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      CommentAuthorJon Wake
    • CommentTimeMar 14th 2008
    From an essay I wrote about just this thing a while ago...

    My attraction to Steampunk has less to do with any particular infatuation with the late 19th century and more to do with the ethos of Class, Innovation, and Craftsmanship. I do not mean Class in any ancient sense: not the class of the Victorians and their stratified world, nor the Ayn Randsian expression of wealth.

    By my definition, Class is the visual and social representation of your self worth and respect for others. It is a code of conduct that, while a bit stolid, demonstrates to all those around you that despite your background, despite your income level, or education, or any of the other status symbols, that I know my worth, and demand to be treated as such. And thus, I will treat others with respect until such a time as they prove to be unworthy of my respect. This may seem cruel and arrogant. In fact, it is by setting guidelines for conduct and expecting others to obey them that we send a clear message that certain behaviors are not to be tolerated. This is an unpopular concept in the the 21st century, but I would hasten to add that treating other people with respect and expecting the same treatment in return isn't a harsh mistress to please. Yet as I've learned, there are some people who view disrespect as a lifestyle.

    Yes, this is a reaction to the shouting, heaving, screeching popular culture we live in. Where a debate is two fat men in too-tight ties yelling at each other, and the talentless and pathetic are given unseemly amounts of attention despite (or perhaps because of) their complete inconsequence to daily life. By holding our social behavior to a higher standard, I hope to elevate others to do the same.

    Forgiveness is also something to take into account. We are all of us mortal, and fallible, and weak. What is important is not the ideal, it's striving to attain it.

    Innovation. What a marvelous thing the Sciences are, what wonders and powers they've gifted us. And how far from our daily lives they seem. But Science and it's sister, Innovation, are our birthrights as human beings. Technology has become so advanced that a single mind cannot create all the parts in your phone, or your computer, or television. But that is not a bad thing. I don't advocate some Luddite return to hunting Salmon in the Willamette with a spear while your woman-thing gathers berries. Such a life leaves little room for art and music and wonder. What we can do, however, is learn how each of these parts work, and how they fit together, and what new things they can be made to do. The Hacking community is an old hand at this, and the ubiquity of iPods, Blackberry, and PDAs is turning this into a full time profession for some. Add to this the widely available information on things that were once the sphere of the expert. The X-Prize may go the a group of rich developers or a small cadre of dedicated hackers. We live in an age where all things great and small can be the pursuit of the citizen inventor, and Steampunk, ideally, fawns on these people and supports them.

    Craftsmanship is the quality that initially drew me to the, pardon the pun, nuts and bolts of Steampunk. Something of craftsmanship runs in my family: my mother was a musician, my father a potter, my grandfather an carpenter. To see individuals like Datamancer, Jake Von Slatt, and groups like the Neverwas Haul taking modern tools and imbuing them with the care and attention to detail that a craftsman gives a tool took the lie to the myth that technology needs be ugly. The items that surround us daily were never made for us, nor could they ever realistically be made for us. The End User craftsman takes these modules of Innovation, puts them together, and gifts them with a liveliness and history the individual components never had. And that's just cool.

    So Steampunk is a reaction to our world, but it is a particularily constructive reaction, and once that, unlike many other 'punk' movements, is more concerned with building something worthwhile than tearing down old structures.

    Now, like all subcultures, it will eventually gain mainstream interest. Hell, over on the Brass Goggles Forum there are more people spray painting Nerf weapons silver and giving them overlong names than there are people figuring out how to attach a computer and pulley driven arm to their front door, and that's to be expected. I, for one, will keep supporting the Practical Artisans and Madmen Inventors, the Circus Acrobats and Stage Magicians, the Adventuresses and Explorers. For these are our heritage, and its an honorable thing to follow in their footsteps.
    • CommentTimeMar 14th 2008 edited
    I've been thinking about what Steampunk has to offer the world besides being another quaint subculture, particularly in light of the fact that it's about to step over the line of subculture and into trendy nonsense that will inevitably bring with it hoards of pipe clogging band waggoneers.

    I'm pretty sure it stepped over the line into trendy nonsense quite a while ago.

