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Why Isn’t Steampunk Dead?

“Disco is NOT dead! Disco is LIFE!”

-Eddie Izzard, “Mystery Men”

I think Disco is conclusively dead; like pet rocks, troll dolls, and bell bottoms, it’s not that they’ve  vanished completely from the globe; you’re just not likely to run into them often, and if you do, it’s an unexpected bit of nostalgia.

I think we’ve seen a lot of cultural (and countercultural) movements which sprang up, got big, and then…just diminished and withered away.  There’s still some Cyberpunk out there, but the Cyberpunk genre largely assumed a future which was actually significantly less technologically advanced than our present (and, some writers suggest, less dystopian, too).  I love Punk, and would still consider myself to be one; but I’m going to say that an anti-commercial movement has probably suffered a fairly fatal defeat when its most significant American icon has become a theme restaurant in a depressing airport in New Jersey.

Why’s Steampunk still alive?

The term was coined by K.W. Jeter in 1987, and K.W. and other authors were already writing it.  SalonCon, the first Steampunk convention, happened nine years later, in 2006.  Steampunk’s been in movies, it’s redesigned houses, it’s created an entire art music, and that’s just a piece of it.  Hell, I have bought enough Steampunk mp3s that I could literally write a novel while listening to them, and not get to the end.  (Actually, my ability to write a novel would probably run out long before the music did.)

Why does Steampunk keep going?  Why does it keep expanding?

Steampunk is a chosen culture.  Nobody thinks Steampunk is a matter of life-and-death.  There are political movements which are fringe, but their believers feel that they’re worth dying for.  There are causes and Major Issues which are outside of the purview of the “normal” world.  We can see why they survive; people think they HAVE to.

Steampunk, like Goth, like Punk, like Tabletop Gaming, is a Chosen Culture.  Nobody dies if Steampunk goes away.  Nobody’s life depends on it.

So why doesn’t Steampunk end?

It’s had tons of media exposure; that’s supposed to make something uncool and make people run away.  But they haven’t.

You can get Steampunk gear in shopping malls; that’s supposed to mean that “anyone” can do it, and therefore, the hardcore Steampunks will leave.  But that’s not happening.  Why?

It’s this:

Steampunk is ridiculous.  It doesn’t have anything to prove.  We don’t do it to make ourselves cooler than other people.  We started doing Steampunk because it was fun…

….and we kept doing it because Steampunk turned out to be an endlessly vital creative framework.  It lets us reinvision ourselves and, in so doing, lets us reinvent ourselves in an endless series of glorious transformations.

Also, I have to admit: I really, really like having an excuse to wear top hats.

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