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steampunk as subculture

Started by kiskolou, February 24, 2007, 01:11:29 AM

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Really, one of the things that makes steam-punk so great is how different it is to everyone, and the fact that it isn't anything in particular. You can't buy it at hot-topic. If you say you are steam-punk, you are. But what this thread is asking, is what a steam-punkian lifestyle is to you, if possible.

To me, it would be punks with etiquette. Scientific, romantic, artistic, and unique deviants that reject the molds of modern society. Victorian sensibility with modern truths (steampunks are NOT racist, imperialistic, homophobic, ect), and a bit of a fuck-the-establishment attitude. A little bit of geek thrown in, what with the obsession with clockwork and steam-tech (and lady lovelace, can't forget her). There is a general attitude of.. respect in the demeanor of my idea of a steampunkian . We don't necessarily try to be outcasts, but our refusal to let ourselves be brainwashed makes us just that often. Of course, steampunks would have different beliefs and moral codes, and scholarly debate should be encouraged, for there is a bit of truth in everything. In reality, our willingness to learn is one of the things that makes us so different. Knowledge is our form of rebellion. There is no uniform for a Steam-punk in my mind, the only thing i wear that could be considered steampunky is a wind-up pocketwatch with the gears visible (being a teenager people find this very peculiar, but maybe that is part of my attraction to it). Music-wise, it really doesn't matter, as long as it conjures up visions of airship explorations and rusty cogs. That is just my opinion however...

P.S: Yes, i know, some parts of my definition are very similar to other definitions of steampunk subculture, but i agreed with those parts.
and i also i know i posted this on nov-net and the myspace group already, but this forum is the friggin brass goggles forum!
"There will always be a lost world for you here..." - Atterton

Your reality sir, is lies and balderdash and i am delighted to say i have no grasp of it whatsoever!


Oh, does this count as a political discussion? At least micro-politics? Hopefully not, because i just read your guidelines. Don't use me to feul the boilers please!
"There will always be a lost world for you here..." - Atterton

Your reality sir, is lies and balderdash and i am delighted to say i have no grasp of it whatsoever!

Jake von Slatt

Here! Here! mod up, insightful.

For me there is a do-it-yourself, maybe techno-libertarian (small "l") ethic as well. 

A steampunk p0wns his machines, he's not p0wnd by them as so many modern day muggles are.
The Industrial Revolution . . . This time it's personal.


Quote from: kiskolou on February 24, 2007, 01:11:29 AM
respect in the demeanor of my idea of a steampunkian

Mmmmm...  Steamed Pumpkins...

What?  Oh.

Honestly, I've thought that The Difference Engine, by Gibson and Sterling, was an excellent example of what steampunk life should be like.  A better life is merely a few cogs and a boiler away.  I only wish that I'd gotten a little more in to the anachronisms when younger, and not merely stopped at the old pair of welding goggles.  I don't have much chance to insert my love for antique machines in to my everyday, married, parenting life.  I miss being able to express myself a little more without the stares from the boss and coworkers...
The only thing more important that squashing one's foe, is doing so with style and panache... - Jake of All Trades

Join the fun here: http://www.b


This is actually a repost from the myspace group and has touched off some good discussion there. Johnny Payphone had some interesting things to say on the subject, so allow me to repost in his name. He always has fun stories and cool stuff to share, so hopefully he'll join up and continue the discussion himself, but I don't know if he's on the computer regularly enough to keep up with a forum.

Johnny Payphone:

For me, I'm entirely disinterested in fictional steampunk other than the fact that it is visually pleasing. I've never read a steampunk novel or comic book, I don't play roleplaying games since I graduated 8th grade, nor do I have the money to dress up in lace and mince around at some goth club. I accept that steampunk culture is going to encompass a certain amount of fashion and fiction, but I just don't believe in consuming culture- rather, I live my life the way I want it to be and it just happens to end up looking like steampunk. I mean, Iggy Pop never went out and said, "Oh, I want to be a punk, so I should go to punk clubs and read punk novels and dress like a punk and then I'll be one." He just did his thing. It's like Dr. Evermor told me when I asked him a similar question: "I've heard that word- retrofuturism- but I'm not interested in that. I am just trying to build a giant copper egg to fling myself into the ether." He recognizes that his bugs and stuff are art (which he believes anyone can and should make, not just Artists), but his machines are not, they are real. Yes that's a tank engine on an electric bus chassis but it's also his crane. I mean, look at the guy's grill! He just built that to cook steaks. And remember, he started sculpting at age 40.