    I'm not saying the ideas behind Steampunk TNG lack relevance or validity, or that there aren't truly admirable "steampunk" DIY folks out there (Kinetic Steamworks springs to mind, natch). But you're right, it's more an arts & crafts movement than anything else. It's more about aesthetics, role-playing, and hot glue-gunning than actual innovation. Maybe that's why I have to stifle the giggles when someone behaves as if it's their "lifestyle choice" in front of me.

    I think there is a longing for a place where there can be a structured formality - a place where the cultural rules call for respect, manners and a sense of grace. Perhaps steampunk, in it's formal expressions, provides the space to have that formality.

    I remember when Warren said something along those lines a while ago. It makes sense, yes. Then again, I've always perceived steampunk as the rougher, dirtier, more rebellious side of Victoriana, not necessarily polite or rigidly formal.

    Very little about this current subculture strikes me as genuinely ballsy, dangerous, or edgy. I'd say that communities like the Madagascar Insitute in NYC or The Sustainable Living Roadshow in SF are hitting closer to the mark in terms of the heart and soul of invention and REinvention.

    I don't mean to be discouraging. Just... you know. A little grumpy about this stuff lately.

    I could blather on about it all night, but I'm packing and moving to a new apartment this weekend, so I'll shaddup now. :)
      CommentAuthorThom B.
    • CommentTimeMar 14th 2008
    Steampunk as a culture seems to have some of the same problems and advantages of Communism

    I don't see your line of reasoning here. Communism was a top down smothering parent of an ideology, at least as it has been practiced, even on the Kibbutz there has typically been little choice in where one directs ones efforts. By contrast the Steampunk ethic is more one of free market economics. Communism can't work as a ground up structure because it doesn't allow for competitive evolution and as such is a dead end. Quite to the contrary, the Steampunk ethic rewards those who can produce innovation and who understand the market. Furthermore, equating Socialism with Communism is inherently wrong and referring to it as modern Communism is even more so given that Socialism as a concept, if it doesn't predate Communism, is at least coeval with it.
    Communism has been called State Capitalism in that the state controls all aspects of the economy and thereby removes all competition.
    By contrast Socialism takes the stance that certain areas are too important to be left up to the markets to control.
    Chiefly these areas are Health care, Education and Energy infrastructure. All of which, it can be argued, are better run by the state on behalf of the people than left to the control of the Market. Unlike Communism, Socialism can stimulate a free market economy by reducing startup costs for entrepreneurs such as the costs of workers comp payments and health insurance. Of course the degree of competence with which such policy is executed is always debatable but that's as maybe.

    Now, back to Steampunk..

    Personally I'm more interested in such cooperative corporations as Mondragon in Spain, which is a great example of how a worker owned organization can function to the benefit of all. Again, to equate such structures with Communism would be entirely mistaken. The cooperative movement is not Communism, rather, if anything it's closer to Anarchy (which I use in it's true sense to mean enlightened self governance). What I am personally working on is is very much a free market venture. Far more so than the subsidy and tariff ridden proxy for a free market that we call America. My main area of concern is intellectual property rights, something that I believe to be terribly harmful to society. I have been releasing all my work under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike license which is essentially a public domain license with the exception that people using my material and creating derivative works based upon it are required to release those works under the same license. My goal here being to produce a body of creative work which anyone who cares to can draw upon whilst contributing to at the same time. I figure that If I can't continually produce work of a higher quality than my competitors then I need to find a new niche. This sort of thinking is something that I've seen quite a lot of within the Steampunk community. For example, Datamancer's putting Von Slatt's keyboard design into production. The notion is as I see it is that the Idea, however good, won't stand on it's own if the execution is shit. You carve out a niche for yourself by finding something that you can do with an artistry that is unique to you. This is, I feel, is a model which approaches social and environmental problems as well as human creativity in a genuinely realistic manner. It blends both our desire to be an individual with necessity of being a member of society.
      CommentAuthorThom B.
    • CommentTimeMar 14th 2008 edited
    @ Theremina - Not discouraging. I agree with all your points here, for myself I find Steampunk to be an interesting lens through which to view society today. I think there's an important difference between what Steampunk says about us and what people say about it. "I don't judge impressionism by the life of Van Gogh" if you will.

    I'll have to take a look at the Madagascar institute and SLR as I'm not familiar with these.
  1.  (1412.5)
    "I don't judge impressionism by the life of Van Gogh"
    I wouldn't judge impressionism by VanGogh's works. He wasn't really part of that clique. Something of a wanna be, that ended up creating something rather interesting, visually. Similar, but not wholly kin. Rather like comparing non-avian therapods (Tyrannosaurus, for example) and avian therapoda (birds).

