You may find it easier to understand steampunk as an umbrella term. It’s used to describe a particular style that is reminiscent of a certain historical point and using the style and aesthetics of that era to modify or invent modern products. However, the great thing about steampunk is that you have full creative control over your journey and as such, you can decide how you look, what you read, write, draw, photograph or listen to. You don’t have to stick to any rules as to how you indulge yourself in steampunk because it’s about expressing your creativity. Not rules. Articles telling you that there are rules of steampunk – however passive – are simply an author of a blog telling you what they think steampunk is about. Including this one. Does that mean you should ignore what I’ve written? If it goes against what your interpretation of steampunk is, then most certainly!
However, over the past couple of years, steampunk has seen a rise in popularity and has begun to influence popular culture. Some people have decided that their take on steampunk is essentially what everyone else should think steampunk is about. They have laid down a set of rules that you should adhere if you want to “be steampunk”.
Frankly, this flies in the face of the common sense principles of steampunk. The culture is a community of creative souls who wish to express their individuality while utilising a common theme of interest. How can you be individual if someone tells you that steampunk has rules to stick to? Having a common interest isn’t sticking to rules, or liking bacon would be a rule.
Steampunks who have been in the scene for a while are less swayed by the information that’s being fed to them by some of the most popular websites and social media pages. The newcomers to the scene are the ones we have to help. By following the rules of one person, steampunk will inevitably change into something else. While change isn’t a bad thing, it’s only good when it’s done organically by the influx of new thoughts and ideas; not by the egotistical cravings of one or two people.
Therefore, in the face of such adversity, a number of tips may be a good idea for newcomers and established steampunks alike. The idea being that if you’re stuck for ideas or you need a path to find your way then this can help. The list is certainly not here to say “You must style yourself on Victorian” or “You must have a character” because you don’t have to do any of these things. These areas will be covered though, so should you decide you do want a character then you’ll have some suggestions of how to go about doing it.
I’ve asked readers to give their views on what steampunk is about and some of the text is from people who have contributed their time to write a short piece for me. The final decision is ultimately yours and steampunk is all about you, not how you look to other people or what they think you should do. I’ll try to cover as many areas as possible in order to get you started. If you feel there’s an area I’ve not addressed, please let me know. There’s so much to learn about steampunk that one never truly stops being a student.
Before we start with the tips, it’s a good idea to look at the name. Both parts (steam and punk) have equal importance when describing the culture, themes and community that enjoy it. Steampunk stems from the literary fictional genre “Cyberpunk”. I’ll cover that a little more below. Many people think that real life punks are aggressive, left wing anti-establishment youths that listen to loud music and swear a lot. However, that is a tiny fraction of the broad culture of punk. It has a wide range of political views. Punk is based on a DIY ethic, non-conformity, not selling out, anti-authoritarianism and direct action.
Interestingly, the first half of our name was only a suggestion as a differentiation from Cyberpunk which was a popular topic of literature at the time. Cyberpunk is typically futuristic, dystopian in nature, which has a running theme of high technology and low life. That is to say that despite the highly futuristic setting and technological developments, the class system is as strong as ever and ultra rich megacorporations run the world while protagonists are generally from the low end of life. Steampunk can be either dystopian or utopian and the word “steam” was suggested as a link to the way that most vehicles are powered in steampunk novels. Due to the typical setting of novels, steampunks generally tend to lean away from the anti-authoritarianism and direct action that the punk culture is so well known for. We’re a polite bunch of people and it’s supposed to be fun. Because of the history behind the “steam” part of the name, steampunks tend to favour styles with a Victorian theme. Arguably, because you have an interest in modern products that have a Victorian design, you will have found yourself here. To that end, we can safely assume that steampunk uses Victorian principles and the guidelines will reflect this.
It’s worth noting that at no point will you have to use Victorian as your basis – it’s simply what most people decide they want to do. The fact that they do this means they gravitate towards each other (as you have done) and fall under the umbrella term “steampunk”.
The categories are merely here as guidelines for various parts of the culture. You’re not obliged to follow any of them. Steampunk is meant to be fun and if you feel that these restrict your enjoyment, then don’t use them.