hand and protecting what steampunk means on the other. That’s difficult to get right.
Johnny, can you tell me more about this “vintage fashion, not vintage values” movement? I remember John Pyka, Eric Fisk and Piecraft talking about something like this on The Fedora Chronicles radio show, but that’s about all I know about it.
Nick; it’s largely been popping up as a meme or slogan, so far; doing a search showed it pop up under a lot of progressive and feminist sites, and people are making pins and buttons with the slogan now.
One website explained it thusly: “Loving vintage style and retro aesthetics doesn’t mean you love the antiquated morals and backwards gender roles that went with them. Celebrate modern progressive values by attaching this [pin] to your best vintage frock!”
So yes, it does seem to be a way of dismissing “vintage” conservative values and morals as “antiquated” and “backwards”, and thus is rather exclusionary of anyone who does not hold to left-leaning ideology.
Marc Chevalier started quite the conversation about it in The Fedora Lounge Facebook Group; if you’re on Facebook you can see that discussion here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/fedoralounge/permalink/10156644184069145/
Well, I don’t see an issue with having progressive social views. I have progressive social views. Nor do I see a problem with people emphasizing that steampunk and dieselpunk are not about bringing back the social mores of their respective eras. I don’t think there are many, if any, steam- and dieselpunks who believe women shouldn’t have the vote or be able to do the same work as men, who believe non-heterosexuals should live in the closet, who believe in racial segregation, etc.
That said, I suppose many steam- and dieselpunks also feel we may have lost something valuable from those times: civility and honor come to mind.
That’s a bit of a different topic. The point in this context is: we don’t want steampunk or dieselpunk appropriated by any one agenda. I don’t know what your social views are. We can debate them. But that’s a separate discussion from what steam- or dieselpunk is (which I think is your point as well).
Indeed. We can all agree to disagree agreeably. It’s a big tent!
“Loving vintage style and retro aesthetics doesn’t mean you love the antiquated morals and backwards gender roles that went with them.”
Wait, what?! These people literally believe in White Man’s Burden and that we should go back to Victorian customs of gender relations, i.e.: men and women shouldn’t talk to each other unless formally introduced, women should not be alone with a man she is not married or related to, that the delicacy of women requires chivalric restraint on men’s speech and behaviour… they’re just about a hair’s breadth from no premarital sex. Modern progressives are the most conservative generation since the Fifties.
That’s what happens when you mix a “steampunk subculture” with “steampunk cosplaying”. And when that cosplay is a mixture of fantasy and historic fiction in various gradations.
Also, a steampunk story in literature could be set in the Victorian Age with their values. It says nothing about the values of the writer in real life. You can’t simply deny historical events in historical literature/cosplay because modern values suit you better.
Some punks never understood that steampunk could be something else than a subculture.
I agree, completely. Bar on the Hollywood comment, we had the release of The House with a Clock in its Walls last year, which l sadly haven’t seen yet. There’s been a few others, but not many, and none as iconic as Wild Wild West, sadly.
Hollywood’s take on steampunk has been hit or miss, and largely miss. The problem is mainly that Hollywood never has really understood steampunk, nor has it really cared to understand it, and thus has come out with some really horrid interpretations of what they thought it was (I’m looking at you, NCIS). Only a few (*cough*Castle*cough*) actually cared to get it close to right.
Ironically, Hollywood has been doing dieselpunk fabulously right for years, with everything from Indiana Jones to Sky Captain to Captain America, without really realizing that that was what they were doing. They were just doing it because mixing 30s and 40s themes with sci-fi and occult themes was “cool.” And that’s fine with me, as long as they keep putting those out!
Thanks to all for an interesting discussion. And amen re Hollywood, which excels at Dieselpunk, even if mostly without calling it that or even recognising the word! But what’s in a name?
Great article, Nick. Thanks for sharing. Will write more on that soon.
Until you wrote this, I thought that I was perhaps out of the loop, but your article made me realize the lack of currency in Steampunk.
I always saw it as an alternate future, not a return to the past. A future where we take what we like from the past and add it to what we like from now.
Retro futurism is a term I prefer for steam, diesel, and atomic punk. It encompasses all of these and more.
Embrace the good.
On top of everything said , whats wrong with having a little fun?
Ah well, there was a time when steampunk was all about fun. It was a spoof of things like -mostly- cyberpunk and “the good old times”. Nothing to be taken seriously.
I’ve always been a maker on the edge of steampunk and enjoy the leather, brass, rivets type asthetic. Never actually created anything steam powered but am open to ideas. I also enjoy the “retro futuristic” films and books.
I hadn’t realised there was a strong “punk” part to the movement at all. I just thought it was a bit of escapism and fun and as Edward says, what’s wrong with that?
The “punk” goes back to the rebelious youth of the 1970s and early 1980s. So it was mostly about rebelious youth in the age of steam. Hence the many street urchins in steampunk.
Other stories focus on the social aspect, where “punks” want to break the status quo of the esthablisment. Yakuza and the industry in cyberpunk, the government and the industry in steampunk.
The movement as in “subculture” never had a slice of punk in it. Nor steam for that matter.
I liked the early time of steampunk (until about 2004) when there was no such thing as steampunk. Basically, it was all in your mind, and you got inspired by several things. You could not touch it. You could not buy it. You had to be creative, and everyone had his or her own flavour of steampunk, depending on what you were inspired by.
I remember people asking “would this qualify as steampunk?” and they came up with all kind of things, and the answer was usually a “yes, why not?” These things had a style ranging from Victoriania to Goth, and from Jugendstil to nostalgia. Steampunk was moving, it was not to be in a fixed place, it evolved back then.
It stopped evolving around 2004. People who liked the evolving kind of steampunk, the exploration, the excitement of finding new things that could contribute to steampunk simply moved on I think. I did. I still call it steampunk in my writing, but it does not contain gears and goggles so to say.
The biggest problem I have with steampunk nowadays is exactly that: we have moved on from 2004, it’s 15 years ago, and it is still stuck in the same style, it hasn’t developed serious sub-styles beyond dieselpunk (which we had way back too, and still oozing nazi-propaganda). There a no new visions, no radically new stories, no whooping movies or tv series. Everyone in steampunk is basically copying what already had been there in 2004. People are inspired by steampunk now, instead of having steampunk shaped and evolved by other ways of inspiration.
