Steampunk: The new Goth
The retrofuturistic trend draws on a Jules Verne-like view of the world and Victorian-era technology.
(Page 2 of 3)
"Steampunk is definitely growing in popularity," says Diana Vick, vice chair of Steamcon, an annual convention in Seattle that doubled its attendance when it held its second meeting in November. "I believe it is due in part to the fact that it is a rejection of the slick, soulless, mass-produced technology of today and a return to a time when it was ornate and understandable."Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
This year, Steamcon celebrated what its website called the Weird Weird West. It notes: "Imagine the age of steam on the wild frontier ... roughriders on mechanical horses, mad inventors ... mighty steam locomotives ... airships instead of stagecoaches."
Every culture that embraces steampunk seems to make it their own. Patrick Barry, a member of New Zealand's League of Victoria Imagineers, has seen myriad international examples. "All have a different flavour, world vision and cultural base for the artists and writers to draw from and it shows," he writes via e-mail. Even in his tiny hometown of Oamaru, steampunk has taken off. Three groups have recently mounted an exhibition, a fashion show, and run several events. "Oamaru has a population of about 13,000 people. We had 11,000 people visit the exhibition over its six week [run]."
Previously, most works in the genre would have been set only in the Industrial Age. Over time, explains Dexter Palmer, author of the novel "The Dream of Perpetual Motion," the term "steampunk" has undergone "definition creep." "Nowadays the label's much more comprehensive, and seems to refer to any retrofuturistic or counterfactual work that features machines with lots of gears, or lighter-than-air flying craft, or similar sorts of things."
Some works have been retroactively embraced as part of the genre. For example, Terry Gilliam's dystopian satire, "Brazil," is now considered steampunk even though the film was not called steampunk when it was released in 1985.
In Mr. Palmer's novel, a greeting-card writer who is imprisoned aboard a zeppelin must confront a genius inventor and a perpetual motion machine. The author created a set of rules for his fictional universe: While things might be "scientifically implausible" to the reader, they would be "self-consistent and plausible to the inhabitants of the imaginary world." He based his ideas on source materials that predicted life in the year 2000 and then designed gadgets that seemed modern, but used turn-of-the-century tech. For example, there's an answering machine in the novel that functions by recording to a wax cylinder.
'It wants to teach us things'
"One of the really wonderful things about Steampunk is that it, more than any other subculture, seems to want to teach us things," von Slatt wrote on his blog at steampunkworkshop.com. And, like the punk and Goth movements before it, steampunk teaches another way of looking at the world.