Thursday, August 4, 2011

subculture snobbery much?

I generally don't use this blog to preach, but this discussion about the legitimacy of mass-produced steampunk items that my boyfriend pointed out to me on reddit set my blood to slightly boiling.

The image that started the debate was of this hokey Halloween costume:

image source: imgur
That just tells me that steampunk is popular enough to get a hideous temporary follower for one day of the year (said day being the day that most other people are dressed freakishly different from their normal mode of dress.)  Not exactly my favorite thing to see, but steampunk is more of a "costume dress" subculture anyway, being partially historically accurate and partially sci-fi--not something you're going to want to share in all of its head-to-toe glory in the workplace or at school.

But the discussion that unfolded in the Reddit thread as a result of the image was rather surprising to me.  The main focus seemed to be the following:  If it's not DIY it's not truly steampunk.

Is this statement a legitimate assessment of steampunk culture?

I don't think so.  For one, of the few steampunkers I met, I would say only two managed to truly be DIY with their clothes and accessories.  Most were DIY with only about one or two accessories.  The majority had bought most of their supplies from thrift stores or online, doing a sort of mix-and-match with seemingly unrelated clothes items to make something that looked somewhat Victorian with twists that would not have been approved of in Victorian times.

For the sake of argument, even if one considers the mixing of clothes to be DIY (which I don't) there is also a difference between someone embarking upon steampunk for the first time and someone who either has a more creative mind or has been into the subculture for a while.  I was pretty nervous before attending my first SCSS event last month that my outfit, a mix-n-match of online-ordered items, that it would not be steampunk enough, even though I had worn the same outfit before in front of nonsteampunkers and called it steampunk.  I could easily see someone who is unfamiliar with the culture purchasing such a Halloween costume as pictured above and walking into an event out of fear that they won't be steampunk enough otherwise.

But I don't think that's a reason to disparage someone.  Sure, it's not creative, but with more exposure to the subculture they may want to move out of the "hokey Halloween costume" phrase to the "Hey, maybe I can try something a little more imaginative and adventurous" mindset.

If someone is only wearing the above as just a Halloween costume, then that's fine too.  It speaks volumes about the growing popularity of steampunk culture.  Just because it's mass-produced doesn't mean it's not real- a cheap Superman costume is still a Superman costume.  The DIYers will remain the aristocrats of steampunk culture with their carefully tailored outfits and lovingly crafted scientific and military apparatus.  One of these aristocrats standing next to someone wearing a mass-produced steampunk outfit will speak for itself in making people aware of what quality steampunk is.  People will see the difference between the hard-core people and those just dabbling.

And who knows?  The dabblers could become valuable assets to the growth of steampunk.

Let's not be steampunk hipsters- loving something until it becomes "cool" and acceptable.  If that's the case then you probably never really loved steampunk to begin with.

1 comment:

  1. Great post. It would be such a shame if people who enjoyed the steampunk culture wern't able to get into it if they didn't have the resources, time or talent to handcraft all their own stuff.