Why I am Over Steampunk

You might have noticed a considerable lack of Steampunk pictures in my batch of photographs from this year’s Dragon*Con.  This is for several reasons:

1) Nearly all of the Alternate History (aka Steampunk) events were held in the Westin hotel and…

2) I never went to the Westin (despite the fact that the Whedon track was held there, I love Joss Whedon and all he has done but didn’t attend any of the panels this year) and…

3) I never went to the Westin because I am over Steampunk.

I have to admit, I was a little relieved about Steampunk being given its own corner, far away from me.  Yes, I had an initial honeymoon phase with Steampunk and costumed Steampunk my first Dragon*Con and briefly last year.  Jon and I even attended last year’s world record attempt for most Steampunk costumers in one photograph.  But seriously, y’all, I am so over Steampunk.

Over It

Why am I over Steampunk?  A few reasons.

Steampunks are the snobs of the costuming world*.  I am extremely into my costuming and am willing to sink time and money into it, but I do not take it too seriously.  When I am in costume I am just a person in a funky outfit, I don’t get into character (except for photographs, because I’ve found that people seem to want you looking “serious” in photographs.  Believe me, it is hard not to smile) and I am not afraid to make fun of the fact that I am wandering around in a wig and a waist cincher.  For many Steampunks, though, this is a lifestyle, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  I just get the feeling that they are a bit disdainful of those who do not adopt their retro-futuristic existence.  And woe on those who decide to costume Steampunk for conventions but don’t embrace the steamy way of life after returning to their normal routine.

When Jon and I attended the Steampunk world record photo attempt at Dragon*Con last year, we didn’t precisely feel welcomed.  The entire event felt extremely cliquey.  A core group of Steampunkers, individuals who embrace this aesthetic in every aspect of their daily lives, were holding court, and the rest of us were just sort of there taking up space.  This wasn’t a fun gathering.  We weren’t representing a fandom, expressing our shared love of David Tennant on Dr. Who or old Stargate episodes.  We were just a bunch of people standing around in impractical outfits festooned in gears and feathers.  I wasn’t getting the same sense of joy that pervaded the rest of Dragon*Con.

No fun allowed.
No fun allowed.

The Guild, the web series about a bunch of World of Warcraft players that I have written about in the past, is currently poking fun at Steampunk.  This season sees the characters at a sci-fi/fantasy convention, and Clara, the flightiest member of the guild, becomes enamored of Steampunk’s shininess.  However, the Steampunks she meets are affected and arrogant, and kick Clara out of their sandbox.  I know that this is supposed to be gentle fun, but I can’t help but feel that The Guild‘s treatment of Steampunk is essentially rooted in truth.

Here’s the link to the video of poor Clara being kicked out of the sandbox, embedding not allowed, sorry guys!

Now I get that this snobbery is part of the backlash at the fact that Steampunk is seriously mainstream now.  This is another reason I am over Steampunk: everyone is doing it.  Dragon*Con brings them out of the woodwork: people in generic Steampunk costumes, people in Victorian costumes that are sort of Steampunk, people in Steampunk versions of non-Steampunk characters (Star Wars, Scooby Doo. etc.), people who aren’t really Steampunk at all but have a set of goggles perched on their heads and therefore call themselves Steampunk.  I sort of feel that Steampunk is the new goth, that is, people who can’t actually figure out what to wear to conventions just slap a bunch of gears on themselves, throw on a corset, and say “Oh, I’m Steampunk.”

And to make matters worse Steampunk, which is primarily about individuality and hands-on workmanship and everything being unique, is now being mass-produced.  Check out this Steampunk Kit I saw in the Halloween store the other day:

Included in this kit is a felt bowler hat, a plastic monocle, and a felt mustache.  All cheaply made, all mass-produced.  Hey ladies, there’s one for us too:

Also, according to io9, someone is making a documentary about Steampunk?  Isn’t this a few years late?

Here’s the thing: I got into Steampunk because it looks cool, but I don’t really need to embrace it in the rest of my life.  I happen to like my sleek Macbook that is gear-free.  I like modern, clean design.  I think that clothes look just fine without tons of buttons and feather accessories tend to tickle, poke, and make me look like a twelve year old girl.  Corsets are uncomfortable.  I get that y’all like it, but it isn’t my thing.  And please don’t expect me to gush over your awesome steam-powered rocket pack, because I am over it.

I hope, Steampunks, that you are finding some ways to change your aesthetic, because this mass-marketing of Steampunk is sort of gross.  I do like the colorful Nerfpunk group that has shown up at Dragon*Con these past few years, but it is still too steamy for my tastes.  What about this great Medieval superhero group?  Chainmail-Punk?  I like that.

