Recently I posed the question on Facebook (the perfect forum for airing random thoughts, among other less savory activities): so what is steampunk? It seems that the term is suddenly everywhere. I had vague associations with the word, if it actually qualifies as a word, which included Johnny Depp and the stylings of Helena Bonham Carter.
Oh look, here they are together in the perfect steampunk union!
I had lots of help with my steampunk confusion. Facebook friends immediately jumped to the rescue, defining steampunk as “futuristic Victorian”. Someone sent me straight to Wikipedia, a sort of steampunk encyclopedia if there ever was one, full of found parts fused together to make something entirely new. The encyclopedia of yesterday reimagined for tomorrow. From Wikipedia:
Steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction, fantasy, alternate history, and speculative fiction that came into prominence during the 1980s and early 1990s. Steampunk involves a setting where steam power is still widely used—usually Victorian era Britain—that incorporates elements of either science fiction or fantasy. Works of steampunk often feature anachronistic technology or futuristic innovations as Victorians may have envisioned them, based on a Victorian perspective on fashion, culture, architectural style, art, etc. This technology may include such fictional machines as those found in the works of H. G. Wells and Jules Verne.
Other examples of steampunk contain alternative history-style presentations of such technology as lighter-than-airairships, analog computers, or such digital mechanical computers as Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace’s Analytical engine.
Various modern utilitarian objects have been modded by individual artisans into a pseudo-Victorian mechanical “steampunk” style, and a number of visual and musical artists have been described as steampunk.
It turns out that our household is mildly steampunk without even realizing it. For years Mr. Roving Home has been making utilitarian — or not — objects out of found industrial pieces. Old springs, cogs, pulleys, chains, wheels and the occasional bolt are combined with pieces of wood to make everything from pipe holders to lamps. And it turns out that there is a blog for those of us who are both domestic and steampunk-ish. Check it out here for ways to make your surroundings comfortably metallic and a little bit gothic.
The whole steampunk sensation correlates perfectly with the current general sense of nostalgia for those heady days of early mass manufacturing when the machines themselves were crafted by hand — even if you couldn’t say the same about the items manufactured on those machines. Since then manufacturing has increased on a scale and sophistication unimaginable to our predecessors, even Jules Verne. Plastic and all its synthetic fancy brethren may have made our lives incalculably more convenient but at a cost we are only just now beginning to understand. The first sense of unease about modern life and all the stuff we surround ourselves with is an aesthetic sense of unease. We don’t know what’s wrong with the way our homes and the trappings of modern life make us feel, we just know we feel…disconnected. It’s probably no coincidence that, along with the increased interest in steampunk, the word “authentic” has become a buzzword from Brooklyn to Berkeley. So bring back wood, brick, molded and hammered metal; we don’t want to leave technology behind. We just want to steampunk it, if only to feel human again.