In the live steam world, the population curve is centered around 65 years of age. The folks who work on locomotives tend to be old white guys in blue coveralls. So the punk comes in a little bit from the new generation, whose numbers are sadly lacking. You can walk into any roundhouse in this country and if there is a steam locomotive there you will immediately be put to work simply because interest is so rare. Some of the 'steampunks' I've met have never heard the term- they're just metalheads who engineer their dad's steam tractor at steam-ups and such. Not to say that live steam is the only aspect of victoriana that steampunk embodies- I don't want to diminish the efforts of people who make steampunk jewelry, clothes, or computers- but for me those things aren't useful unless they are then applied to your life to make it more like you wish it to be. That, after all, is the essence of "punk": a refusal to accept the world you're handed.

So I end up dallying in a lot of different crowds- the old iron crowd, the victoriana collector crowd, the neovictorian goth crowd, the sideshow circus and vaudeville crowd, the vintage camera crowd, the tube electronics crowd, and the recreationist cycling crowd. As far as I have experienced the only true lifestyle steampunk can be found at events put on by groups like Neverwas. At Burning Man there was a steampunk bar, where steampunks who didn't know each other could park their steam vehicles out front and go have some absinthe... where else in the world can that happen? I presume some day folks from the abovementioned circles will converge on some kind of steampunk scene, but as it is it's pretty nascent. That's okay, that just means we're ahead of our time. Sadly, one day you WILL be able to buy brass goggles at Hot Topic, only it will be called Proffessor P. Phineas McGillicudy's Fantastic Gogglemagorium or whatever.

But it's not just a weekend warrior thing for me. I mean, I don't have an ipod, a television, a credit card, an x-box, a car, or a cell phone- these things are soulless and decrease our quality of life. It's not that I gave up those things to be a steampunk, its more that I'm a steampunk (or a retrogrouch) because I eschew those things. I listen to old-time radio programs (there are some great internet stations that actually recreate old broadcasts with ads and everything), I shave with a brush and soap, I keep track of my finances in a big giant ledger, I get around on a pennyfarthing (or some approximation thereof), I prefer to correspond by mail, and most importantly I require a direct connection to the technology and people in my life. It's like Doc said, technology used to be accessible to the common man, every person could be an inventor, and certainly every owner of any piece of technology was an owner-operator. Now most of the technology we use, we don't understand how it works. Maybe we understand abstractly but I certainly couldn't make a new hard drive on a lathe. The internet is one modern convenience I allow myself- it lets me find similarly-minded folks. Still, if I quit it today it wouldn't be much of a loss. I derive the most joy in doing things the same way they've been done for hundreds of years. But because I'm a steampunk and not, say, a recreationist, I can combine technology from different eras. I listen to 8-tracks because it pleases me to preserve that technology. I can repair the tape inside if it breaks. Ours is the last century of "user serviceable parts inside".

Discussion topics:

1) It costs a lot of money to buy fancy old suits and hats and stuff. Then everybody wants to dress up to be the lord of the manor or the gentry or whatever. But the thing about the good ole days is that they sucked for most people. Nobody goes to Ren fest to catch the plague. Personally, my profession as a metalworker allows me to feel like a Victorian craftsman- and I certainly get as dirty as they did in the olden days. My role is the blacksmith, not the lord of the manor. But who will be the servants? And who will be the street urchins? My guess is that street urchin is an excellent way to be a steampunk when you don't have any money. Discuss.

2) Is EVERY steampunk movie ever made visually appealing, wholly unbelieveable, and cheesy? Witness: Wild Wild West, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang... Discuss.