So when you go to a forum or webpage and it has the same stuff as 15 years ago, you simply move on.
after being involved in Dieselpunk activities for about five years (2007-2012) I can’t remember a single thing ‘oozing nazi-propaganda’.
It’s true that there was a lot of Diesel Era-related essays and pictorials that embraced totalitarian legacy. But no contributor, including yours truly, associated themselves with Nazi (Fascist, Communist, Falangist, Corporate State, etc.) values – at least on Dieaselpunk.org which I had an honour to manage together with the likes of Tome Wilson and Larry Amyett.
Or check this one to make sure: https://dieselpunksencyclopedia.wordpress.com
Any trace of Nazi propaganda?
Have a nice day.
I also recommend Marcus’ “Dieselpunk and the Shadow of Nazi Aesthetics” on this topic.
I don’t know about the situation in the USA, but dieselpunks here in Europe, especially the Netherlands, are not a nice group of people. They are intimidating and agressive at cons, and love guns, and occasionally thet filrt with ultra right wing topics (which of course includes guns). That is my experience.
Besides that, there are groups who take dieselpunk as an excuse to express nazi thoughts, just like some do who claim to be pagans.
I was an editor and frequent poster on dieselpunks.org from around 2009 on, and also good friends with Tome, Boss Larry, et. al. And while we recognized that World War II was a large inspiration of dieselpunk tropes, I can’t remember any “oozing” of “nazi-propaganda”: in fact we were rather adamant that any sort of Nazi regalia such as swastikas, totenkopfs, Schutzstaffel or “Sig” runes, were not acceptable on the site, as I recall.
I am not sure that the “punk” elements of these names means what some people think, whether steam or diesel or cyber., but I suppose a part of my writing can be called dieselpunk, and a part of it is a challenging of the assumptions of the historical reality, so punk will do.
Lord Peter Wimsey isn’t dieselpunk, but his off-stage trans-Atlantic flight in “Clouds of Witness” easily could be. Yet Wimsey is concerned with the proper order of things, even if Harriet vane is a sign of a changing social world.
Some of the other classic characters of inter-war fiction come close to dieselpunk, such as Simon Templar, who certainly breaks rules.
So what does the punk in steampunk mean to you?
To me its is just borrowed from cyberpunk (of which steampunk is a subgenre in literature and thats how steampunk started anyway). About the punk in cyberpunk, ask Brian Bethke. It doesn’t really mean anything, apart that it sounded cool back in the day (1980) and youthful.
To a lot of retropunks I know, it’s a rebellion or refusal to conform to the mainstream culture. Sartorically, John Pyka of the Dieselpunk Podcast often says, “I refuse to wear the ‘national uniform'”, by which he means a t-shirt, cargo pants, flip flops and maybe a baseball or trucker cap.
Robert Brown of Abney Park once said he considered it a rebellion against modern times: boring cookie-cutter, beige plastic designs, cheap throwaway products with no lasting value, and with regard to society, a rebellion against the rudeness and coarseness of today’s society and a return to a more polite, well-mannered behavior.
I’ve said in the past that the “punk” scene of the 70s took root and transformed the entire culture into a crude, crass, ill-mannered and irreverent society. And as MythBuster Adam Savage is fond of saying, “I reject your reality and substitute my own.”
At what level of popularity must steampunk be to be considered healthy and strong? I see it as being very active still. I myself found the movement eight years ago and it inspired me to write my ‘Airship Neverland’ series which now includes 4 books and a RPG based on those books. Are they mammoth sellers, no but they are contributions to and for the genre. I find the scene very active still.
I think there has been several attempted gaurdians of the genre, we have seen Falksen and Kriete try to direct the scene to be focused and managed by them and that failed, but yet I watched the scene rebound and grow – from my point of view.
Now when you say Diana Pho and others say that SP is political they are entitled and permitted that opinion. Likewise Savan Gupta finds it to be very political and cultural, and he has some justifiable reasons. Both of these people are POC and represent groups that were marganilized and/or oppressed in the Victorian era. That being said they are very much steampunk.
As for myself I think when you seem to say steampunk has been co-opted by crafters, and that political polarization may be responsible for driving steam punks away it is you who are being naive and perhaps a bit right leaning.
From what I’ve seen poloticalization has not been responsible for driving people away; bad con behavior is.
For better or worse steampunk is a visual motif moreso than a literary one – and Im an author. What draws people to steampunk is the aesthetic and visual style.
Therefore when somebody opts to go to a con in their best creations or purchases and are witness to mass drunkeness, sexual harassment and costume snobs they are going to either think ‘If this is they way it is I’m out.’ Especially if you have prigs like EK rip apart your crafting, costuming, writing, or music why would you want to stay?
Even here in your article you come across as a gatekeeper by saying those who see Steampunk as a political ideology are not welcome.
Who are you to say it isn’t?
Thank you for your comment!
The point you raise about steampunk cons is a good one. I’ve heard there were quite a few issues in the US that, frankly, sounded awful, and I can’t blame people if they left the steampunk scene because of it.
I’m not super familiar with the details, because a) I’m in Europe, and b) I was never into the con and fashion side of the steampunk culture to begin with. So it’s possible I underestimated the role that played in my original analysis.
As for steampunk and politics, it’s not that I mind people mixing the two. What I mind is people insisting that steampunk is inherently political (I don’t agree it is) and that you need to share their ideology (which is rather far to the left) or you’re not “steampunk”.
As I see it, everyone can pursue their own interpretation of steampunk, but no one gets to decide what steampunks means for everyone.
Although it’s a little paradoxical to write that. Now you can accuse me of trying to decide what steampunk means for everyone, but my argument, substantively, is the opposite.
None of this is written in stone. If it turned out that the vast majority of steampunks were anarchists and wanted to use the movement as a vehicle to effect political change, then I would have been forced to accept that and leave. But that is not my impression of what happened. My impression is that the vast majority of steampunks wanted an apolitical hobby and a small group of people tried (and failed) to turn it into something political. They had a right to try, just like I had the right to push back.
