Hello again, readers. First off, I’d like to apologize upfront for my sparse updates in January. The month was hectic for me both personally and professionally and it left me little time and inspiration to actually write my blog.
However, I do have some good news! Starting later this month, I will be writing a regular column for Steampunk Chronicle! I will still be doing occasional media reviews, but once a month, I will be focusing on fundraising projects and philanthropy in the Steampunk community. I will have more information on that soon, so stay tuned!
Today though, I’m here to talk about something more serious. Something that is plaguing the Steampunk community as it continues to grow. I’m talking, of course, about Steamhipsterness.
The Steamhipster, for those unaware, are those who have a regular temper tantrum anytime anything vaguely Steampunk hits the mainstream and says that the genre has been killed at least every few months. This can be a reaction to anything, like a Steampunk episode of a TV series, but most of the Steamhipster’s tantrums are directed towards music. The first known example of this phenomena happened in January 2011 when Panic! at the Disco released the video for ‘The Ballad of Mona Lisa’ unto the world. The video featured a Steampunk wake organized by the League of S.T.E.A.M. and had Panic! letting everyone know they were saying goodbye to their past. Of course, most Steamhipsters could not see this. They cried that Brendon and Spencer had killed Steampunk, even though they have been a band with a consistent victorian aesthetic since they had a budget to throw around. How is making a Steampunk video and forcing Jake Sinclair to play banjo not the next logical step?!
What came next is debatable. Panic! was the dead horse for most of the year, but some people think Lady GaGa’s ‘You and I’ was Steampunk. It was some kind of retrofuturism, but I thought it was mostly about how hot GaGa is a Jo Calderone. T-Pain dressed as Captain Robert on the cover of his latest album, but that was more confusingly amusing more than anything else. Victoria’s Secret had a Victorian inspired section of this year’s fashion show, but all that really brought on was weird opinions about underwear (sidenote: no, we do not need to be returning to corsets, garters, and stockings as regular wear). However, the community was not prepared for the storm that would be Justin Bieber singing ‘Santa Claus Is Coming To Town’.
The video, which features clips from Arthur Christmas and a $3,000 leather and brass glove created by artist Ian Finch-Feld, takes place in a Steampunk version of Santa’s workshop. The focus is obviously on Bieber, but there’s also some pretty cool scenery, dancing, and fashion. It’s not the best thing ever, but it’s actually pretty nice looking. Of course, forget all that stuff. Bieber went Steampunk! Forget that Panic at the Gym Class Fall Out band! Steampunk is dead now and Bieber is holding the smoking gun! IT’S ALL OVERRRRRRRRRRRR!
Until last week, when Nicki Minaj and David Guetta upped the ante with ‘Turn Me On’.
The video reminds me of a Steampunk Frankenstein story, with an inventor trying to create a perfect creation and the creation getting away from him. The gearwork CG is pretty fantastic, and the costumes are wonderful. Of course, once again, the Steamhipsters cry out that Steampunk is…
Okay, you know what. Stop.
If we’re going to declare that Steampunk is dead every time it goes mainstream, the mainstream isn’t going to be the one that kills it.
There’s a reason so many musicians have started using Steampunk in their videos. And it’s the same reason so many of us flocked to it in the first place. It’s because it’s awesome.
Visually and conceptually, Steampunk is an awesome thing. You have ladies looking sexy in gear that hasn’t been considered attractive in years, technology running on clockwork and steam, and Tesla winning. When a band is producing a music video for a single, they want to focus on making a memorable video that will get people talking and thinking about your product and ultimately buying it. Steampunk looks cool, and people will remember your video if the woman who killed Brendon Urie is caught in a net canon or see Nicki Minaj being made out of gears. For better or worse, by complaining endlessly about so and so “killing” Steampunk, we’re ultimately doing what the artist wants by talking about them.
Complaining is not worst thing the community does though by practicing Steamhipsterness. Stifling potential creativity is.
I mean, it’s bad enough that we aren’t celebrating the fact that The League of S.T.E.A.M. has an expanded audience, had large props scene across the country as Panic! at the Disco toured, and went beyond their $10,000 Kickstarter goal for their second season. It’s bad enough that no one wants to acknowledge the artist who sold a $3,000 piece to Justin Bieber because he sold it to Justin Bieber. It’s bad enough that we forget that the producers of the ‘Turn Me On’ video put out a casting call for Steampunks in LA to play the plastic automotons. The community just wants to focus on the fact that Steampunk is mainstream, and that’s bad.
But by focusing on what’s “bad”, it puts the community in this mindset to exile those who come from the “bad”. What if the next great leather maker came into the community because they saw it in a Panic! at the Disco video, or a potential hatmaker gets interested in Steampunk because they liked the one Nicki Minaj wore? Will we be exiling them because they admit that this is where they came from? How is that any worse than a goth who followed Abney Park to their Steampunk change, someone who got into Steampunk because they saw it at Dragon*Con, or because they saw a Steampunk band open for Voltaire and thought it looked like fun?
The point is that we can’t judge a person for discovering Steampunk from a Justin Bieber video. It’s not any worse than the way you discovered it or the moment you decided you wanted to be a part of that universe. Our community is growing and we simply cannot adhere to the same rules anymore. Cherie Priest recognizes this. Why can’t everyone else?
Steampunk Community, now is not the time to be a Steamhipster! People are noticing us and we’re getting more awesome by the second. If you spend so much time focusing on how the mainstream is interpreting us and how you wish they would stay out or how Steampunk bands should get the budget for these videos, you’ll lose focus on those who really need it or what kind of things are actually coming in because of the mainstream attention. If there’s anything that will really leave this community behind and kill the genre, it will be that mindset. Not a pop-punk band wearing gears and goggles.
And PS… The Bieber video only has a little over 6 million hits on YouTube. The Panic! at the Disco video has over 16 million, but it has been out for a year. Minaj and Guetta have over 12 million and it has been a week. Morals of the Story: Bieber didn’t kill Steampunk, and “You can be the King, but watch the Queen conquer.”