"I'm not a paranoid deranged millionaire. Goddamit, I'm a billionaire." - Howard Hughes

Jake von Slatt

I just replied to Mr. Payphone's post on Myspace, I'll take the liberty of cross-posting my reply here (but I think I'll not make a habit of it)
Mr Payphone,

You have not so much made a post as written a manifest! Bravo! I've been searching for my own definition of Steampunk - trying to emphasis the punk since I think the steam side is well represented - and you've nailed several salient points.

"But the thing about the good ole days is that they sucked for most people."

Actually for most people they still suck. Outside of the cities many people in the second and nearly everyone in the third world lives a 19th century existence. But some of these folk have the punk mindset, like this hero:

"I get everything I have from the dumpster."

It is so much more satisfying to make something with found materials, in fact I would rather work hard to make anything then sit behind my desk and work for money to buy something nicer.

I'm sure you guys have seen the stuff I've made for The Steampunk Workshop ( but the thing that I got the most enjoyment out off building so far is my bus:

Almost everything you see is from our town dump, craigslist, or friends who were throwing something away. There's more here:

<snip>  the rest is redundant.

The Industrial Revolution . . . This time it's personal.


To me it's going back to a romantic era full of mystery and (sometimes mad) science.
I like the feeling of being secretive and rebellious, but at the same time being civilized and proper. I love the way everything looks, the leather, the feather pens, the wood, the intricate carvings and decoration. It flows into my beliefs about the environment, that steam is better and that mass train transit would be better. I want to get away with walking down the street with a cane and old clothing.
It makes me feel nostalgic for the old times, but at the same time I like the new stuff.
If only steampowered cars and computers were widespread and there were lots and lots of gears and goggles in the world. Oh what a grand place it would be.
Also more books.

Edit now that I'm thinking about it more:
I guess it reminds me of a fantastical world that really could exist, one that exists nearly parallel to ours and we really could achieve. It reminds me of stories my grandfather would tell me, and of an old europe.
It's so full of culture and amazing things. The things I love to see is the modified computers, they really make me feel like the fantasy of steampunk is just right around the corner instead of some far off distant era (like cyberpunk) or like it's trying to feel modern.
I can't wait until I'm finished with school and I can get back to tinkering more :)


Ya, i reposted this, but it was my post before too. To i guess that's a cross-post. Ew. Sorry..
"There will always be a lost world for you here..." - Atterton

Your reality sir, is lies and balderdash and i am delighted to say i have no grasp of it whatsoever!


haha no it's cool, i'm glad you did. It's an important issue and I'm sure it'll get more contributions and differing viewpoints here.
"I'm not a paranoid deranged millionaire. Goddamit, I'm a billionaire." - Howard Hughes


Actually, i originally posted it on nov-net. So that makes it a double cross-post. Double Ew...
"There will always be a lost world for you here..." - Atterton

Your reality sir, is lies and balderdash and i am delighted to say i have no grasp of it whatsoever!


I guess I'm not really into the whole steam punk life style or anything like that. I just think its a really cool looking visual style.


Quote from: kiskolou on February 24, 2007, 01:11:29 AMpunks with etiquette

If not a band name along the lines of NWA it surely has to become an album title at some point :)

if I went 'round saying I was an Emperor just because some moistened bint had lobbed a scimitar at me, they'd put me away!

Steampunk Collective thread


I appreciate the crossposting here, as I don't go to those sites. They were well written, and my thanks for providing the information.

I like the focus on the tinkering. I am always building things to suit my needs. I am currently working on a light weight pair of goggles for sunglasses when I ride my bike because I break sunglasses like nobodies business. (Awaiting materials to arrive, and a healthy couple of days to feel up to tinkering.)

That kind of building and tinkering to suit one's needs is what drew me to the genre initially. I had no idea that there was a genre where other folks liked the old machines, gears, and cogs. Where sometimes the simplest solution is the older way of doing things. Don't get me wrong, I am a technophile with all the gadgets, but I try to minimize the plastic look with an older aesthetic.

I also like the old sensibilities I am seeing from my teen years. I was a hitchhiking gutter punk back then, spare changing and dumpster diving for my needs. Although, I have grown up, and decided to make a living, I still find those skills serve me well. I am more likely to dumpster dive, freecycle, or whatnot for raw materials for my creations, than I am to go out and buy things. It seems so wasteful to purchase things when you just know it's out there, waiting to be found. Not to mention sometimes I find something that causes me to rethink the problem, and by it's very essence come up with a more interesting solution.

