We’ve Got Steampunk

By Lynette Kirschner

pho­to cred­it: Nathan Rupert

You’ve nev­er heard of it? Seri­ous­ly? This sub­cul­ture – which has every­thing from music, fash­ion, and lit­er­a­ture to LARPs (live action role plays), con­ven­tions and even schol­ars – is more pop­u­lar in the U.S. than in Ger­many. So what is it? If you look at steam­punk schol­ar Mike Perschon’s blog, you’ll see that it has aspects of retro-futur­ism, tech­no-fan­ta­sy, and neo-Vic­to­ri­an­ism, a move­ment not strict­ly lim­it­ed to a spe­cif­ic time frame. The main source of pow­er is steam, not gas or elec­tric­i­ty. Steam­punk is often seen as re-imag­in­ing the past not only to under­stand the present but also the sins of the past.

Is this sub­cul­ture inclu­sive or exclu­sive? When you con­sid­er that Vic­to­ri­an Eng­land wasn’t exact­ly a stel­lar time for peo­ple of col­or, gen­der or body auton­o­my, it makes you won­der why it is pop­u­lar. This is where the re-imag­in­ing comes in as some steam­punks sim­ply recre­ate this era. Per­son­al­ly, I have prob­lems with this type of rep­re­sen­ta­tion as I know my his­to­ry; how­ev­er, I also real­ize their intent isn’t to glo­ri­fy the wrongs. In fact, oth­er steam­punks re-imag­ine the past to cre­ate a nar­ra­tive for peo­ple who had no voice back then. This is what I love about steampunk.

Pho­to cred­it: Bryan Thomp­son

Anoth­er side of steam­punk is about get­ting active in the sense of reduce, reuse, recy­cle. Do you have to buy every­thing? How long should some­thing last? No won­der steam­punk is close­ly aligned with the mak­er move­ment and DIY – it’s about mak­ing tech­nol­o­gy more sus­tain­able, human, per­son­al, and indi­vid­ual. Think about it: Today’s con­sumers can’t even change the bat­tery in their new iPhone, so steam­punk can be seen as an under­stand­able reac­tion to this trend in tech­nol­o­gy. Get your hands dirty and make it yours.




Steam­punk isn’t just about aca­d­e­m­ic top­ics. It’s also about fun! Go on a LARP, cre­ate your own fash­ion, go geek out with some friends, and dis­cov­er a new pas­sion for work­ing with your hands or appre­ci­at­ing some­one else’s work.

The music of steam­punk is as var­i­ous as its peo­ple. The title of this blog entry is based on a song from the band Abney Park, prob­a­bly the best-known steam­punk band. After a semes­ter of learn­ing about steam­punk, my class also said, “we’ve got steampunk.”

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Inter­est­ed in oth­er steam­punk bands? Then why not lis­ten to The Cog is Dead or Pro­fes­sor Ele­men­tal. Maybe you’re in the mood for some­thing a bit dif­fer­ent. Try Dr. Steele – who is actu­al­ly more dieselpunk – or Steam Pow­ered Giraffe. Fash­ion is more your line? Try the Steam­punk Empo­ri­um or the blog, Every­thing that is Steam­punk. And if that’s not enough, take a look at Diana Pho’s blog, Beyond Vic­to­ri­ana for a mul­ti­cul­tur­al focus. It is amaz­ing how many cre­ative peo­ple are out there.

Steam­punks are gen­er­al­ly open, curi­ous, and will­ing to learn and lis­ten. Are you? Then go out there and see if you can dis­cov­er steam­punk on your own and decide if you like it.

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L. Lynette Kirschn­er is a lec­tur­er at Leuphana Uni­ver­si­ty with a degree in Ger­man Lan­guage and Lit­er­a­ture. She likes all things strange, dif­fer­ent, and off beat and often lets her stu­dents get geeky in class.