What is steampunk? That is a question that will never render the same answer twice. Jake Von Slatt, creator of the Steampunk Workshop, loosely defines steampunk as, “essentially the intersection of technology and romance” (qtd. in La Ferla). Elaborating on that, an article on steampunk.com says it is, “first and foremost a literary genre, or at least a subgenre of science fiction and fantasy that includes social or technological aspects of the 19th century (the steam) usually with some deconstruction of, reimagining of, or rebellion against parts of it (the punk)” (JRRL). Steampunk can never be ascribed to just one definition because it is so multifarious. It is a hobby, lifestyle, and even a philosophy that is gaining popularity in Omaha, Nebraska. Special clothing, books, music, and movies are just a few aspects of this unique subculture that began in the 1980s.
Steampunk is a lifestyle—the sentence is simple, but the meaning is complex. The clothing a person wears, their activities, and the overall attitudes about life all reflect the lifestyle they live. To some, steampunk is a hobby, but to others it is a lifestyle choice. The difference in the two is to what degree steampunk influences their daily life. A person who occasionally attends steampunk conventions and reads a few novels here and there would likely consider steampunk a hobby. But to others, such as Violet von Mickelsburg, who considers steampunk a lifestyle, “[it’s] about not looking at things in a conventional way, seeing the potential in the everyday, and not being afraid to try new things. It’s about looking for ways to make your everyday life more interesting, more beautiful, and less normal” (12). A positive outlook on life
The steampunk philosophy is additionally indicative of the lifestyle. Like steampunk itself, the philosophy is also difficult to define. Dara Fogel, who has a PhD in philosophy, says in her article, “The Philosophy and Spirituality of Steampunk” that it is, “unrepentantly optimistic, intentionally calling upon the past for the inspiration to build a better future, free ourselves of limiting inequities, and to make a place where each individual is empowered to explore their own creativity” (10). The optimistic view of the future that Fogel speaks of evidences how steampunk contrasts with the dystopian themes that have become popular in many modern science fiction novels. Steampunk has been criticized, according to Fogel, for “cherry-picking” the Victorian era by “selecting only the parts [they] like, and ignoring
Steampunk fashion is indicative of the Victorian era—corsets, parasols, vests, and decorative hats—with a twist. Quirky watches or goggles add to the technological aspect of steampunk. Earth tones are commonly seen. It is at steampunk events such as steampunk conventions, tea parties, or time-traveling balls where people can wear elaborate costumes. They can be homemade, purchased, or, more likely, a combination of the two. Vintage clothing stores are certainly a common site for finding pieces fit for a steampunk costume. There are also patterns available for people to sew their own ensembles. As steampunk has grown in popularity, there is also a new outlet for people to find steampunk clothing-designer stores. Brands and designers such as Alexander McQueen, Prada, and even Ralph Lauren, to name a few, are embracing the steampunk look.
Clothing is not the only popular aspect of steampunk—music and movies feature it as well. Some popular bands include Abney Park, Vernian Process, and The Nathaniel Johnstone Band. A quote from The Nathaniel Johnstone Band says of steampunk music that, “[there] are elements of folk, industrial, swirly-goth, americana, metal, hip hop, and there’s even more musical textures and styles popping up everyday” (steampunk-music.com). Nathaniel Johnstone also speaks of a “blend of the old with the new” in the music (steampunk music.com). Technologically enhanced music may accompany Victorian-themed lyrics, or classical, more orchestral music might be paired with modern lyrics. There is not one specific type of sound in this subgenre of music. As long as it
The steampunk community in Omaha is growing as books, movies, music, and fashion all contribute to the gain in popularity. The Steampunk Society of Nebraska has a page on the Steampunk Empire’s website, which has over 18,000 members, as well as their own website. There are about one thousand members locally, and members attend events such as British Fest, O Comic Con, or Steampunk Midwest 2015, as well as local get-togethers. It is a group where steampunk oriented people can find community with likeminded individuals. As popularity in steampunk increases, The Steampunk Society of Nebraska will surely be growing as well.
Steampunk is more than just a literary, musical, or movie subgenre. It is more than a fashion statement. It has meaning to many people; it is its own culture. Steampunk is a hobby, lifestyle, and philosophy that began in the 1980s and has been growing increasingly popular in the past five years. Through this culture, many people have found ways to connect with others who share their interests. But, more than that, steampunk has inspired people to become independent, crafty, and positive about life. It is a movement that will surely continue to grow.