Does steampunk have a future? Where else can we go? Or will it stagnate and die off?
The argument over how long steampunk has been around has raged since steampunk has been around. Who you ask will depend on the answer you receive. During that time (whichever time it is) we’ve seen absolutely superb work produced by truly talented artists. There are well known names in making such as Bruteforce Studios, the late Datamancer or Herr Doktor. Literary icons such as Gail Carriger, Cherie Priest or Bruce Sterling. And musical heroes such as Steam Powered Giraffe and Professor Elemental. These are just the big names. The vast majority of steampunks actually make their own art either for themselves or peddling it at markets across the world.
The rise in the popularity of steampunk has seen mainstream musicians make music videos heavily influenced in steampunk. From Lindsey Sterling to Savant and even Justin Bieber. Film and television has relied on the nostalgic feel of steampunk to embody the look of yesterday while explaining futuristic achievements. We’ve even had our own reality making show. Steampunk’d lasted for one series and featured well known names in the community as judges and contestants.
The future from the past
When Datamancer created a working steampunk laptop, he inspired so many others to go out and do something similar. Now there’s a steampunk version of practically anything. While I was thinking of a character to create for a new outfit, I had real trouble finding something that hadn’t already been done. I settled on creating a steampunk Freddy Krueger, which I wore to a couple of events, and I created a steampunk Jawa outfit for The Hellfire Club photography website.
What could this mean then? I’m not for one moment suggesting that I thought up every single pulp character or profession to try and adapt (steampunk window cleaner, anyone?)
But could there be a point where we realise it’s all been done? Is there enough new material coming out for us to adapt to steampunk? The saturation of the culture with new people discovering it is a welcome one. But with that comes new ideas which decreases the time left before everything has been covered.
Satisfyingly, that could well mean that we move away from this need to adapt cultural icons into steampunk versions of themselves. But they look so cool though.
Could it be that for the most part we’ve lost our way? Steampunk is about mixing old with new, but that doesn’t mean it has to be something existing. Could it become more about making things up? That side of steampunk making is obviously very popular already. But there’s a steady mix between the two factions. Could we see ideas become more threadbare?
Let’s push things forward
Arguably, I think one essential part of keeping steampunk so popular in the mainstream public’s eye is our unwillingness to allow big corporations to come in and take over. They skirt around on the outside creating visually stunning films or clothing but they never get in. Because that’s not what steampunk is about. We’re too clever for big business.
Moving forward, the answer will likely lie with the young newcomers. They’re the ones who will have new ideas that will differ to what we know today. That’s not to say that current makers don’t have excellent, original ideas. But as generations come through, they bring a fresh outlook on the same subject. An outlook that I, for one, welcome.