I guess what drew me to the subculture originally was the focus on hands on creation. Second, I was struck by the focus on intelligent discourse. The use of words in all their glory, not some illiterate message shorthand. Lastly, the open ended viewpoint, of it's acceptable to those in the genre to take as little or as much as they wanted out of it. That kind of benevolent tolerance is refreshingly wonderful.
Nothing hides evidence like a stew. -Gus Pratt


Well put, heresy. I feel like I have to link to another post I just made due to the eery similarity of what you just said (it's even got a krust punk anecdote). This post is kind of following along with the same subject.

So let's i've cross-referenced a post, on a double-crossed post.........carry the y.......crap where does that leave us?
"I'm not a paranoid deranged millionaire. Goddamit, I'm a billionaire." - Howard Hughes

Honky-Tonk Dragon

I really love these philosophical discussions about steampunk. This is a conversation I've been having in my head for some time.
Like kiskolou mentioned, the fact that the "movement" is still young and unformed is very attractive to me. I hope that it never really becomes rigid and dogmatized (ahem... though, that would be authentically Victorian.)
As far as lifestyle is concerned, one of the things I have been thinking about lately is steampunk as a reaction against planned obsolescence. There were a few more years before the constant upgrade cycle became a standard in our Western lifestyle, but it seems the Victorian era was the height Western manufacturing quality. By that I mean, that just about any consumer product you bought could be an heirloom. Something that was built well enough that not only would it last your lifetime, but could be proudly handed down to future generations.
There have been many subcultures that have reacted against what has been perceived as an inherent materialism in our culture. I think the problem is one of consumerism, not materialism. If we were truly materialists, we would insist on products of quality, rather than spending less so that we can have more things.
How does this relate to steampunk directly?
Well look at Datamancer's The Nagy Magical-Movable-Type Pixello-Dynamotronic Computational Engine. I'd be willing to bet Datamancer will be using that puppy for the rest of his life. And when he passes on to that final boiler-room, someone else will proudly keep using it. As technology progresses the CPU, drives, display, will probably all be replaced, but the housing will remain. How many Dells or Apples will somebody else have gone through in all those years?
So as far as lifestyle, a lot of it boils down to me as what Greens would call appropriate technology. That's a lot broader than most folks definition of steampunk... I'm not a Neo-Victorian. I pick and choose my lifestyle accouterments from many eras, finding what fits me best, not what anyone else thinks I should have. Perhaps I like a little more punk with my steam than most.
If you couldn't guess from my handle and avatar, I like some whimsy and phantasy in my steampunk as well. Timelessness, elegance, etiquette: these things seem almost absurdly stuffy to modern values. And there was a lot of stuffiness, snobbery, and repression in the Victorian era. Phantasical elements, a sense of humor, especially about oneself, are very important to me to counteract that.

Artistically, well, steampunk is just very inspiring to me. I'm new to the inspiration, it's still infecting my artistic sensibilities. I've only begun one steampunk project, customizing my vintage Vespa with a thematic look, and that's developing slowly.
As a painter though, the previously mentioned emphasis on craft is extremely appealing. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy a lot of "modern art." But in art especially, we as a culture have sacrificed technique and craft in favor of the "original idea". Ultimately, I'd prefer to look at something that was an original idea and was exquisitely crafted. But if forced to choose between a sloppily executed original idea, and a exquisitely crafted painting that was yet another version of some tableau from Greek myth... Leda and the Swan would win every time.
"I replied that only <i>lost</i> causes were of any interest to a gentleman..."
Jorge Luis Borges "The Shape of the Sword"

Official Engraver of the Imperial Stamps of the Duchy of McIntyre


Even on Second Life, our group is quite varied if you ask them what steampunk is.   The most general "bins" you could fit us all into is "Victorian" and "early 20th century"  And it's not so much that these are labels,  as they are more like flavors of the same ice cream.  I am in complete agreement with the "damn the man" attitude, as I think that is the most solid thing that links us to our unlikely sister culture Cyberpunk.  As for "punks with etiquette" I am also in agreement, etiquette and education. 

