I know some people who talk about having done Steampunk for literally several decades. I can’t trace it back that far myself; while I fell in love with K.W. Jeter’s “Infernal Devices” when it came out in 1987, I had no idea that his “Mad Victorian Fantasy” (as the cover put it) would spawn an entire Universe.
But I’ve been a part of the active Steampunk community for over a decade now, and doing Steampunk events for almost that long. I’m starting to see people meet at our events, fall in love, get married, and have children. And then they bring the children to events. And that leaves us with a fascinating question:
What world do we want for Steampunk kids?
Ordinarily, when someone talks about the kind of world orthe kind of future you want for our offspring, it is in reference to some titanic question of legality or ethics or perceived morality. It’s also used not infrequently as a judgment, sometimes by people who suggest that the actions of others might set a bad example. Those are gigantic issues, and that’s not what I’m talking about.
(Besides, I’m pretty sure I am a bad example. I fear that if your kids take after me, they will grow weird. Be warned!)
I’m talking of something that is both smaller in scope, and yet oddly has more far reaching implications then many arguments which might take place on national or even global scale.
We, all of us, all the people participating in Steampunk–we are the people creating Steampunk. And that means that we actually truly get to decide what kind of Steampunk world we want to leave our kids.
That is such a rare thing. It’s hard to have a true legacy that will affect an entire culture, and what Steampunk is not as big as or far-reaching as the mainstream world, it is still a living, vivacious, irrepressible culture that is deeply meaningful to us. Whether you do Steampunk for a living, like I do, or are just a hobbyist who picks it up sometimes for fun (both of which are perfectly fine and neither of which is better than another)-–
Either way, you, you right there, whoever you are.… You are part of deciding what steampunk should be.
Because who else makes the rules? It’s all of us. We’re all deciding what Steampunk should be, when it could be, what it will do, how we will act.
What will that be? It’s not up to me. It’s up to all of us. But I can tell you some of what I think it should be.
Steampunk should be inclusive. It should recognize, welcome, and accept people of all sorts, all backgrounds, all races and identities and political views and orientations.
Steampunk should be friendly. I don’t mean you have to like everyone in Steampunk, or be friends with everyone. Just that we should generally acknowledge that what we seek is warmth, cordiality, a genuine willingness to accept and meet others. It’s okay to be shy, it’s okay to be antisocial, but there have definitely been social movements which prided themselves on guarding the gates to their worlds very jealously. (For example, I was a Punk in my youth, and the Punk movement had a lot of reasons why it had a lot of distrust and a lot of questions about who was a “real” or a “sincere” Punk. I’m not saying it was wrong for doing so; it had good reasons.) But we’re not that kind of Punk.* We are Steampunks.
Steampunk should look after and respect our creators. It’s a difficult and challenging thing to get away from the mainstream audience and tried to build something in a small, peculiar world many people haven’t even heard of. When you find someone who does that, give that person support, be it financial, or recognition, or maybe just some cookies.
Steampunks should respect each other. It’s easy to tear someone else down. It’s also easy for a subculture or genre to tear itself apart by being judgmental. I’m not saying we shouldn’t have any sort of standards, I’m not saying we shouldn’t care about effort or energy or investment of time and resources. I’m just saying that we have very little to gain, very much lose, by opening ourselves up to needless fighting.
And Steampunks should recognize this thing: that each of us really is a part of something which is affected by all of us. Our actions, for better or for worse, have consequences on an entire world of other humans. That’s something I think about all the time. Whether or not you think about it is up to you. But I find that, for me at least, it helps add a lot of meaning to this odd, wonderful Universe that we’re building.
(As a sidenote: Punk was, among other things an anti-commercial movement. It distrusted the possible financial motives of a lot of its participants. It feared that the movement might be co-opted by those without that core ethos; and it was probably right. Punk was–and still is–a nihilistic expression of anger. Steampunk is an expression of a fiercely weird joy. They’re both passions; they’re just very different passions.)