The Curious Case of Steampunk

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“Steampunk.” You’ve probably heard the word thrown around the here and there on the Internet. Perhaps you’ve seen pictures of weird contraptions or fashion statements made out of “junk” as if a welding equipment wholesale buyout just took place. The concept might be foreign to you but trust us, it has been around for quite some time now.

A Brief History of Steampunk

Steampunk is a subculture inspired by cyberpunk and a Victorianesque aesthetic resulting in a retrofuturistic style. It encompasses literature, fashion, art, gaming, music, and movies. Before steampunk developed into a subculture, it started as a literature subgenre, specifically under the science fiction and fantasy genres. It is a word coined up in the 70s to describe stories celebrating the Victorian era’s adventurous inclination and technological advancement.

Some of the earliest steampunk literary works were penned by greats such as Edgar Rice Burroughs, H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, and Mark Twain. These authors were, in turn, inspired by the scientific breakthroughs of Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison and the proliferation of heavy industry, technology, and colonization. In 1990, the foundation for modern steampunk was established with the sci-fi novel, The Difference Engine by authors William Gibson and Bruce Sterling.

A New Way of Life and Philosophy

Steampunk has grown into a whole new visual style and philosophy. It is all about mashing the old with the new. It fuses modern technology’s usability with the Victorian era’s philosophy and design. It has become a whole new artistic movement where artists combine their styles with steampunk elements — Victorian design, springs and gears, steel and brass, steam-powered automatons, etc.

As a culture, steampunk promotes a do-it-yourself attitude and encourages people to create art based on their concept of modernity. This movement caused a spike in recycling or upcycling junk and salvaging it to create pieces of art. In the crudest sense, it is giving modern tech a Gothic overhaul like turning a high-tech laptop to look like an old school typewriter or an iPhone with an old brass receiver. At its deepest, though, it is a way of worldview and lifestyle, and perhaps even an artistic protest against technological advancement.

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Steampunk in Pop Culture

Because of the increasing popularity of this movement, it has slowly seeped into the mainstream media and pop culture over the past decade and a half. Over the past two decades, the genre widened its reach with apocalyptic novels (Boneshaker by Cherie Priest), clockpunk (Doctor Who episode, The Girl in the Fireplace), and wild west steampunk.

Mainstream steampunk-inspired movies include Wild Wild West, Steamboy, Hellboy II: The Golden Army, A Series of Unfortunate Events, Van Helsing, and Sherlock Holmes.

Some video games have steampunk elements in it like Bioshock Infinite and Dishonored, to name a few. Steampunk also extended its influence to the music industry. Artists like Panic at the Disco and David Guetta have music videos that featured steampunk themes and there are also a few bands that rock the steampunk flavor like the Abney Park (US) and The Fearless Vampire Killers (UK).

The fashion industry has also caught the steampunk bug with a growing number of comic book and toy conventions where cosplayers come dressed as characters in outfits they made. Fashion shows featuring steampunk themes are also gaining popularity globally.

Steampunk is not going anywhere and is here to stay. Its combination of scientific discovery and progressive optimism still has a huge appeal to people today. 

 

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