My fear is that we’ve all lost. Those who wanted steampunk to be a political ideology failed to turn it into one. Many apolitical steampunks left because they didn’t want to deal with these discussions.
“Even here in your article you come across as a gatekeeper by saying those who see Steampunk as a political ideology are not welcome.
Who are you to say it isn’t?”
Nope, nope, nope, nope, nope.
Someone arguing against gatekeeping is not gatekeeping people who want to gatekeep. People who want to gatekeep are not victims. They are bullies and shutting them down is self-defense.
Steampunk is not dead, but it is not the same steampunk that it was back in 2007. And that fine! Deviant Art and online forums like Brass Goggles are the online communities of 5-10 years ago. Steampunk has moved to new communities on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. Many of the original people creating the movement have left, and they like nothing better than to write articles about steampunk being dead since they aren’t personally as involved or as prominent as they once were. Events ended, and new ones replaced them. Same with musicians, authors, and attendees. If you aren’t involved in events, and you’re not into the music, you have a very narrow lens on what steampunk is today. Many of us are continuing to enjoy our steampunk, invent new things, and grow the movement.
Paulo nailed it. “I don’t think politics killed steampunk. I say that ego battles did.” That’s exactly what has taken place in So Cal.
This article reminds me of the story about the blind men and the elephant. “I was never big on steampunk events and I’m not into steampunk music, so I can’t speak for those scenes,” the author writes.
If steampunk is “dead,” please explain the Asylum Steampunk Festival in Lincoln, UK, which draws tens of thousands of attendees each year (the BBC put last year’s attendance at 100,000). Here in the U.S., you have the Big River Steampunk Festival, Watch City Steampunk Festival, and Enchanted City Steampunk Festival, which draw thousands of attendees. The last Wild Wild West Steampunk Convention in Tucson, Arizona, drew about 4000 paying attendees. Nearly every weekend, there’s at least one major steampunk event somewhere in the world.
The article notes the demise of some steampunk websites, but the author is apparently unaware of The Steampunk Explorer (https://steampunk-explorer.com/), which launched in March 2018. (I happen to be the founder and editor of that website.)
But the larger point is that steampunk enthusiasts are heavily active on Facebook. There are dozens of large, active steampunk communities on Facebook, including regional groups in San Francisco, Sacramento, St. Louis, Chicago, Florida, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Seattle and other cities or states. Each has more than 1000 members.
You want steampunk art? Check out the Steampunk Artists Facebook group (among others).
For a more accurate assessment of the state of steampunk, I’d humbly suggest my own story, “Steampunk Year in Review: 2018.” https://steampunk-explorer.com/articles/steampunk-year-review-2018
Thank you for your comment, and thank you for the link! Maybe things aren’t as bad as I feared — although I would point out your 2018 review doesn’t exactly start on a positive note either…
I’m also reading some of the responses to my story on Facebook. People there, too, are saying there is still an active steampunk convention and music scene, especially in the US. Which is great!
Definitively adding The Steampunk Explorer to my bookmarks. It’s a pleasure to find a new and active steampunk website again.
That makes exactly my point. At least in the Netherlands, you see more and more that people glue some gears on it and call it steampunk. Many events that previously were either fantasy or history minded, are now “steampunked”. That makes it really popular then, this inclusiveness. Even music. industrial, gothrock, expressionist, just glue some gears on it and call it steampunk.
But it’s not. Merely old wine with a new label, and to call everything steampunk “because steampunk is what you want what it is, everything can be steampunk” just isn’t enough to make it steampunk.
Well, yes, nowadays it is, but that’s why old skool steampunks have left the scene. The name no longer fits the content, so we started to give it other names (or no name at all, so it can’t be hijacked again by fakes).
San Diego still has a very active steampunk community which has actually transformed the community to a degree. For a few years, they brought back vintage “Electriquette” motorized wicker carts to Balboa Park. They were consultants on San Diego’s fair a few years ago, which was steampunk themed, and consulted with Circus Vargas to create a steampunk-themed circus show, if I recall correctly.
As an Arizona steampunk who works multiple steampunk cons in multiple states every year and co-runs a steampunk social group, I can echo what Stephen says. Technology changes and social groups change with it. What we did five or ten years ago is not what we do now and what we do know is not going to be what we do in five or ten years time.
There’s a strong scene here and, as with west coast steampunk generally, it’s very much without rules. Panels about the difference between east coast steampunk and west coast steampunk are not unusual and they tend to focus on the west’s focus on fun over rules. Maybe we’ve kept the ‘punk’ part of steampunk better than the east.
Wild Wild West Steampunk Convention, hosted as it is in a Western town built as a Hollywood set, epitomises this, with themes like ‘Galactic Steampunk Federation’ and ‘Robots vs. Dinosaurs’. It’s wildly diverse without anyone forcing anyone else to be that way.
That isn’t to say that the scene hasn’t changed. It has, but often due to outside influences.
The genre has moved back out of the mainstream so it’s harder to reach people who don’t already know what it is. It’s found a home in traditional sf/f fandom, which is a factor of change. Steampunk authors are being categorised in other ways, like alternate history or fantasy. Social groups have moved to other platforms but are often still active.
And it is still evolving. I program steampunk film sets at conventions, some of them dedicated steampunk events, and I’m finding that their quality is getting better every year, without the numbers decreasing.
Even as a west coast steampunk who doesn’t follow the rules, I don’t believe we can fully remove that political element. We may not flaunt it or require it, but most of us still have the underlying mindset that we’re rewinding history because it didn’t come out the way it should, so that maybe it’ll work this time. We’ll go back to 1888 and start afresh.
What you may be missing is that it isn’t all social justice. That’s part of it, but nobody’s going to argue that we haven’t progressed in our world on that front from Victorian England. It’s also technology and a pride in the creation and maintenance of beautiful things, not just functional ones. It’s in the perceived civility of the age: politeness, an elegance of dress and manners. It’s in the spirit that anything is possible, that we’re still inventing new things and exploring new places.
The tl;dr version: steampunk is alive and well and so is the ‘punk’ in that name. You may just need to travel a little further to find it.
