Steam Punks: A Disturbing Trend in the Neo-Victorian Community
March 11, 2014
Deny the Bud, Worship the Blossom?
I am a general costumer. I love the escape, the fantasty, the research, the dedication, and creativity that goes into making a outfit outside of the modern normal. One of the most popular genres of costuming at the moment is the rapidly growing Neo-Victorian movement which encompasses multiple genres, especially Steampunk. Steampunk has grown in the years since I discovered it in 2011, gaining a complex mythos and large fanbase with their own particular styles of Steampunk (historical, post-apocolyptic, international, etc.). It’s wonderful to see so many different types of creativity melding together inside one genre!
Steampunk Group Photo by Daylina Miller, Quill & Quirk
However, as the movement has grown and multiple styles have broken off in favor of certain sets of rules, rifts have begun to form between the different Steampunk “denominations.” For example, I follow the Steampunk page on Facebook. It began as the premier Facebook fanpage for the genre, but has since come under fierce fire due to its choices of posts even though the content really hasn’t changed all that much from when it began. Instead, the attitude and views of the followers have. For example, this photo was recently posted on the page:
Poison Nature by Rei-Doll on DeviantArt
This is Russian cosplayer Rei (Irene) in her rendition of a Neo-Victorian Poision Ivy based on this sketch by NoFlutter:
Alternate Victorian Ivy Sketch by NoFlutter on DeviantArt
Here’s a full shot of Rei’s finished costume (along with a classic Harley Quinn):
Harley and Ivy by Rei-Doll on DeviantArt
She followed the inspiration sketch perfectly! Both the costume and sketch are adorable and both have obvious turn of the century influence: a corset, bustle, stockings, etc. They also have the original pair of favored Steampunk props: the top hat and goggles. So what’s “wrong” with it? Everything, it seems:
A small sample, but you get the idea.
I don’t like using my blog as a place to stir up controversy, but this isn’t the first time such “High Society Steaming” has happened and it’s happening more frequently. Of course, there will always be people who do not like or agree with your costume choice, but the Steampunk community originally began (and continues to advertise itself as) a welcome relief from the judgemental world of other costume genres. What made Steampunk so attractive is that there were so many options, story lines, and styles that could be melded together to form something entirely unique, yet share common characteristics with your fellow costumers, like the apparently evil top hat and goggles. They’ve stuck around because people like them. They are iconic! The pair is Steampunk’s gateway drug to the wider world of the genre, drawing people in and growing the community. Once they’ve mastered the simple top hat and goggles, someone can easily develop their unique persona and style if they like. Others may be content to keep their hats and goggles. Why shouldn’t they be? Top hats and goggles are awesome!
Steampunk Spamdragon by Novawuff on DeviantArt
I agree that many enterprising people have jumped on the bandwagon to make money selling “Steampunk-style” items rather than adding to the genre, but we’ve gone from loving gears to hating them, adoring top hats to ridiculing them, fawning over a new pair of goggles to condemning them as cheap. I agree that we can’t just “glue some gears on it and call it Steampunk,” but we also can’t deny the very ideas and symbols that we originally developed our mythos on. Steampunk has developed into a much more complex movement. It expands beyond costuming into literature, music, even lifestyles. Some people immerse themselves completely, choosing to go the “neo-enacter” route by dressing and living in a Steampunk fashion in their everyday lives. But someone who likes to dress in their own style of Steampunk shouldn’t be judged any more than someone who likes Steampunk music or jewelry but doesn’t live-eat-and-breathe Steampunk or someone who likes coffee but doesn’t own their own coffee shop and can’t tell a Kona bean from a Colombian one just by listening to it rattle.
The Genuine Balancing Siphon Coffee Maker based on an 1830s design
How to serve tea like a Sir (or Madame)!
In fact, the judgemental call-outs are very similar to those you hear from the darker side of the reenacting communnity, one of the many reasons I abandoned that scene in favor of casual historical costuming. This judgemental wall, real or percieved, has slowly begun to suffocate the reenactment community because new members, afraid they will be ridiculed rather than nurtured, do not join groups. How long before the caustic attitudes brewing in the Steampunk world bubble over and start driving people away instead of welcoming them in?
Steampunk Oddfae by oddfae on DeviantArt
“If I promise to take the goggles off, will you let me out?”