    Steampunk isn't that popular, or known where I live. But I think part of the aesthetic is the idea of hand-made, tinkered or modified stuff. A human element; which many may find enticing in our era of computer created products made to fit the current prevailing ethic of wanting everything and wanting it now, and wanting it cheap.

    Could've worded this better. Bah. It's late, I'm off to bed. Everything I type could be gurgled tripe of a decaffeinated brain.
      CommentAuthorJon Wake
    • CommentTimeMar 15th 2008
    Confession time:
    The essay I posted was written nearly a year ago. While I still find the ethos useful, and I like to think in some way True, I've been very disappointed with the execution I find.

    When I first discovered Steampunk, it seemed to be about 'doing things' in a way I appreciated. So many of the DIY scenes I'd been exposed to were more of a 'cobble it together so it barely works and then throw it out when you get bored with it' scenes. I envisioned a place where people would take the time and care to learn how to properly build something, or play an instrument, or dance, or whatever.

    It turns out that, like most things, the dream falls far short of the reality. I've met people who eagerly will say, "You're SteamPunk! I'm SteamPunk!" like they just met a fellow Mormon in Las Vegas. That kind of group mentality rubs me the wrong way. Additionally, they usually don't really do anything. Playing Castle Falkenstein once a month just means you're a geek, and huzzah, I am a geek, but it's not a movement.

    Nonetheless, I keep tinkering and building and learning new things, making my own way and being respectful. If people want to call that 'steampunk' or 'electric Jesus Bugaloo', that's fine. I'll still be doing it.
      CommentAuthorThom B.
    • CommentTimeMar 15th 2008
    Sorry, post impressionists rather. Perhaps I should have said I don't judge Russian Dissident art of the 1970's by the work of Samuil Rubashkin.....
  2.  (1412.8)
    Thom B. - Oooh. Your outside my realm of experience now. YAY new artists & movements to look up.
      CommentAuthorThom B.
    • CommentTimeMar 15th 2008
    @ Rootfireember - I'd suggest "The Ransom of Russian Art" by John McPee as a good place to start with the Russian dissidents. ISBN: 0-374-24682-3
  3.  (1412.10)
    @Thom B. - Thankyou very much for the book recommendation.
  4.  (1412.11)
    Nonetheless, I keep tinkering and building and learning new things, making my own way and being respectful. If people want to call that 'steampunk' or 'electric Jesus Bugaloo', that's fine. I'll still be doing it.

    @ Jon Wake - keep doing what your doing. be happy and enjoy. thank you for saying what you said.
    • CommentTimeMar 27th 2008 edited
    Alan Moore's response to "do you have any thoughts of steampunk as an aesthetic or its potential as a culture?" resonated strongly with me, as a putting into words of an attitude I have had for years had never verbalized as succinctly as this:

    " a kind of a manifestation of an ethos that is becoming more prevalent in culture today. ....Because of the internet, because of our tremendous archives that we've accrued, the culture of the past is open to us. And as we look at it, we can see that it's a fabulous junkyard of ideas that may have been incredibly beautiful - and may have had an awful lot of life left in them - that have been discarded by the relentless forward rolling of culture and our insistence upon new things every day. I think that we're now in a position where we can look back at the wonderful, glorious remains of our previous cultures - our previous mindsets-and we can use elements from that treasure trove to actually craft things that are appropriate to our future."

    Steampunk, issue 3, p.25
    • CommentAuthorSasha_mak
    • CommentTimeMar 31st 2008
    What, if anything, Steampunk is is a post modern genre because you are basically representing history and almost parodying it. It could be seen as a novelty, but there should be some meaning to it.
  5.  (1412.14)
    interesting discussion!

    Full disclosure: The idea of steampunk as a cultural movement is something I have been pushing openly for a while now. I believe that a lot of people are being drawn to the aesthetic right now, and most of those people don't seem to be aware why.

