Are Steampunks Running the Risk of Losing their Polite Reputation?

Datamancer Seafarer keyboard £1,372.69The internet is a wonderful place. It holds all of human wisdom and knowledge. It’s a place where you can go and voice your opinion knowing that someone out there will see it. Over the years it’s gotten to be a place where the people who would normally simply sound off to a few friends in the pub now have a platform of thousands, if not millions to listen to them.

Cyberpunk origins

One thing I find interesting about steampunk is the close parallel it has with the punk culture. After all, when the term was coined back in 1987 it was really just as a tongue in cheek play on cyberpunk. In turn, the word cyberpunk was originally created in the early 1980s in a book of the same name by Bruce Bethke. He blended the “cyber” from cybernetics with “punk” as a snappy title that indicated exactly what was going on. His “punk” moniker was linked to the criminal activities of the main characters. When the book was released, Punk music was at its most popular and punk anarchists were causing trouble around the world. Putting the two together described a group of vandals in the virtual world of computers and the internet.

However, Punk as a culture isn’t just right-wing skinheads fighting people from other countries; something that the media only ever covered. It’s rich and diverse with multiple political leanings. That’s what I find interesting in all this. Steampunk has essentially mirrored the wider Punk culture and attracts people from all over. It’s well-known for being a welcoming, diverse and tolerant community so it’s not surprising. The downside to that is that it also attracts those that want to impose their own opinions and beliefs on others. We’ve seen it with high-profile episodes such as Falksengate and Abneygate, but it also happens on a more local level.

Taking a turn for the worse

A few days ago I watched a simple thread on a popular steampunk page go from the OP (Original Poster) asking if steampunks were going to visit a non steampunk event to people arguing over various events in that area. It inevitably escalated to conflicts and it started to get out of hand before a few managed to handle and bring it off boil, so to speak.

I think what many people forget is that going on an online forum such as Facebook is a bit like driving a car:

  • You’re in control of your own destination.
  • Other people will get in your way and you have to go round them.
  • You also have to remember that they have their own destination and you’re getting in their way.
  • The idea of driving is to get where you need to be without hitting anyone else. That way nobody gets hurt.
  • However, when behind the controls of a powerful machine (the car being an analogy for the internet in this case) it’s easy to believe that you’re the ruler of the road. Over time this has exacerbated on the internet as a whole to the point where people are called “Keyboard Warriors” if they’re being aggressive behind the keyboard because they feel safe behind the distance and anonymity of the internet. There are also “Trolls” who purposefully say things controversial in order to get a reaction and trigger an argument. Trolls generally say one thing and then don’t comment after as they prefer to watch the fallout. Keyboard Warriors will persevere their argument until people simply give up, in order to press home their opinion.

Solving a problem

The above thread is one of many that I’ve seen all over social media. People have an opinion and they most definitely have the right to voice it. However, as a digression, it’s important to remember that you don’t have freedom of speech on social media. You can’t use “I have free speech” or “I’ll say what I want it’s a free country” as a defence against being an arse. After all, you’re on a privately owned website. So freedom of speech is most certainly something you don’t have. That’s where keyboard warriors fall because the place where they DO have free speech is on the public streets. But that’s not somewhere they’d be happy to speak out.

Because of this acceleration of people saying what they want we’re in an interesting situation. Throughout the years steampunks have gained a splendid reputation for being polite and friendly, tolerant, warm and accepting. Should a newcomer to the scene see these arguments unfolding on a page they’ve just joined, they would be right to think it’s full of the same keyboard warriors and trolls as the rest of the internet. Because of that we’re at risk of losing our reputation of being marvellous ladies and gentlemen.

This article isn’t meant to make everyone get offended, but maybe to think and consider the implications before posting a comment on the internet. Not just because of the possibility of offending people, but also the wider implications of how it could affect the community. The last thing we want is for people outside steampunk thinking we’re elitist stuck up snobs. I worry that if we continue the way we are, that could happen in the future.

There’s more information in Steampunk Journal’s Guidelines to Steampunk here.

9 thoughts on “Are Steampunks Running the Risk of Losing their Polite Reputation?

  1. Agree about the need to prevent us looking like arses (and I already know people who saw the AP spat and decided that), but I’ve never really seen the link to punk (which was bigger in the 70s than the 80s). In US parlance it has a different meaning to the UK. XXX

    1. According to Wikipedia – I know that it’s vastly under-reliable as a source of knowledge, but I can’t imagine who would mess around with this particular page – “Common punk ethos includes anti-authoritarianism, a do-it-yourself ethic, non-conformity, direct action and not “selling out”.
      I think steampunks share many if not all of those traits. 🙂

  2. Steampunk is growing fast, possibly to fast and some of the newcomers are creeping in and getting voracious in there comments and not absorbing the live of Steampunk, hopefully they will encompass the eather of Steampunk and enjoy it for what it is fun and friendly,not to be taken serious. I agree with the previous comment, Steampunk has very little if anything at all to do with the Punk era, I was Young man in that era and cannot see any resemblance to it apart from possibly a few Steampunk bands.

    1. It’s less about the punk music side of punk which was largely right wing nut jobs, and more about the Punk subculture as a whole which, like steampunk, houses multiple political leanings and, as I replied to Danielle earlier (from Wikipedia) “Common punk ethos includes anti-authoritarianism, a do-it-yourself ethic, non-conformity, direct action and not “selling out”. Steampunks tend to wear what they want and not conform to societal pressures. They make many of their own clothes and props, they will stage events themselves and not be taken in by large corporations trying to make money out of them. That’s why big business hasn’t managed to infiltrate steampunk. Even the network show Steampunk’d had judges and contestants directly from the culture. 🙂

      1. Unfortunatly the big Businesses are getting into Steampunk, in the USA look at the Walmart site, not the sort of Stuff I would go for but obviously big business for them so you can now get off the peg steampunks which is a shame as the individuality is lost and love seeing the outfits and inventions when going to Steampunk events. A lot of my clothing over the last few years has been sauced from Antique centers and adapted or as my hat and my wife’s were Steampunked by me from Antique hats both in the region of a hundred years old, and most of our accessories including my Nerf gun, this is what I see as Steampunk love searching these shops for inspiration, and great to see how they come out but do realize not everyone can do this and admit some of the accessories I see at events would be beyond my abilities.Regarding music my tastes go towards difference trends such as Captain of the Lost waves and Victor and the Bully.

      2. I refer less to large companies aiming their sights at gullible customers and more at actual steampunks. Large corporations will never be able to crack us because we prefer hand-made, unique items and they don’t turn a profit 🙂
        The way I see it if it introduces someone to the culture, they’ll soon see that it’s more interesting to have unique clothes and ditch the Walmart stuff. They can serve a purpose for people to find their way to us.
        Sean (Captain) is an incredible singer and don’t tell Matt & Harry that you listen to them as it’ll only stroke their egos. 😉

  3. There are quite a few people within the community who already think some Steampunks are “stuck up elitist nobs”, and not without reason. And there are many more people outside the community who are certain we are all “stuck up elitist nobs”.

    1. I work in retail and there are these in real life who think they are better than other people, and sure also in Steampunk,but these are the people missing out on the fun, but in general most are a friendly bunch and wiling to help, I certainly try to be. It is a shame when the fun element slips, that is why I got into Steampunk to dress stylish if not a bit zany but mainly good fun and feel part of a community.The rivalry between Goths and Steampunks baffles me, we have all heard of the rivalry at Whitby. Both groups enjoy what they do and maybe I am being Naive but cannot see any reason why we can’t all get along. Hopefully others think the same

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