Are there reasons NOT to do Steampunk? Oh, HECK yes. Let me give you some.
First off, it’s ridiculous. An imaginary 19th century which never happened and which we explore in the 21st century? Why in the world would anyone want to do that?
Relatedly, it doesn’t seem to make sense, when you think about it. I mean, when people imagine they’re at a Renaissance Faire, at least there is some degree of hypothetical actual history involved. It’s taken something like 50 years for the modern Renaissance fair to evolve so deeply into something which doesn’t really involve the Renaissance. It took decades for Renaissance Faires to get to a point where they embody “some sort of point in history where people carried swords; something after the Dark Ages and before the Internal Combustion Engine. Heck, in my own lifetime, with the coming of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, I’ve seen Renaissance Faires be pretty excited to welcome Pirates of clearly 18th century backgrounds–ie, at LEAST a hundred years after the Renaissnance is acknowledge to have ended. That’s an impressive (and, to be clear, incredibly fun!) historical innacuracy – but at least it took a really long time.
Steampunk doesn’t have that excuse. How long has Steampunk as we know it been a thing? Eight years? Perhaps 10? I certainly know people who feel they and practicing it longer, but the very least, the Steampunk we see today has existed for less than a decade. It didn’t start out accurate and get weird. It started weird, and got more inaccurate from there.
And at least if this was something like punk rock or Goth or the hippie movement or even, as some claim, just a genre of science fiction literature, we don’t have anything like the hierarchy of those genres! For example, there may or may not be a top Steampunk band or two. But those are the main reason people discover Steampunk. Is there a topSteampunk author? I think there are many incredible steampunk authors, and some have sold more books than others, and some might have had more influence than others, but I don’t think ANY particular Steampunk author is the creator of the Steampunk we know–certainly K.W. Jeter, who coined the very term, has said repeatedly that he did NOT create the Steampunk we see today.
Famous steampunk makers? We certainly have some. We certainly love their creations. I think I could possibly narrow my own list of the top five Steampunk creators down to… I don’t know, perhaps 10 people, all of whom could lay reasonable claim to being in the top five. And most of them are actually too modest to say that. And some of the finest creations in Steampunk have absolutely not been made by people who identify as Steampunks–they’re just people who love playing with this culture.
Is Steampunk created by events? Would that mean that the people who run events run Steampunk? I’ll be honest. If you’re reading this, you are probably seeing this on my own website for my own event, or through social media that is related to an event company which bears my name. Do you think that I run Steampunk? I run the world’s largest Steampunk event. Am I in charge? Have you even heard of me? The answer to the first question is definitely no! The answer the second question is not definitely “no”…
…but I’m pretty sure that if you took all the people world who identify as Steampunk, and asked them if they know who runs any particular Steampunk events, most of they’d probably be able to answer only for the events they go to or for which they’ve seen advertising.
So why play with, create for, former lifestyle around, experiment with, or otherwise be a part of Steampunk?
For exactly and precisely each and every one of the reasons above!
Because Steampunk doesn’t have to make sense! Steampunk doesn’t have to have a leader! Steampunk doesn’t have to be any damn thing at all except a gorgeous 19th century canvas upon which we are throwing all manner of paint, and sketches, and words, and ideas. And what we get out of something which brings joy and fascination and beauty and community to a world which could choose to be humdrum and mundane and boring.
Let the world be boring? NEVER! We make the choice to be precisely the opposite. We are Steampunks! In fact, each and every one of us IS Steampunk itself. You, right now, are building steampunk just by thinking about it and contributing your presence to this culture, even if all you do is read a few articles and put a few thoughts out into the ether. In fact, people who do that “matter” just as much, in their own way, as people like me whose lifestyle and actual living depend on Steampunk. Because this isn’t a contest where somebody wins; this is a world-building to make a giant, deeply individual, deeply shared Universe we can call our own.
No masters. No slaves. No rules except the simplest one:
if you want to be a part of Steampunk, you can.