Steampunk’s Not Dead

Dropping the term steampunk still earns you hipster cred

I’ve been hearing a lot of nonsense lately about steampunk being overdone lately. Really? Are we talking about the same steampunk? Sure, ebay and etsy have been so saturated with products inaccurately described as steampunk by merchants trying to capitalize on the so-called trend. When I first came across the term some years ago, an ebay search for “steampunk” yielded a page with perhaps ten hits. Now it results in hundreds of pages worth of hits. You can find everything from steampunk craft supplies to modded keyboards, books, and clothing. And if you’re on deviant art, you can probably use steampunk as an adjective applied to just about any popular tv show or video game and expect to see a ton of steampunked fan art. This might lead you to the conclusion that steampunk has reached its peak.

But let’s be real. Try using the word “steampunk” the next time you strike up conversation with a group of new acquaintances. In all likelihood, you’ll be rewarded with a couple of blank stares and a dull look. Or you might get a hipster who will be happy to earn his hipster badge by chiming in with an opinion that suggests he once heard the term and is therefore entitled to an opinion on the subject. “Oh cool,” you might think, “This guy knows about steampunk.” (This is what earns the hipster his badge.)

To carry on with the hypothetical but all-too-real conversation, someone else, overhearing the conversation asks, “What’s steampunk?” This is the situation our hipster friend has just been waiting for. The chance to utter the phrase “Victorian sci-fi” is what Steampunk-Savvy Hipster has been waiting for. In all likelihood, he’s been waiting for weeks, and you just made his Friday by bringing up the subject in the first place.

But the point here is that it’s still underground enough that not everyone knows what it is. It’s beginning to reach the mainstream, sure, but steampunk hasn’t really reached the public view the way some other genres have. If it was fully mainstream, hipsters wouldn’t earn any hipster points for knowing what steampunk is.

I’ll call steampunk mainstream just as soon as a Gail Carriger novel-turned-movie reaches cinemas near me

Be honest with me. The average person knows the name Edward Cullen (hint: he’s the glittery disco ball that passes for a vampire these days) but has never even heard of Alexia Tarabotti. We all know Harry Potter, but very few of us know Dylan Sharp. There are plenty of 50 Cent fans out there, but how many of us rock out to Professor Elemental?

We’ve seen hints of steampunk in the mainstream, but just hints. Dr. Who has plenty of steampunk undertones; indeed, a few episodes have been blatantly steampunk. We’ve had the recent Sherlock Holmes films, which featured a few steampunk gadgets but were more gaslamp than outright steampunk. There was also an outrageously bad Will Smith western sci-fi action comedy flick that most movie-goers have mercifully forgotten, but which steampunk enthusiasts often misguidedly cite to explain steampunk to the uninitiated. Yes, it’s probably the best-known example of something blatantly steampunk in mainstream cinema, but please, do avoid using that example.

I, for one, refuse to be satisfied that this is it for steampunk. This can’t possibly be steampunk at its most popular. No, until I see a book universally recognised by the steampunk community as one of the best examples of steampunk, turned into a Hollywood film, I won’t be ready to accept that steampunk has reached its height of popularity. There is simply far too much amazingly good steampunk waiting to be discovered by the mainstream.

And for all you hipsters who think you know steampunk well enough to dismiss it, you may want to do a bit more homework first. I hate to defer to my own hipster cred here, but I’ve been into steampunk since before it was cool (ok, truth be told, steampunk has always been cool, even before I was aware of it, but just go with it), and I’d even be willing to put my hipster badge on the line. I’m willing to bet that there are some excellent examples of steampunk that you haven’t heard of yet. So, hey, why not give it another shot before you write it off? I’ll be blogging about some of my favourite steampunk things here. Books, projects, home decor, crafts, fashion…

Steampunk all of the things!