Steampunk is FAR FROM DEAD. You just don’t go to or hang out with steampunks in your area so you don’t see it. If you were to go to a few conventions you would realize that it is expanding if anything. These so called “elitists” who set fake rules for steampunk have been kicked out of the community before and will be again because the best thing about steampunk is that, THERE ARE NO FUCKING RULES! You can make it what you want it to be. There are all sorts of Sci-Fi crossovers now if you go to the South-West and the West Coast. There’s the Victorian re-en-actors who sneak in and pretend to be steampunks in the Midwest. And a bunch more just plain steampunks on the East Coast. You go over to Germany, and you will see a beautiful steampunk ascetic that will knock your socks off. They have bars, hotels, night clubs, etc all in steampunk. Go to England where it started and you will see even more steampunks. I know because I have friends in England who are steampunks. Go to Russia, Scandinavia, anywhere in Europe and you will find steampunks. You can go to Japan and there’s a HUGE community of steampunks who want more exposure. Just because the USA has some unique problems isn’t stopping steampunk either, it just moved more underground. There are actual groups of steampunks in every major city across the USA. You just need to go on FB and find them. You just have to look.
One could blame the Publishers who lost faith in the genre. But in that case how can a genre with the richness and variety Steampunk has with be so short-lived?
One conversation I had with Cherie Priest a few years ago was quite telling. She told me she had had stopped writing for the Steampunk genre. Her last Clockwork Universe was published in 2015.
She said Steampunk had no tentpole (no single piece of seminal literature) like Fantasy has in Lord of the Rings (for example, the genre now has many). Publishers were not paying authors for new books. This was very discouraging to hear.
Lack of new content has to hurt. The publishing industry is a least partially to blame for it’s shortsightedness.
I see that steampunk never really made it in literature. Ever since 2004 it is more a subculture/Maker thing than fiction. Although many steampunks cosplay and make stuff, they don’t read it, actually I think most are not interested in literature, movies, games and that kind of art they just want to tinker and do photoshoots.
Therefore I think books and stuff are not really expressing what is going on.
It’s nice to see so many familiar names posting! Steampunk is not dead. Yes, “the gatekeepers” tried to keep it limited. And yes, the Jeff Mach controversy in the North Eastern US killed Steampunk World’s Faire (Note: Jeff was accused of assault, rape, financial crimes, and I believe the victims).
But as others have said:
1) Cons are booming here in the US. Big River in Hannibal, Missouri, the home of Mark Twain and first home of Molly Brown, attendance was down last year due to heat (it’s outdoors except for premium events), but 2 years ago it was 15,000, yes 15k showed up. Teslacon in Madison, Wisconsin is on its 10th year. Steampunk Symposium is over 8 years old.
My friends in the UK say that Asylum Weekend is absolutely amazing.
2) electronic platforms-Chat rooms and boards swarmed to social media by 2010. I joined FB in 2006 when there were only a few thousand members. But when FB killed organic reach (meaning anyone could see your posts) it affected many groups and pages. People moved on to Twitter, Instagram, and tumblr (Steampunk Tendencies has millions of members between FB and Tumblr). I remember Brian Kessinger’s Octopus comics page on FB when there were only 30 people. At some point, he had 30,000. But again, FB added so many restrictions, they shot themselves in the foot. And when they sold peoples info? It made them the new MySpace. People are moving on to other platforms. Not just Steampunk folk either, I think it’s all fandoms. Hell, my 80 year old auntie now has a FB Page. I’m steadily moving more stuff to YouTube. And I’ve been blogging on WordPress about my art since 2012 (mysteampunkproject.wordpress.com)
3) art/fashion/music/books: Frenchy and the Punk, the Men Who Will Not Be Blamed for Nothing, Unwoman, and many others continue to make steampunk music. Of course they branch out to other forms, good artists should in order to grow. I consistently see new art on my social media feeds. Kato is still doing fashion and has a band, and yes, still does some of the “steamiest” pics and shoots on her own website. Almost every con or event has costume contests, fashion shows, beard contests, teapot racing, penny farthing races, tea dueling, parasol dueling and more. A lot of authors outside the genre have tried Steampunk with mixed results. Writers within the genre are still writing.
I do Steampunk as a multimedia art. I have Steampunk public art pieces and shows. One of my pieces was at Lambert International Airport here in St. Louis. I’m working on my 9th and 10th books. One of my books, A Long Reign, made the top 100 in Amazon UK’s Storytellers competition (note that there was over 10,000 entries for the contest, so top 100 is pretty sweet). My books regularly hit the top 10 in steampunk/timetravel/historic fiction on release on amazon. BUT I do agree with others. We have some steampunk celebrities. I’ve met a lot of them, but there hasn’t been anyone to totally permeate mainstream culture, although I can say at one point Kato has come really close. And Doc Phineas is on multiple tv shows and movies.
4) News/media: Matt Grayson and Phoebe Darqueling have joined forces to make Steampunk Journal an international presence with over 10,000 digital subscribers. They’ve added additional writers to do reviews, cover events, cover Steampunk topics, etc. I have been one of their writers as well for the last two years and continue to do so. Please take a gander at steampunkjournal.org. Articles are posted daily. I actually wrote an article last year that Steampunk wasn’t dead. I still feel that way. Undergoing growing pains? Yes, but far from dead.
I checked out Steampunk Journal and enjoyed reading the section on the rules you have to follow if you want to be an official Steampunk. I was particularly interested in the article “Steampunk is NOT Victorian Science Fiction” where I found this gem:
“It’s a common misconception that steampunk is Victorian Science Fiction. I went along with this description until I delved further into the community. This description of steampunk has been pushed onto the culture by clever people who simply want to further their own career. By convincing you that their opinion of steampunk is the correct opinion and removing any that disagree.”
I bowed out of the scene long before this was written, but of all the accusations I ever got, this is the one that made the least sense to me. I don’t make a dime off my blog and never have. In fact, I literally hold as an ethical principle that people should pay for their own hobbies, including myself (I notice that Steampunk Journal has a business directory, information for advertisers, a store, and a Patreon account) and my career is my actual day job. It was always the Steampunk scenesters trying to build their brand and sell their projects that made the accusation that somehow my saying “Steampunk has always been Victorian and Retro-Victorian Sci-Fi” was trying to profit off it. It’s so transparently obvious that it’s the scenesters profiting, not the people who happen to like old books and movies. Other than trying to drown me out with gaslighting, I have no explanation for it.