I also think a lot of us understand that once machines were refined from their crude beginnings they became stylish and pretty.  So why wouldn't our modern computer age do the same?  Now that mechanics are place art may flourish.  What is the point of all these new fangled gadgets if one can't look spiffing using them!

Just some random thoughts, I hope they were to your liking.
"It's what a cove knows that counts, ain't it Sybil?  More than land or money, more than birth.  Information. Very flash." -Mick Radley

"Teaching boys to bake cakes? That's no way to maintain an industrial empire." --Fred Dibnah


Quote from: S.Sprocket on February 24, 2007, 06:23:24 PM
Even on Second Life, our group......

What is the point of all these new fangled gadgets if one can't look spiffing using them!
Amen!! ha ha I love it and its so so true.

I was thinking of giving second life a it worth it you think?


It would cool to know who here has a 2nd life account.
I set one up some time back but for some reason my firewall keeps locking me out.
Tinker Girl I understand it has had some trips there.

Josh of Vernian Process

For me,

I don't really picture Steampunk as a subculture, more as an extention of pre-existing groups such as Neo-Victorians.

I do wholly support the idea, but I find it hard to envision such a thing. When I started doing my Steampunk projects, I was aware of a small group of people that were also interested in the same things, but at that time I had not heard of any of the wonderful craftsman/ladies out there in the ether. But now I rally do see the foundations of a steampunk subculture forming. It is fascinating to me, but at the same time I fear the assimilation of it by the larger forces of media and the curse of hot-topic. It's already started, and it's only a matter of time before it becomes the new fad for the coming generation.

At least we know there will always be those of us that really have a deep love for the genre and see it as much more than a passing fad.
Gilded Age Records is a collective of like minded Indie artists, all unified by a common 19th Century/Steampunk theme.
<A HREF=""><img src="">


One of the points both Datamancer and Honky-Tonk Dragon have made really hits home. It's the rejection of the idea of planned obsolescence. During the last decade and a half, I have had the same conversation with my husband. It revolves around my lamentation of the loss of craftsmanship in the goods I have to buy. I would pay a lot more for everyday mundane items if I knew the craftmanship was beautiful, functional, and would last. I guess that is what, in part, draws me to the ideas inherent to the era.

I suppose we could all arbitrarily try to set boundaries on the edges of what we view the genre, but in the end it would be fruitless. We all see it differently. I see it as a hands on tinkering filled with brass cogs, and machines made to last a lifetime. I had no idea there were others that held similar ideas to my own until recently. I just watched projects from MAKE, instructables, and stumbled on brass goggles when I was researching pictures for my own goggle project. I am overjoyed to find others working on projects in the same vein, and am pleased by the discovery of similar ideologies.

Nothing hides evidence like a stew. -Gus Pratt


After being embroiled in Steampunk since the late 90's, thinking about this matter of Steampunk subculture for a while now and having a row about this on my Yahoo Group, I find myself still drawn to the definition I kind of glommed onto 6 or 7 years ago:

Steampunks are people who like the genre of Steampunk.

That's all.

Some like it enough to dress up in Steampunk costumes, or make music with Steampunk themes or videos, or decorate their houses with Neo-Victorian stuff. That's just the extreme end of the fandom. But in terms of shared values, beliefs, etc... Nah, we just all like crazy Victorian gadgets and stories about them.   


I don't agree, Cory.  I think it is just too soon to know.  Many subcultures have shared beliefs and social traits.  Steampunks are just now networking enough with each other for the culture to start fleshing out.  I think, very soon, cultural values will emergence (such as one obvious value on recycling junk into treasure).

I've watched it happen (although in an unexprectedly rapid fashion) with my other interest group, conlangers. And with minority to which I belong, which has gained an open and defined culture over this past century.

While defining steampunk in such general terms is correct, I doubt it can be the final definition.   
Tempus Rerum Imperator.

"But that's not steampunk hjghahkahjkfdsahjklfdsa!!!!!11one11" -- Anachronist

20,000 leagues below Chuck E' Cheese


Not everyone shares the value or technical ability of recycling junk into treasure. Or a rough and ready rejection of modern consumer aesthetics... Steampunk is phenominally consumeristic and some people's idea is just riding the 20,000 Leagues ride at Disneyland.