I’m totally over Steampunk.  And really, Steampunks, aren’t you a little over it too? When someone is selling your aesthetic as a cheap, throwaway Halloween costume, it might be time to throw in the bustle.   Or, more precisely, all you casual Steampunks out there who are more or less the cause of this mainstreaming, it might be time to hang up your goggles and leave Steampunk to the small, hardcore group of fanatics who started this trend in the first place.

I know that’s my plan.

*I feel a little bad saying this, but it is true, and I think many Steampunks would agree.  I know some lovely Steampunks, and actually met Nancy, the seamstress who made my gorgeous Blind Mag costume and did some great work for my Melisandre costume, at the local Steampunk store.  So, hello level-headed Steampunks, I like you a lot, but many of you just rub me the wrong way!

18 thoughts on “Why I am Over Steampunk

  1. What an interesting point of view! This is why I love the interwebs. The only costuming type people I have ever met in any meaningful fashion are Steampunk, and they totally rubbed me the wrong way because they were so cliquey. I don’t get into all the gears and whatnot, and I certainly have no need to wear goggles. But I do enjoy the background noise of combining past and future with some leather and brass.

    The Steampunks, like the goths, rarely smile and make me feel queer for doing so. I tend to smile at random strangers on the street, which is apparently odd in these parts. Because of my experiences I’ve admittedly lumped all the costumers (with the exception of you, of course) into this category of stuck uppedness. I shall stop doing so.

    1. A lot of cosplayers are totally stuck up and take it way too seriously. Steampunk as a concept is cool but people take it far too seriously.

      Smiling is good! In all my Dragon*Con pictures that I am not smiling in I was totally beaming before and beaming after.

      I met a Spawn costumer at Dragon*Con who initially struck me as stuck-up and self-absorbed, but then he told me that he and a number of other like-minded cosplayers dress as superheroes and visit childrens’ wards of local hospitals. That totally changed my view of him–yes, he takes his cosplaying a little seriously, but he is doing something really great with it! We all need superheroes.

  2. I’m really sorry that you’ve had some bad experiences with steampunks in your part of the world. 😦 It sucks to be put off a fandom or a community because of the behaviour of a few.
    The steampunk scene here in the UK is one of the friendliest and most welcoming scenes I’ve ever been in. Perhaps it’s different across the Pond, but over here we are all very capable of smiling! (Although this may be related to the amount of time we spend in the pub.)
    Re: the Hallowe’en costumes, many many years of badly-made vampire dresses hasn’t made me want to hand over my Goth Card, so I’m hardly going to be swayed by a few isolated examples of Mass Media Misunderstanding Steampunk.
    Again, I’m sorry that some of our less-than-stellar cohorts have made a bad impression on you.

    1. Thanks for your comments. I know that not all Steampunks are cliquey, but I encountered enough to turn me away from the movement. I still like the Victorian aesthetic, but I’ll just be a casual observer from now on.

      I’ve never been to the UK but I know that y’all had a Steampunk museum show a few years ago and it sounded great. And smiling is also good, people should just smile more in general!

      And yes, Hot Topic etc. has really done a number on the actual Goth fashion hasn’t it? I’m a closet Goth myself; I grew up in sunny, hot Florida, but I always said that if I had lived somewhere a little cooler I would have been much more Gothy fashion-wise in my high school days. It was just too hot to go full-out!

      Thanks for reading the post and sharing your thoughts, I really appreciate it, and I hope you are enjoying the rest of my blog!

  3. I think you make an excellent point because I do occasionally find some people in the Steampunk–and other–communities to be a bit clique-ish. But in my experience they seldom exclusionary if you greet them in a friendly way and refuse to allow yourself to be intimidated. Of course, being the only one with the chutzpah to play a Steampunk Queen Victoria, I am usually well received. However, every group has its bad apples.

    On the rare occasion when I encounter a problem it takes the form on one group deeming itself superior to another. But since really isn’t it all about the artistry and one’s personal self-expression? A comment to that effect generally brings about a moderating of tone. Snide observations about a ‘cheap’ costume are uncharitable and cruel and I hear them about every group. The cruelty aimed at the “furries” and “Bronies” comes from a lot more sources than just the Steampunk! Let’s remember to be kind out there, people! You don’t know another person’s financial, artistic or health circumstances. It may well be that this is the best they can do–or afford, or perhaps they are new to their genre and are just getting into it–or maybe they just aren’t as consumed by it as someone else might be.

    Remember, it doesn’t reflect badly on the poorly costumed one–but it reflects VERY badly on the commentator. At one convention I heard tell of a dealer who made disparaging comments to an attendee, stating in effect that the attendee wasn’t “doing it right” and that he, the dealer, had been around since Steampunk’s inception and “knew all about it”. Too bad I wasn’t present to hear such a thing–he would have gotten an earful that he would be unlikely to ever forget!

