One Must Always Watch One’s Words

Good evening, mesdames et monsieurs.

I do thank you for your patience. Life, once again, has gotten away from me. But enough prattle and whine…

Recently I attended a Comic Con held in my new city of residence. It was well attended, boasted quite a few excellent guests, offered an expansive dealers’ room and some very interesting panels. Among the superheroes, the stormtroopers, the apes and daleks and robots and graphic novel characters there were some extremely wonderful steampunk folk.

I ensured that I made it to two of the panels on steampunk: Steampunk 101 and Steampunk Clothing.

I have a slight issue with Steampunk 101 classes having been involved with such for six years and counting at this point. Where are the following courses? Where is Steampunk 201 [So You’re Steampunk, Now What?], Steampunk 301 [The Devil IS in the Details] and the advanced Steampunk 401 [Etiquette Both Personal and Social as Embedded in the Steampunk Subculture] as well as the off shoots into the -02. -03 and onwards? Steampunk has been embraced by the media and the mainstream, something oft heard complained about, and most everyone knows what it is at the basic level: that which is taught in the 101 courses.

I was very pleased with some of this particular course as it did wander through the geo-centricity and temporal focus of the subculture and kicked those doors wide. But there were two points that niggled.

The smallest of the pair, which bothers me only a little, is when people talk about the ‘punk’ in Steampunk without experience or proper knowledge of the punk period and movement. Having lived through it, in it, and around it myself, I must admit that it rankles when Steampunks offer their ‘expert opinion’ on the ‘punk’ facet without actually having a solid grounding in what they are speaking of. But this part of the 101 was easily passed through and over.

The large, and by large I mean elephantine, shock was a statement made by one of the presenters; a gentleman from Montreal. He said, and I paraphrase but it is very close to his exact wording as I remember “The only way to do Steampunk wrong, I tell people, is to buy the box of prefab Steampunk outfit made by the big mainstream corporation with the Steampunk label stamped across the box.”

And to this I must say: Nonsense! Piffling nonsense. Nonsense from both sides and the middle. And unfortunately some people new to Steampunk may have listened to him and will now have the wrong approach.

It is indeed possible to “do” Steampunk incorrectly without buying in bulk. I often tell people who wish to experiment that they should try things and see how others respond. If it is met with frowns and whispers then hie thee back to the drawing board. If it is greeted with smiles and applause then it is successful.

And those boxes sold in chain stores, filled with plastic and cheap fabric bits, with the brazen “Steampunk” stamp boldly printed across the cover? Yes indeed, do feel free to purchase one of those if ’tis your first foray into the community.

It is apparent to me that the gentleman I have paraphrased has never heard the term ‘gateway’.

The goth/industrial subculture was little known and less understood until Trent Reznor’s “Closer” and Marilyn Manson’s stage theatrics and marketing creation. While both are pooh-poohed by most members of the g/i community it did introduce new blood to the clubs and the coffee shops, it brought new folk to the music and the fashion, it continued to inject life into the genre and the aesthetic.

The most common reason I hear for why someone has not made a steampunk gather is that they do not have an outfit. If buying a prefabricated outfit in a box allows them to make that first step into the community, if it allows them to walk into their first gather then I say huzzah to the retailer who supplies them this needed item. From that first step in the new entrant can THEN be offered advice, can learn of sources and styles, can begin developing their own aesthetic and build their own wardrobe. But without that first step, without the gateway then the new blood will not be maximized.

The speaker obviously did not consider access, income and creativity which is not offered equally to all people. He, perhaps unwittingly, has set up a group of steampunks for ridicule: those ‘poor’ folk who start with a box kit. He has pretty much said “you, you ‘real’ steampunks, may look down your nose at those people who purchase it as a boxed set, as they are doing it wrong.”

Can one do Steampunk wrong? I think yes, though I would more use the term ‘incorrectly’ than to say wrongly. Is what is wrong to be found in a box in a large retail location? I do not think it is that easy.

And again I say stuff and nonsense.

H.A. Higgins-Keith

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2 thoughts on “One Must Always Watch One’s Words

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