What is Steampunk?
Well, that’s a complicated question. For those of us aboard the Airship Passepartout, it is a subculture marked by dressing up in a crazy variation of Neo-Victorian clothing and hanging out with other creative people. But steampunk can mean a lot of related things.
The term was coined in 1988 by writer J.W. Jeter during the heyday of cyberpunk. He and some others were interested in writing that kind of literature, but set in the Victorian era rather than the future. The “steam” part of the word represents the energy source of Victorian times, while the ”punk” indicates that it has been twisted somehow – an element of fantasy, science fiction, alternate history, or the like has been added. To some people, the essence of steampunk is the kind of science fiction that a Victorian person might imagine; to others, this definition is much too limiting.
Steampunk as a literature didn’t really catch on back in the 80s, and the aesthetic was next heard from in the fashion world in the 1990s. It gained traction and spread.
Steampunk can be a fashion trend with corsets and ruffles and top hats and cravats. It is an aesthetic, often in home décor – elaborate, unique, brass/copper/wood, aristocratic or industrial. It is a literature, with a great many books published from about 2009 on for children, teens, and adults, in genres including adventure, fantasy, horror, coming -of-age, romance, and steamy romance. Steampunk can be found in art, music, television, film, comics. It is also a part of the maker movement; there is a strong do-it-yourself philosophy (courtesy of its punk connection) among people who like steampunk.
Steampunk might be set in England, or it might be anywhere in the world. It might be in the Victorian era, or it might be 2015, or any year in between – or maybe a post-apocalyptic future!
Steampunk is also the subculture that we play in. Many of us have personas – a name and a backstory for who our steampunk person might be. Some people often role-play this persona, other people never do. Steampunks generally believe in Victorian style courtesy, though we might not be stuffy about manners. But we only want to keep the good parts of the Victorian era, dismissing the sexism, racism, and other myths of superiority that were common then. Since we are re-imagining our historical era, not re-creating it, we have the flexibility to do this!
What do Steampunks do?
Well, many of us spend a certain amount of time devising new outfits or new gadgets to show off at our next gathering. Others don’t care much about that. Gatherings can be small and members-only, or open to any steampunk who wants to attend, or an event put on that the public can attend, or a big weekend con. Events can be purely social, or they might have a focus such as a craft workshop or movie night or ladies’ tea. Often steampunks dress up and attend a public event such as a museum, a movie, or a community gathering. For many of us, the best times are when a hundred or more steampunks are gathered together – the richness is outstanding.