    1. Thanks for reading! As you might have noticed, this post is over two years old. I am pretty much out of the Steampunk costuming world nowadays (and haven’t given it much thought in a year or so honestly!). Obviously a lot of my other costuming feelings and views have changed as well–a lot can happen in two years! I am definitely of the One for All and All for Costumes camp, and I appreciate your thoughtful response to the post.

      I’m thrilled that this post has gotten so much attention today, especially since a lot of my outside energies are focused on wedding planning and, therefore, I am having a bit of a “gap year” with the blog. I won’t be silent forever but man, planning a wedding while having a full time job takes a lot of mental energy! Do you mind telling me where you found this post linked? Appreciate the feedback and the time you took to read and respond!

      1. Thank you for your courteous response. You post is making the rounds on Facebook and stirring the pot a bit. For myself, I first got into SP a little over two years ago, just around the time you were quitting.

        Congratulations on your wedding plans, but thinking in the spirit of the article, in so doing aren’t you once more making yourself vulnerable to the very same bad–or even worse–behavior you encountered in the Steampunk world? 🙂

      2. Ha, that’s interesting, thanks for letting me know that. Again, the post was written….over two years ago. At the time I wrote the post I was unemployed and my fiance was my boyfriend. Now, two-ish years later, I am actually leaving my first “real world” job for a new, even better job, and i’m getting married yay (thanks for the congrats!) So real-world and head-space wise I am in a much better spot and had I encountered such behavior today I probably wouldn’t have felt the urge to write this post (unemployment causes a whole host of insecurities as you can imagine!) Truth be told, people could get mad at me about this post and rip me apart and…I…wouldn’t care? I am so far removed from the emotions and experiences prompted in this post, which is why I am really bemused that it is just *now* causing a stir. it is very much like time-traveling and meeting yourself in the past (which, i guess, is both a positive and a negative of the Internet and social media and blogs).

        Not sure what you mean about the second paragraph re: wedding planning…I’m actually enjoying the process! i’m just a bit of a Type A Control Freak Perfectionist who loves spreadsheets, so I like to spend a lot of time tinkering!

        Glad the post/my blog is getting some readership however, whatever the reason. It is prompting me to re-awaken the bloggy beast!

  4. You guys have been hanging around with the wrong Steampunks. Check out the Steam Federation in the SF bay area. We smile all the time and welcome everyone…exceptt for the cliquey uppity people mentioned in the article. We try to help them kill the bug that crawled up their arse and then give them plenty of Absinthe to help pass the body of said dead bug.

    1. Thanks for reading! As you might have noticed, this post is over two years old. I am pretty much out of the Steampunk costuming world nowadays (and haven’t given it much thought in a year or so honestly!). I’m thrilled that this post has gotten so much attention today, especially since a lot of my outside energies are focused on wedding planning and, therefore, I am having a bit of a “gap year” with the blog. Do you mind telling me where you found this post linked? Appreciate the feedback and the time you took to read!

  5. This is interesting to me, as I’ve found that at steam-only conventions, such as Teslacon, that everyone’s smiling unless deeply in character, and that it’s a remarkably welcoming group.

    1. Thanks for reading! As you might have noticed, this post is over two years old. I am pretty much out of the Steampunk costuming world nowadays (and haven’t given it much thought in a year or so honestly!). I’m thrilled that this post has gotten so much attention today, especially since a lot of my outside energies are focused on wedding planning and, therefore, I am having a bit of a “gap year” with the blog. Do you mind telling me where you found this post linked? Appreciate the feedback and the time you took to read!

    1. Thanks for reading! As you might have noticed, this post is over two years old. I am pretty much out of the Steampunk costuming world nowadays (and haven’t given it much thought in a year or so honestly!). I’m thrilled that this post has gotten so much attention today, especially since a lot of my outside energies are focused on wedding planning and, therefore, I am having a bit of a “gap year” with the blog. Do you mind telling me where you found this post linked? Appreciate the feedback and the time you took to read!

  6. As a person who works in the area of steampunk (I won’t name the company I work for for professionalism sake), I definitely agree that there are some incredibly snobby steampunkers. I actively try to avoid them. I also see the polar opposite, and I hope I am the polar opposite. While I am not quite fancy enough to be spectacularly photographed, I have a lot of fun just because it’s a chance to love on EVERYTHING. I have one character I act who is serious and herds the troup around, and another who in the youngest of three siblings and a thieving rebel. I take every chance I get to bond with our audience and talk about how I slapped together my outfit.
    That being said, I’ve found the snobbery that you portray in steampunk in ALL aspects of life. I see it in cosplay as a regular anime convention go-er and Suki cosplayer. I see it in comic book fandom about who has the most information memorized (seriously can’t we just love comics?!).
    Realizing that this post is over two years old I don’t expect you to change your mind, but since this has appeared on my Facebook and is about to start making the rounds, maybe my comment will help other readers realize it’s not just steampunkers. Sadly, it’s most fandoms in today’s society. Just filter out the crap and find the awesome people!

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