Of course now, almost a decade later, I would agree with it. Victorian Science FIction is way, WAY better than Steampunk.
As a practitioner of Steampunk since at least 2008, I have seen the genre reach great heights in 2012, and then seemingly fall precipitously into obscurity. Like many genres, Steampunk changed when it was discovered by the mainstream media. Now, like Goths and Gamers, it is just another lifestyle choice.
Steampunk’s influence is strong in Cosplay and the Maker communities. For Cosplay, it was a new world to imagine stories and design costumes. For Makers, the hands-on building syncs well with their style.
As a crew member of the Neverwas Haul, a real three story Victorian House on Wheels, our storyline of the Hibernian Empire and drivable homes and castles fit perfectly with the eccentric world of Steampunk: a world that envisions the future from a steam powered past.
Over the years, our workshop (Obtainium Works) has built a fleet of art cars, not always steampunk in style, but the genre still leaves an imprint on our work.
At least in the San Francisco Bay Area, Steampunk is still strong. Clockwork Alchemy Steampunk Convention is getting larger every year, and we are getting a large number children at the event.
Yes, steampunk politics got annoying after a while. Let me ask you this: is wearing a pith helmet considered racism, or cultural appropriation? Or maybe it’s just a thing made of cork and fabric that looks cool to wear. Why argue about how many angels can dance on the head of pin when you could be off on time travel adventures!
Dr. Professor Samuel Tweed
Scientist and Explorer
Hibernian Academy of UnNatural Sciences
ps. Regarding Steampunk Music: I’m still a big fan of Professor Elemental, and Mr. B, The Gentleman Rhymer. ChapHop has a total of two practitioners, and I love them both.
@spacemansam, thanks for your work on the Neverwas Haul and other art cars – it continues to be an inspiration! For other chap hop artists, check out Reginald Piquedevant on YouTube as well as Thomas Benjamin Wild’s fantastic debut album.
Perhaps it is your lack of attendance to events, or listening to the music in the genre that makes you think steampunk is dying. These things are huge. The online community you speak of might not be as active as it once was, but perhaps that’s because it’s evolved into groups that actually meet up in real life.
Events over the years are getting bigger, not smaller. The Asylum festival in the UK has grown, in ten years, from 400 attendees in its first year, to well over 100,000 in its tenth, which was last year. People come from all over Europe and the world for that one. There’s also a massive event that happens in New Zealand.
Mortal Engines was a big hollywood film made by Peter Jackson, that came out during the christmas period of 2018/19, and that’s a lot more recent than your claim of Three Musketeers.
People’s interpretation of what steampunk is, are changing. Evolving. And that’s okay. It happens with everything. Steampunk itself is considered in part to be an evolution of both goth and punk culture. It has its own offshoots already.
Just because it no longer fits the definition that you have for it, doesn’t mean it’s dead, or dying, or even unwell. It just means it’s different. And that’s not always a bad thing.
That’s my takeaway from some of the other comments here, and many of the comments I’m reading on Facebook, as well. It’s not that steampunk as such is dying, it’s that the steampunk I grew up with is.
Which is disappointing to me. I’ll keep writing about the sort of steampunk I like (and I’ll continue to publish about steampunk events, fashion and music at Never Was, because I do recognize it’s an important part of the scene), but if most people want steampunk to change into something a little different, it will. That’s life.
I am part of the UK community. Yes, some people do it in ways that I don’t and I do it in ways that they don’t – that’s fine as it doesn’t stop any of us doing it how we want. I’m a maker, but I don’t sell. I know others who make and do sell, who make and don’t sell, and who are not makers but purchasers: again, each to their own. Some dress “fully steamed” and are glorious, others are “lightly steamed” and this is sometimes the best option for the day, and all of this is fine. Some people worry they aren’t dressed up enough but the response they overwhelmingly get in the online communities I frequent is always to dress the way they feel, can afford, and are comfortable with as there is no minimum and the participating is more important than affording high fashion. I have encountered a fully inclusive community in all respects. The concept of advancing “imperialism” by wearing pith helmets and military uniform is taken about as seriously as the cries of rallying to fight the Martian foe after the sinking of the Thunderchild. I wear a pith helmet to hunt dinosaurs – I’m not announcing to the world that as a woman, I believe I should lose the vote and become the property of a man. I’ve not met anyone in the community yet that believes it does. I was on Brass Goggles but haven’t used it for years as I moved onto Facebook, in a few years that might be dated and I will access the online community in other ways. I am involved in my local group’s social activities and events, I have friends in other local communities elsewhere and I attend events in other places (I am limited by time and cost as to number of events primarily). One of my big motivating factors is that I feel “at home” with Steampunks and love the social side of chatting and meeting new people. In terms of “the arts”, I see lots of new material. I do like a variety of styles of music that fall within the Steampunk purview (I’m going to a gig tonight for one band). I’m a rock and metal fan but I also love the music-hall stylings and performance art of the Cogkneys and the Chap Hop of Mr B and Professor Elemental to mention just a few of many wonderful acts. I love the atmosphere at these events, something I increasing feel is being lost at large venue events for many more mainstream bands (£150+ for a ticket to be miles away from the stage and watch the distant dots that are performing on the video screens at The O2 Arena, for example, doesn’t do it for me, I’m afraid). I immensely enjoy and follow various performers: actors, magicians, comedians. I find lots of new artwork out there, from Dr Geof to Gary Nicholls’ ongoing Imaginarium project and so much more besides. And there are more new books than I can possibly keep up with. Not just books but books that lead into other media and output – interactive and immersive stuff, multimedia stuff, games, and so forth. I love Gail Carriger’s writing, and also Craig Hallam’s, and Tom and Nimue Brown’s work to name just a few immensely creative people who don’t stand still with their output. There are aspects of UK Steampunk now compared to when I began that aren’t my thing and directions I don’t want to go in and conversely there are developments that I love and want to be involved with as they grow. If I find I don’t enjoy something then I don’t tell others not to enjoy it either, I just don’t go those ways and get involved in other things – because there is still so much out there that I love that I can keep doing and so many people that I don’t yet know!