    I refuse to speak for other people, but I will say this for me; there are fans of steampunk and there are steampunks. Those of us who create for a living with the steampunk aesthetic in mind ARE working towards something. Yes, we are a long way off, but it will come if we keep trying. The steampunks are a very different group than any other that I have counted myself previously. These people are relentlessly hopeful and highly encouraging of each other! I have found Jake VonSlatt to be one of my biggest supports in my arts, and even the other women who I 'compete' against making jewelry and clothing against... well, we are friendly to each other! I have never gotten a bad vibe from my fellow steampunks.

    Coming from someone engulfed in the movement fully, I see it as a giant collaboration between polymath friends who have decided to reject pointless mass production and planned obsolescence.

    Yes, I dress in steampunk fashion pretty much all the time, although I approach it from a post apocalypse world time traveler so I have a pretty wide and strange variety of things in my repetoir. I know lots of others that dress in a steampunk lite or victorian inspired manner as a matter of daily life, I just happen to be on the edge as self employed fashion designer, so I let myself go a bit nutters with it.

    So yeah. There is meaning for me, and pretty much every other steampunk 'maker' I've talked to feels about the same, but I can't speak for them so I won't name them.

    There are a crapload of people out there right now to whom steampunk means nothing more than a way for things to look. That's okay with me too! Honestly, without the fans of steampunk aesthetic, I wouldn't have sales; only trades with other steampunk artists (which I do all the time, incidentally), and until there are steampunk farmers, that's a bad economic theory to be involved in XD But I would love for them to get involved! Learn to build something, metal work, wood working, painting, learn how to make a clock run off gears and springs, that sort of thing...

    As for the ecological ideals, I tend to use as many antique parts as I can, and I do my best to recycle anything else appropriate for my art. The clothing is generally best made by searching thrifts and flea markets, and its all about things being hand made, rejecting the cheap junk being pumped out. Yes, the CPU inside Jake's case is still just a mass produced chunk of silicon that will wear out in a couple years, but if they started making objects that would last, especially the bigger ticket items like vehicles and houses and such... the steampunks would be lining up around the block to get it.

    I just want quality, I've already seen what quantity is doing to society and the earth itself. I want to live a slower life, and I want to surround myself with people who appreciate the gentility of the British ideal of the Victorian Era without the stifling social mores... many of the steampunks I've met (and I imagine I fall in this category) are like well bred mad scientists... all the class and all the exuberant geekiness you can handle.

    Why I think quality has something to do with brass and wood and lace and quality (faux, for me) leather? Those are materials that take patience, skill, and time to work with properly. They are rewarding materials in texture and presence.

    okay sorry, had to join in with my .02
    Molly 'Porkshanks'
  6.  (1412.15)
    I just want quality, I've already seen what quantity is doing to society and the earth itself. I want to live a slower life, and I want to surround myself with people who appreciate the gentility of the British ideal of the Victorian Era without the stifling social mores...

    I think that absolutely nails a lot of the value that I see in the movement.

    I've been doing a lot (a *lot*) of research on the 1880s for a project I'm working on, and If there's one thing that brings it all together it's that idea of quality and craftsmanship. Work you can take pride in, and that retains a sense of authorship.

    That era was also a time where many of the most influential people were also incredible showmen, making great claims about their ability to bring the forces of nature under their control, and conquer the unconquerable. It had a positivism about humanity that I think is essentially to us moving forward.

    I think the defensive, selfish, and fearful mode we've operated in for the last decade is incredibly dangerous for humanity as a species.
      CommentAuthorThom B.
    • CommentTimeApr 4th 2008 edited
    Two comments,

    Steampunk is is a post modern genre because you are basically representing history and almost parodying it

    I'd almost rather call it "Post Retro" and precisely because of the parody aspect! While Retro just recycled, Steampunk does so while passing commentary and suggesting improvements upon what has gone before. Being able to poke fun at anything is, I feel, a prerequisite to taking away useful lessons from it.

    its all about things being hand made, rejecting the cheap junk being pumped out

    Just to add to this, I think it's important to remember that the Arts and crafts movement of William Morris, Herbert Tudor Buckland et alii was a reaction to the industrial revolution and came at the tail end of the Victorian era. As someone who is devoted to producing the highest quality products I don't necessarily want to rule out the factory. Rather I'd like to see the values of craftsmanship brought into such work places. (not that I think Molly is attacking all manufacturing process' here)

    This brings to my most recent thought of the last two weeks.

