Joined Jan 1 2013
43 years old
What is your favourite thing about steampunk?
It has been said many times over that “Steampunk” issomething different to each individual. Callme a purist if you will, but I am firmly rooted in the nineteenth century. This may be due to the fact that I firmlybelieve that no matter the personal definition, it stems at its heart all fromthe selfsame place: the hearts and minds of the great science fiction andfuturist writers of the Victorian and Edwardian ages.
Both realityand fantasy shape each other equally – neither one holding sway over the othercompletely at any given time, and as they say, “Write what you know”. To that end the worlds we create bothreflect, and project our own. Take forinstance popular science fiction of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. In many a film or novel, we have imagined inthe zeitgeist a world where paper and indeed books are no longer used, but everythingis stored digitally, and people carry small flat hand-held devices that givethem immediate access to many thousands worth of libraries. Why? Becausewe already live in a world where this is a logical outcome; we can see a worldno too distant with too few trees left, and have already created vast databasesof information available to anyone and everyone. We even carry tablets as an extension of ourown bodies and minds. Computers dominateour vision of the future, ever smaller and faster, because they dominate oureveryday lives. In the same films andbooks we often see technology that gives the user the ability to instantlycommunicate vocally, or even by thought transmission from anywhere, toanywhere, anytime at the touch of a button. Consider: we live in the age ofthe smart phone, a direct descendant of the mobile phone, which was inspired inpart by that vision of the future in television shows such as Star Trek, butwhich did not begin there. That visionin turn was inspired from the field radios and early cordless phones that cameinto existence midway through the twentieth century.
The point? The fictions penned by the likes of H.G.Wells and Jules Verne are written indelibly across time – because they were products of the world in which they lived. They imagined space-faring vehicles firedfrom the barrels of tremendous cannon, colossal three-legged alien deathmachines, and great underwater vessels capable of tearing the belly out of eventhe greatest of warships. Much of it waspowered by coal and steam and the dawning of the electrical age. Steampunk then is their child, birthed fromtheir imaginations, and a skewed reflection of an alternate to their future.
The Steampunkmovement is not only a funhouse mirror to their day in age, but to our own aswell. The nineteenth century broughtabout an age of discovery, invention and scientific advancement unparalleled inthe course of humanity. The industrialrevolution created the consumer culture of today and destroyed an age ofinnocence that preceded it. We today are in the midst of a secondindustrial revolution – this one a technological and cyber one. Where assembly lines and mechanised factorieschanged the course of social evolution, so too today does the full automationof the same. As in Victorian times westrive to make everything faster and cheaper and always, always in increasingvolume. It was said that at the heightof the Victorian era true craftsmanship had died out because everything becamemass produced, but today our definition of craftsmanship comes with the term “limitededition”. Things are so cheaply made infact that gone are the days of “repair”, and entered are the days of “replace”.
This eraof overly excessive mass production has reflected the seedier side of Victoriansociety in other, more sinister ways as well. Pollution has reached a critical point, despite our efforts to stem itsflow. The overseas factories that producethe vast bulk of our consumer products are little better than Victorian workhouses, and in some cases may be far worse. Aesthetically there has been a resemblance of a sort as well; notperhaps in direct style, but in the leaning away from quality and elegancetowards the cheap and the tacky. In starkcontrast to this is to be found an almost austere spartanism in modern design,just as the latter half of the nineteenth century saw rise.
To everyaction there is an equal and opposite reaction – even sociologically. Where in the nineteenth century men such as LordByron and Benjamin Disraeli led a movement away from what they saw as thecheap, overcrowded and sullied decadence of the industrial revolution, we arebeginning to see the same appear today. Asan offshoot of this we have “Steampunk” in all its various forms. What was once thought to be nothing more thana fleeting sub-cultural fad has outlived all expectations to subtly pervadeevery level of Western society. This is perhapsseen most visibly in the aesthetic; as evidenced in the designs of buildings,automobiles and the next season’s clothing designs from top designers. It has fixed itself firmly in the entertainmentindustry – that itself a product of both the Victorian and Edwardian eras, rootedin film, television and literature. Thisreflexive rebelling against modernity may or may not last, but such reflexiveactions are necessary for the march of progress to continue. We must first look back at where we were tofind where we are and see where we are headed. These magnetic-like repellences are also what drive history on itscyclical course, and so all things old are indeed new again – even imagination. One might make the argument then, that Steampunkis a necessary part of this ever evolving social revolution.