Well, I guess for me Steampunk, what I believed was Steampunk, felt was Steampunk, and have been trying to show people is Steampunk is a combination of many things.
I live in a small city called Winnipeg, in Manitoba, Canada. For years now I have been doing the Steampunk thing and trying to encourage the scattered Steampunks of my city to band together and create an active community. It has been hard because Winnipeg is down right brutal on anyone doing anything at all. Lol!
But, in true Steampunk spirit I soldier on with a stiff upper lip and all. Why? Well, because I see the Fandom community in my city tearing itself to shreds with snobs, elitist attitudes, and way too polarizing political battles that includes ridiculous attitudes on both sides.
I run a group on Facebook called The Society for the Ethical Treatment of Kraken and we hold an event that is gaining more popularity year by year. It is classified as a Steampunk group and convention. Still very small, but we are dedicated.
Dedicated to what? Being silly. We refuse to allow real life politics of any kind to come into our parlour. We celebrate the fact that everyone has value and is welcome. Any contribution to Steampunk is acceptable. If a person should approach one of my guests and try to alienate them with snobbery, ignorance, or extreme politics, they are firmly, but politely shown the door.
I am a history buff, SciFi and Fantasy fan, I studied Medieval History with a minor in Latin and Archeology. I think getting a Crypotozoology degree would be a gas. I don’t need to inject progressive or feminist views into my genre because I celebrate the actual living people of the Victorian Era that were forward thinkers and practicing more modern ideas about society, were progressive and what I feel comfortable calling being women’s liberators.
That is why I am not bothered by the way women were treated, I see the historical context of the times. And, because there were men and women back then who didn’t act that way. Who swam against the current for social change, so I don’t have to reinact the horrid things, because good things existed back then too.
Like Bad Ass women who did what they wanted and said what needed to be said, and men who supported their female counterparts and gave them the respect and freedom they deserved. Thessalonica Jones is a bad ass Steampunk persona that takes her cue from real bad ass Victorian ladies. And, from people who did not support racism and such.
And, it is part of history we simply shouldn’t white wash. We should identify the bad and realize that it should not happen again, celebrate the forward thinkers of their time for bringing about better social change.
I am an old punk, part of what attracted me to Steampunk was the DIY, stick it to the man, free thinking, fun loving, downright silly, out of the box, inclusiveness that I saw. I share that with my little community. I am not fond of the gluing of gears on things sepia tinged world. But, hey I can choose to be different and be a beacon for the rest. I also know that for some gears and sepia may be all they can do.
I tell people to accept and love one another for who and what they are. Not all of us are going to be that “Perfect Steampunk”, but that shouldn’t ruin it for everyone. Come together and celebrate a genre that doesn’t give a rat’s ass.
The mandate for everything I do is to bring a motley crew of people together under an umbrella of silly so we can see we are all human in the end. If you can sit beside someone and enjoy a laugh, feel exhilarated, then turn and share a smile. In doing so realize that someone very different from you just felt the same as you for a brief moment, a common ground, I have done my job.
I tell people Steampunk is silly and all inclusive. If you want the genre to survive make it about the exploration of the creative universe and the Humanity in all of us. Stop fighting and get along. If someone thinks something you don’t like, ignore it and move on.
Not everything is about brow beating. And, a different belief or opinion does not make someone a monster, we all have our reasons for thinking the way we do, find out what made that person think that way. Then you might succeed in change for both of you.
I tell people who wish to come to my events not to worry about a costume right away. We are time travelers for goodness sake, they could be from 4025 and in costume from our time. That blows people away and brings them to my events. If they wish to create a more “Steampunk” persona and attire after that more power to them. But, it hooks them, it is the silliness rule that keeps them.
You guys can make Steampunk whatever you want. But, I see a glorious future for my tiny little group here. Peace, love, and understanding, with a huge dose of civil silliness.
Good to see you Victoria and John R.White. I will be seeing you all in the Time Continuum, until then happy travels everyone.
Steampunk isn’t dead; it’s just settled into a comfort zone after an unsustainable period of explosive growth in the 2018 to 2012 or so timeframe. There are still some impressively huge events, but the number of Steampunk cons have dropped from 2012 when there were literally hundreds of them. The mags are going away (I’ve still got an Exhibition Hall that just needs two more pieces!) and the forums seem to be much slower.
And, in years to come, there will be another surge. And another ebb. It’s how fandoms go.
Hi Chris, it’s good to hear from you! Thanks for your comment. My apologies it took several days to get through. I don’t know why, but it caught up in our spam filter.
I’m looking forward to the next edition of Exhibition Hall!
Steampunk *may* be evolving into a thing that is not what you expected to see and is, therefore, becoming invisible to you, or it may be moving in channels that you are not aware of, but I’m happy to say that it is very much alive, evolving and becoming more inclusive. We opened up our world (Hopeless, Maine) to other creators who wished to come and play and the energy and enthusiasm are sometimes overwhelming. The music scene is thriving (and increasingly inclusive) and here in the UK, opportunities to gather are increasing and well attended, to say the very least. Though we produce steampunk books, comics and art, the most important part of steampunk for me, is the human, rather than the media side of things. I do believe that steampunk is best served by looking at our history and commenting on it in light of what we believe today, and what we hope for tomorrow. It’s all a bit shallow else, to my mind (and by failing to comment, we endorse, by default)
The conventions in the Midwest seemed to prioritize music above all else, with the resources and attention going to that. I had no interest in the music. I find the volunteer-run SF cons to be a lot more fun, with more people interested in writing, costuming, and RP in attendance.
Funny, to read this as I did a Podcast with Eric on the that article in 2017.
I only started with Steampunk and my first blog in 2012. So I didn’t seen any of the stuff of 2010. But I did read some of the stuff that Steampunk magazine put out and good riddance as far as I am concerned. Of course people weren’t as ‘woke’ on the Tumbler Liberals as they are these days.