To be honest, I think the primary problem that any supposed Steampunk culture has is illustrated by the comparison to Cyberpunk: you can pass-off Cyberpunk as a legitimate subculture because it is fundamentally an aesthetic of the computer age, which is present and accounted for and vital. Yes much of it is contrived (the tubing on my girlfriend's hairfalls is metalic painted plastic), but it's still current.

Steampunk is saddled with the problem that its fundamental premise is the Victorian Era of Jules Verne... Its based on a past never actually existed. As much as we want to dress it up with every other philosophical gloss we can think of to make it more than it is, it's still make-believe, cosplay, dressup... Victorian Adventurers in a Past that Wasn't. 

The advance of the Victorian aesthetic is, as Josh pointed out, Neo-Victorianism. It's applying Victorian aesthetic principles to otherwise wholly modern technology, like my CD-player stereo that looks like an old time radio. Yes you can put a box on your computer that makes it look like it's powered by coal, but it isn't (at least, not directly). It's just costuming appliances and calling it "Steampunk", just like we costume ourselves and call it "Steampunk". But those nuts and bolts in my arm in my avatar photo are rubber attached with liquid latex.

The more interesting question to me is not if Steampunk carries some particular social dogma, or can be made to, but rather why people want it to. I suspect that it might have a lot to do with the relatively recent and strong infusion of influence from people in alternative subcultures like Goth, Punk and Rivet who want to transfer that "alternativeness" to Steampunk and make it more than it actually is. 


First post here, so be nice.

Anyway, to me, i don't consider myself a steampunk. I consider steampunk the style of machines, of cogs, wheels and coal. To me being a steampunk sounds a bit unattainable. What i really think steampunk is, is like what those wonderful people at are doing. There punk, but they've taken a little bit of interest in machines, and steampunk gadgets, and started to produce a magazine about it in a 'stick it to the man' way.
I don't listen to steampunk music, 'cuz i don't think any of them sound particularly punky, however they've all got these great instruments and whatnot, and other members of the community consider them steampunk.

And thats really what i think steampunk is: diversity, not everyone being the same.


Now anybody is crossposting here, I'll join and answer the same question again:

I don't know... I'm involved in the pagan community (heathens, wicca and so on) and your definition of "a steampunk lifestyle" fits to the pagan community as wel, except for the "Victorian sensibility" that can easily be renamed "Celtic sensibility" or "Viking sensibility", just according to which pagan you ask. Obsession with tech swapped with magic and the picture is more or less complete. However, not each steampunk has a love for steam-techniques, the item is never discussed anywhere.

Said that, I am also involved in some other sub-cultures like Goths and true punks, and it is basically all the same.

I'd say, steampunks are modern people like anyone else who get their inspiration from either the Victorian age and/or steam technology, and might be "rivet-heads on brass".

I never ever met anyone with a steampunk life-style. I think the lifestyle is limited to fashion statements and home-decoration, and a love for a certain kind of gothic/industrial music. It's pretty limited for a life.

What I would fit into my livestyle is the fact that I go to many steam-events and it is my wish to be educated to drive a steam-engine. Get my hands dirty, and most probably everything else too.


@ VonSlatt:
QuoteA steampunk p0wns his machines, he's not p0wnd by them as so many modern day muggles are.
That's the classic definition of a hacker. And yes, cyberpunk is a synonym to hacker. A steampunk is a hacker who works with steam. Easy as that. But I don't think being a hacker is a lifestyle. I've met many, but they are all different.

@ Mr Payphone:
QuoteMy role is the blacksmith, not the lord of the manor. But who will be the servants? And who will be the street urchins? My guess is that street urchin is an excellent way to be a steampunk when you don't have any money.
I agree. Another name for street-urchin would be "punk". I think these come the closest to steampunks.
In the book Gothic by Richard Davenport-Hines it is explaned why the lords and ladies are as much dependant on their servants as the other way around. You can't be a master without having slaves, and you can't be a slave without a master. That is how Victorian society worked.
When there's a will, there's a dirigible to take you there