So, perhaps a few months ago, I first heard the term "steampunk"- I think on a street style website, used by someone wearing striped tights, and then I started hearing it a lot, and then there was an article about it in The New York Times and Gaby and Simone got invited to a steampunk party even though obviously they were way too cool to go, so I guess it's officially a thing, or whatever. Steampunk seems to encompass an aesthetic sense of clothing, art, music, and, uh, video games and graphic novels all based on a time when steam engines were cutting-edge technology, and machines were made up of lots of winding gears. Clothes-wise, it seems to be some kind of mashup of Victoriana, cyperpunk, goth, and lots of buckles, gears, leather and brown.
At first I was interested in the idea, because I find industrial revolution-era London really fascinating, and have read a million books about cholera epidemics and Victorian prostitutes and Art Nouveau romanticism and whatnot. Also, I obviously have a great appreciation for clothing and aesthetics from that era, and my favorite movie is City of Lost Children, which I guess they take a lot from, style-wise. In fact, maybe I can finally publish my young adult fantasy novel under the guise that it is "steampunk," as it mostly takes place in an underground water city with lots of brass instruments and old machines and whatnot (ohmygod I am so steampunk and I didn't even know!)
But- part of what seems pretty crappy about steampunk is:
1) The computer factor. Seriously, it seems like a large amount of steampunkers are truly goth-leaning gamers who create online video animations of steampunk characters, or play them in those scary multi-player online role playing games/anime related things. Yet this is pretty much the antithesis of Victorian aesthetics, not to mention the antithesis of production in those times, which is supposed to be a large part of steampunk. I'm not saying everyone should start using waterwheels or something, but that, artisically, there is a marked difference between art created on a computer and art created with actual, traditional materials, and if you truly are devoted to this look, you should not be creating anything on a computer, because it automatically looks crappy and modern and digital, and ruins any sense of history, craft, or personal touch.
2) Shitty (and sexist!) graphic novels like League of Extraordinary Gentlemen/everything similar. God, I hate that crap.
3) Gluing gears and stuff to various crap. A large part of steampunk appears to be fake-aging and gluing brass knobs onto your iPhone or whatever to make it look like an antique diving helmut. I know collage and clustering was a large part of Victorian decor, but there's just something so sad about creating a little shell for a modern plastic gadget in order to turn it into an old-looking accessory, espeically when said gadget is just going to fall apart like every other piece of technological junk made in the past ten years. At least just buy real Victorian stuff (which is actully available, you know) and use that for display. Ditto buying a polyester waistcoat at Wet Seal. Part of what makes old stuff so much better is that it truly is of finer quality and higher quality material. Spray painting a plastic neon squirt gun as a means of reclaiming the past? No on that! Antique diving helmuts didn't have brass studs on them because some pimply-faced teen who jerks off to anime porn thought it looked cool with his goggles, but because they actually held stuff together.
4) The prevalance of goggles. With everything. What the fuck is up with goggles and certain subcultures? It looks dumb to randomly wear goggles, okay? Even if they're faux-antique, they're still goggles.
5) Corsets. Again, what is it with nerdy subcultures and their association with corsets? Like moths to a flame. Corsets can be worn done right, but most people just put on just a corset (not something actually done in the past) like it's a tank top or something. I know people think it's a classy way to show off their boobs, but those people are wrong. It's a trashy way to show your boobs, and is so not historically accurate.
6) This "official Steampunk band" Abney Park, which features a bunch of dorks and some half naked girls gyrating to some terrible goth-type music. Unique! Also, not only are the three guys in this band wearing goggles in this photo, but their logo is a skull with goggles on it. Just as i'twas in the golden age!
I suppose if everyone could pull it off as well as the girl above in green who actually is wearing a corset in a unique way (as opposed to the corseted, goggled, top-hatted, Tim Burtonesque example at the top of this post), steampunk would be a little more attractive. But there doesn't seem to be enough thought put into it, and there are just too many gears stuck to stuff for no reason. If you're going to commit yourself to such a dramatic aesthetic, you should put time, energy and thought into what makes it unique and beautiful instead of just hopping on the brass-knob encrusted bandwagon.