Who Killed Steampunk?

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.

What happened?

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Chauvinism in Steampunk

Late last year, when an image of teenage pop star Justin Bieber wearing something of a steampunk outfit appeared online, the vast majority of steampunk fandom seemed appalled. For such an icon of contemporary pop culture (or lack thereof) as Justin Bieber to delve into the steampunk aesthetic was anathema to steampunks’ self image as defying the mainstream culture. Some said this marked the end of steampunk as an alternative culture altogether.

That in itself, our Marcus Rauchfuß observed, was evidence of steampunk having gone mainstream already.

“When a scene is truly underground,” he wrote, “new members are always welcome. People are excited about and very welcoming toward newcomers. The scene has to grow to a certain point for a style-police to emerge.”

Yet that has happened to steampunk. And it’s not something we can blame Justin Bieber for.

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There We Go Again: “The Radicalism of Steampunk”

While most steampunks generally support a revival of nineteenth-century aesthetics as a response to modern alienation, many don’t like to acknowledge that their attitudes could be considered ideological.

Indeed! The quote comes from the article “Leftists Constructs,” published in the recent issue of the progressive Overland magazine and written by steampunk blogger Diana M. Pho of Beyond Victoriana.

Notice the subtlety: “steampunk don’t like to acknowledge that their attitudes could be considered ideological.” Of course, Pho is here to tell us that they are, whatever we like it or not.

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A Rupture Between Continents?

European steampunk counts fewer numbers than their North American (and mainly US) counterparts. I’m pretty sure that if you would add up all the numbers in the entirety of Europe, you would get about the same as those for the United States alone (the US probably has more numbers than the entirety of Europe, come to think of it).

Originally there was a unison worldwide. Steampunks everywhere where in it for the same reason. If you spoke to steampunks from other continents, the same topics arose and likeminded individuals were easily found, no matter what country they hailed from.

Thankfully this is still the case, but sadly less and less so when one starts comparing some — frankly disturbing — recent developments in the movement in both aforementioned continents.

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Occupy, Steampunk Go Hand in Hand?

SteamPunk Magazine is planning a number of articles about the “Occupy” movement in its upcoming, eighth edition, which is something I’m looking forward to. I’m not a fan of “Occupy” but curious how they’ll make the case that it’s relevant to steampunk.

At the risk of speaking before my turn, some of the comments to the announcement that “Occupy” would be part of the new SteamPunk Magazine worry me.

Writes Ladd, “The occupy movement and steampunk do seem to go hand in hand.”


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The Specter of Elitism

Recently, an image of Justin Bieber wearing a steampunk glove or gauntlet was going around on the ætherweb.

There have been a wide range of reactions regarding the photograph. Many have voiced their disappointment or even disgust of steampuk going mainstream and someone like Justin Bieber using steampunk paraphernalia. Several commenters on Facebook and a number of forums and blogs have even declared steampunk to be dead because of it.

Well, excuse me, but could somebody please explain to me how Justin Bieber’s use of a steampunk glove and other apparel can spell the doom of a global subculture?

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