However, I don’t see the decline as much. My own Youtube channel Radio Retrofuture is still growing. I keep finding new guests for my podcasts. And apps and platforms such as Animo and facebook it is lively as ever. So it is not surprising Forums and websites are getting less. It is hard to compete with other platforms such as Printest, Instagram, Discord and facebook for obvious reasons.
Also in (board)gaming there are some interesting retro futuristic titles on the horizon.
This audience is young and still need to find their identity as people and artists. But when they have we might see some interesting things.
As for innovation, yeah there is much to be desired. But I am happy to say there are plenty of people who try. But I don’t see it being promoted by the wider audience. And when when something new get noticed, it seems people are more interested in inventing new labels for it instead.
I am optimistic, but I would like to see more innovation. Maybe you would like to come on my podcast and have a discussion on the topic?
Hi Bonsart, sorry it took a few days for your comment to get through. For some reason, it got stuck in our spam filter.
I thought about this for a while and added a long response on my blog.
Upshot: Steampunk is still proceeding with considerable strength looking at trends and art. It’s in different directions though.
I agree that gatekeeping drove a number of people out, or prevented people from joining in the first place. The steampunk charity ball in my local city ended due to sabotage and angst from splitters/ elitists. So. Bleh.
I disagree it’s the political correctness that drove people away. I’ve greatly enjoyed broadening my steampunk horizons by reading writers that aren’t my own white-male-cis stripe. They’re one of the areas that’s weathered the ‘downturn’ and continued strong.
WRT fiction, the Curious Fictions tag for steampunk continues strong: https://curiousfictions.com/stories?tag_id=87 ; the SteamRollers Adventure Podcast has added an Atompunk scripted audiodrama to their steampunk actual play http://riggstories.com/ ; and an author friend of mine has published part two of their three parter: https://steamedup.wordpress.com/2019/04/19/a-press-release-nz-just-because/
I never noticed the political stuff, but I’ve only been directly into it since 2013. The impression I got when I surfed in on my wave of singing robot music was that it was an established diversion for a lot of folks who enjoy the costumes and stories and have friends there going way back. So no matter how many dorks like me come in because of a band or a movie or because Hot Topic started selling corsets with gears, they’d still be tea dueling and brainstorming stories at cons, even while the robot fans grew up and moved on to other things. So the fad phase has died down and those same people still tea duel and rub n buff nerf guns and make jetpacks and greet each other at every event whether they remember your name or not.
The only things that I’ve seen specifically drive people away have been in my own robot band fandom, where things got decidedly immature and ugly for a few years. Some delightful little folks got hurt by gatekeepers and politics of a very specific sort and left. But the older ‘punks aren’t terribly sorry about it, from what I can tell. A lot of them think these steampunks were ruining everything and didn’t really count. But I’m a bit older but I rather miss the energy they brought to things.
The only thing getting in my way, though, is money and some lackluster events. Most of my involvement is through actual events, and the cons around here get more expensive every year… even one event, the only (formerly) remaining one that didn’t take at least 2 hours to get to, that just wasn’t delivering on that cost. And another problem is that when an event falls down on the job, people still can’t seem to say so publicly. They just say it was glorious and sigh when it’s canceled because no one wants to point out the flaws, even when those flaws are enough to drive guests away and they can’t afford to continue having it. And yeah, I tried. Shockingly, my post never saw the light of day and I was privately offered free passes to the next one (which isn’t terribly logical, considering). Events that take feedback, such as WWWC in Arizona, thrive. And they should, because if someone has limited funds to devote to their steampunk outings, they need to get their money’s worth, and you can’t guarantee that when we’re so afraid of looking like the bad guy.
So that’s the problem I see… the rose colored glasses. While the community does thrive around here, there’s that tendency to be accepting and approving to a fault. No one wants to be the one who said the bad thing. And don’t get me wrong, I love the acceptance of all fun loving people who happen to throw a costume together. Some of the nicest and most dedicated attendees turn up in thrifted almost-period clothing or just regular clothes, and one really good hat and a nerf gun with a makeover. I’ve never gotten the knack of Victorian myself.
But we also sugarcoat problems like overpriced vendors because we know it’s hard to survive as a vendor, or shrug off terrible panels and workshops (the guy who claimed to be talking about making your own steampunk videos and ended up trying to pitch a movie springs to mind… or the women claiming to help with shapely steampunk costuming who spent an hour talking about bras) or dismiss fundamental planning errors at events and paint everything as rosy and perfect, thus setting people up to come to them in subsequent years with no warning that they should expect the venue to be hot, the food to take two hours to get if at all, the panel halls to fill up before they can get there, rude volunteers, and other serious problems for attendees.
I get that problems arise, and some of it can end up being more funny that anything else. I get a laugh out of a lot of the silly stuff that’s happened. But when we feel like we’ll be ostracised or silenced if we speak openly, even uncritical observations that are simply meant to alert those in charge to genuine issues, or warnings to newcomers about things that haven’t changed in years, well, you might just decide to give it a miss after a while.
Steampunk is alive and well in California! There are at least 3 events/conventions I can think of in southern Ca and 2 in northern ca. There is a huge one in Tuscon every year.
I would love to see more kids/teens to continue the next gen.
Wow, such a lot of po faced navel gazing!
Steampunk is thriving in the UK for the simple reason that we HAVE embraced the ‘anything CAN BE steampunk’ ethos (You’ll notice that I didn’t state ‘anything IS steampunk’ because that would be ridiculous!) There is an intent to making and creating and if you do so with the intent of making a steampunk thing then why should anyone else have the right to say that it isn’t?
In your opinion, the popularity of steampunk may have waned, That is certainly not my experience. Yes, Brass Goggles has quietened down, but that/’s pretty much reporting and event p[planning etc. has moved to more accessible platforms like the Facebook. the British Steampunk community on Facebook has over 10,000 members and the premiere event in the UK (Lincoln Asylum) has necessarily had to take a hiatus since COVID happened, but the last one that they organisers did, had over 20,000 steampunks (either hardcore veterans or newbies) descend on Lincoln for the free elements of the event.
Thanks for your comment, Mark! I’m glad to hear the UK steampunk scene is doing better, and that’s been my impression too, it’s more welcoming.