    I'm starting to see Steampunk (and I feel this fits rather well with the recurring time travel theme) as a movement to right histories wrongs, not in the past but in the present. My personal area of interest has been in the industrialization of Japan and how for a brief period, during the time of the Meiji restoration, you would see people walking around in top hats, waistcoats and Hakama. I can imaging a cultural trajectory that would have embraced such a fusion and I'm intent on creating that future that never was. A hundred years late perhaps, but better late than never.
    I'm also working on creating a fusion of Manners and behavior of the Victorians and the Japanese which I have dubbed the Northwest Maai Movement with the goal of creating cultural methodologies to allow greater freedom of movement and expression for the individual whilst maintaining boundaries and respect for the group. On this latter goal I would love to hear peoples thoughts and suggestions as it is only a kernel in my mind at this point and is in need of food and water.
    • CommentTimeApr 4th 2008
    Sounds cool enough, but how would you start it out? A small handful of people feverishly explaining the ethos to dull eyed vaguely curious bypassers at a con or something? Apologies if thats raining on your parade - I just woke up with a hangover. Perhaps that could be worked into the ethos, I KNOW I'm not the only one on here who shouldn't be allowed to touch a keyboard while there's still too much alcohol and not enough caffeine in the ol' meat-sack thing...

    Taking this riiiiiiiiight back to the original post, the concept of Steampunk being used to help developing natons? My understanding of this idea - please correct me if I'm wrong - is that we should be giving basic ground-level engineering skills to the PEOPLE of these nations, rather than high end technology to the often corrupt ill-managed Governments or the capitalist contractors building the infrastructure (Iraq rebuild, anyone?), yes?

    You know, I think that may just work. Show them how to work cheap easily sourced materials with simpler processes of a bygone day, and before long some smart eggs will figure out how to catch up with the rest of the world, even without a solid western education. That would actually be sustainable. And who ever said internet chatrooms were just a waste of time!
      CommentAuthorThom B.
    • CommentTimeApr 4th 2008
    Ok, this time limit on login sessions sucks.....I just spent quite a while on a rare "well reasoned argument" only to lose the whole F'ing thing when I attempted to post. Bollocks!

    No, no rain on the parade, I grew up in Wales so that barely even counts as a light drizzle...

    Actually I had been thinking of something more like a Zendo with tea and scones.
    I guess I should have been more specific in soliciting peoples opinions. What is the consensus here and what good manners and respectful interaction are?
    This is a pretty strange group by all accounts, is there a framework that would translate well to the rest of society?
    Also, I'm now thinking about this from something of an art appreciation perspective. It's been my experience that people with crude social skills have a poorly refined sense of aesthetic (please feel free to shoot that down, it's pure bias and unsubstantiated opinion). Is there a social aesthetic that one can learn to recognize? Are some interactions inherently more beautiful than others and if so, what makes them that way?

    Incidentally, I don't by the "in eye of the beholder" position here. I don't believe in aesthetic relativism, only the viewers experience is relative and hence trainable.
    • CommentTimeApr 4th 2008
    This is likely to be a bit rambling and possibly incoherent. Late at night, and all that.

    Steampunk: science fiction without technocracy. The world is full of incredibly cool stuff, and incredibly cool things that can be done with it, but the whole point of these things is to make life better and more beautiful on an individual, local level. More than that, you have to take responsibility for your own aesthetics and your own quality of life, either by patronizing artists or making things yourself or (preferably) both. It can and perhaps should spread outwards, but it has to start with yourself. So saith William Morris, SF author and the first person to bring beautiful wallpaper to the masses.

    So the point of steampunk, if it has a point, is not to be steampunk, it's to do all that stuff. Sensitive, creative, imaginative, ecological, and dangerously irresponsible use of whatever resources come to hand.

    Social aesthetic... mostly, it's about What Fits In, about creating a consistent social theme. A look that plays off something familiar will be more immediately acceptable to most people, and will generally look "more beautiful" if they know how to read it. So it's mostly about building the right kind of subconscious vocabulary and visual grammar.
    • CommentTimeApr 4th 2008 edited
    This is all very interesting (and I like the ideas put forth). Many of these ideas are repeated by some dandies (Lord Whimsy being the lead of the pack) I read, who most certainly do not think of themselves as steampunk. But they like the ideas for sure.

    I don't follow the aesthetic much, but I definitely like and attempt to live by some/most of the ideas.