As for steampunk events in North America, I’m less optimistic. I wrote a story about that in 2019, when I surveyed event organizers. Of course, COVID hasn’t helped. Starting everything up again after the pandemic will be a challenge.
It’s funny. I originally found your article in early 2020 by searching something very like, “when how what steampunk dead”.You’re not imagining things. I was around at the height of the movement. I helped organize large events, still own one of the largest social media groups for Steampunk in New England, and went to World’s Fair, Templecon, and helped plan and execute the first Watch City Steampunk Festival in Waltham, MA.
I encountered people like Dianna Pho and some of the Steampunk Magazine folks and I got the very real sense that they were just there to use it as a platform. They made people uncomfortable. They made people feel unwelcome. They ruined the good time of people just trying to immerse themselves in a weekend of steampunk fun.
You’re not imagining things. You were dead on with your assessment.
Thanks for your comment, Wolf! COVID, of course, hasn’t helped, but steampunk was losing popularity and originality before the pandemic. I think we peaked about a decade ago, and I blame the crowd that tried to co-opt steampunk for their own politics. Where are they now?
If you haven’t yet, please check out my other articles about the politics of steampunk for more.
Still going strong and vital over here in the UK. Lots of innovation, diversity and energy. Events well attended too. Not seeing any of what you are talking about here at all.
Thanks for your comment! I don’t live in the UK, so it’s hard for me to assess from a distance how thriving UK steampunk events are. I did write a follow-up about steampunk events in 2019. Pre-COVID, but it should still contain some useful data points about the overall health of the movement.
I did used to read various British steampunk blogs as well as SteamPunk Magazine, which was produced in the UK. Those are gone now.
All you have to do is look https://twitter.com/steampunk_explr/status/1466869991135858689?s=20
You may be interested in another follow-up I wrote about the thrust of my article, which is that steampunk has become too political and lost people as a result.
Of course the headline here is deliberately provocative. Unfortunately that has also generated a lot of responses along the lines of, “There are still steampunk events here, there’s still a steampunk movie there, therefore steampunk isn’t dead — and I don’t have to engage with the substance of anything you’re trying to convey.”
Oh indeed, I read that a while ago and I have a response in this very article April 24, 2019 at 3:17 AM. I was replying more to the latest comments like your “… but steampunk was losing popularity and originality before the pandemic. I think we peaked about a decade ago, and I blame the crowd that tried to co-opt steampunk for their own politics. Where are they now?”
I mean, Jaymee is still writing and editing. Professor Elemental is still Elementalling. I quite liked your (I think most recent?) follow up https://neverwasmag.com/2020/10/steampunk-doesnt-have-to-be-political-for-everyone/ that said that steampunk has the punk aesthetic, and some people just like the Neovictorian.
There’s the whole definition of politics as “Politics is the set of activities that are associated with making decisions in groups, or other forms of power relations between individuals, such as the distribution of resources or status.” – which means that any sort of division of “Not just Neovictorian” etc. is politics. It’s a broad brush. You said it yourself “The point is not that steampunk must be apolitical.”
… I don’t think I’ve made a very well articulated point here. I feel there’s room for the Steampunk as Commentary, Steampunk as Rebellion, Steampunk as Literary, Steampunk as Escapism etc. There’s always going to be people impacted, and we know politics isn’t about hearts and flowers constantly. It is a balancing act and a figuring out your own stance as well as understanding others.
I don’t think attacking others is the way forward, though. I see enough of that in country politics – the needless point scoring, aggressive misrepresentation, etc.
Thanks for continuing to engage, though. It’s important.
Sounds like we broadly agree on the substance!
To the point of “where are they now?”, SteamPunk Magazine hasn’t published in years, and few of the people who contributed to it remain active in steampunk; people like Margaret Killjoy and Dimitri Markotin have moved on to other things. I don’t know what happened to “Prof Calamity”, the author of the Steampunk Manifesto that was republished in SteamPunk Magazine. Kate Franklin and James Schafer closed their blog, Parliament & Wake, when they recognized steampunk hadn’t become the political movement they wanted it to be. Eric Renderking Fisk I quote in the article as quitting steampunk in disappointment. A lot of Diana M. Pho’s recent writing appears to be about science fiction and fan fiction generally, not steampunk per se.
Of course, I may be missing things. I deliberately quit Facebook several years ago and I’ve largely quit Twitter, using it only to promote stuff I write anymore, not to engage. So I might not be totally in the loop anymore. If you’ve seen any political steampunk in the last year or so, please let me know.
I didn’t mean to “attack” anyone, but I also wanted to call out attempts to impose a particular vision on steampunk – and its consequences. If we want there to be room in the community for different types of steampunk, and different types of steampunks (and I do), we need to say “no” to those who insist theirs is the only way. That could feel like an attack to them, and indeed some of the individuals I criticized in this article felt attacked. But when I didn’t give examples, of people politicizing and policing steampunk, in previous articles, and described the trend I was in general terms, I was criticized for… not giving examples and substantiating my claims.
I don’t know how to square that circle. People dismiss your concerns when you don’t give examples and mention names, and when you do they’ll criticize you for doing just that – and still side-step your concerns!
(To be clear: I’m not referring to your comments per se, but generally to the responses I got.)
The Rocky Mountain News ceased publication in 2009. Last I checked, the Rocky Mountains are still there. The Tampa Tribune ceased publication in 2016, but the city of Tampa is alive and well. Food Manufacturing magazine ceased publication in 2019, but as far as I know, people are still making food. I could go on and on. The idea that the demise of a single publication says anything about the field it covers is plainly ridiculous. I certainly have my hands full covering steampunk news in The Steampunk Explorer.
Hi Stephen, welcome to the discussion!
I’m not arguing the demise of SteamPunk Magazine alone proves anything. It’s one of many examples I give.
I started getting emails about the newer comments.
Since politics on all sides seems to be negative and reactive, I think even people who might agree with what’s expressed get tired of seeing it everywhere. Having a place in life that’s carved out for fun is worthwhile;
Did someone recently up this again on social media or something? I’m curious where all the readers are coming from two and a half years after this article was published.