Interesting contrarian take on steampunk


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Interesting contrarian take on steampunk

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jul 23, 2008, 8:28am

Here we have an article leveling some interesting criticisms at the steampunk esthetic.

jul 23, 2008, 9:22am

First off, I disagree with their quote "In all of the new Steampunk design there is a strong nostalgia for a time when technology was mysterious" - what I've read has been a nostalgia for a time when technology was understood, when a person at home could understand how the things they use every day worked, as opposed to everything being hidden in (dare I say it, ugly) boxes that most people never open for fear of screwing something up. Whether or not that's how it actually was, that's the feel I've got from reading about steampunk designers.

And...for pete's sake, what's wrong with taking an ugly computer and making it beautiful? Articles that denigrate an aesthetic style for - omg! being aesthetic! - annoy me. If you're interested in how a Victorian person might have actually designed a computer, read some steampunk lit. If you want something beautiful, look at the aesthetic style.

jul 23, 2008, 9:34am

What a waste of criticism. I liked what one commenter said: "It's fun. Anyone remember fun?"

jul 23, 2008, 9:39am

3 ladagata

I missed that comment, but I agree. I've seen posts elsewhere saying nasty things about steampunk, and I just don't get it. Those people make beautiful things because they want to (and, unlike what that article said, much of it is not commercial and most of them certainly do not have "publicists", what rubbish!).

jul 24, 2008, 7:24am

bluesalamanders @ 2,

I was also struck by the "mysterious" technology comment - a steam engine is much easier to understand (if you don't worry about the thermodynamics) than a computer.

The DIY aspect is the best part of steampunk - people are making their own artifacts. I do think that DIY will get lost if steampunk becomes really big - we'll be surrounded by apparently-homemade items bought at Target.

jul 24, 2008, 10:02am

If anything, seeing these Victorianized creations makes me wish I had DIY skills. If people are gonna say nasty things about something, save it for litterbugs or the subway system.

jul 24, 2008, 8:18pm

I see it as more of a craft or an artform - a means of expression. When fashion designers include elements of Victoriana, does anyone lament the aesthetic? Many of us favor unique and handcrafted over "sleek" and mass produced. As for Steampunk being nothing more than a veneer or an artistic vision...yes - and why not? It is little more than a subgenre of science fiction, anyway. No more real or actual than faerie kitsch or the various flavors of "Goth." I find it fascinating and entertaining simply because it is so unattainable and arbitrary. Everyone has their own vision of Steampunk...we recognize it when we see it and there is no such thing as "authenticity." Each person can approach the concept in their own fashion. There is no standard and there is no frontier. I admire those who are willing to create a Steampunk vision and to make the genre their own.

How about an easier target? Can't we just go and bash Furries? j/k

jul 24, 2008, 8:30pm

It's interesting to look at this google trends comparison.

dec 9, 2008, 11:41am

I just kept thinking, "Who pissed in this guy's Wheaties this morning?" Why get mad at a group of people that's doing something for fun. They're not petitioning to make all computers have oldstyle typewriter keyboards - they're just saying they like them.

jan 4, 2009, 3:22pm

All I could think of is "Snark, Snark Snark, here's another idiot who doesn't like something so feels the need to piss all over it." THAT is what this world is coming too. Sadly I couldn't post a comment, but that's how I feel about jerks like this who feel the need to dis other people's likes and dislikes.

apr 20, 2009, 12:02pm

>1 dukedom_enough:, Thanks for posting, dukedom, I always enjoy a contrarian take on anything. I think this article captures what I find most perplexing about the steampunk aesthetic, which as I understand it (and my understanding is admittedly limited, so I am more than willing to be corrected here) is about exposing the workings of things & how it is applied to modern technology, which seems to be sticking on antiquarian things like gears that don't actually have anything to do with how modern things actually work. The author says:

“The wonderful thing about a steam engine is that you can follow the path of power generation and function beginning with the fire box and boiler, follow the plumbing, valves, gauges, gears, d-valves, pistons, eccentric shafts and fly-wheels all the way from the source of power to the final outcome of kinetic potential.” One could easily argue that following the etched surface of a printed circuit board would provide no less a fascinating visual "map" of the processes of a computer or electronic device.

And this is what I find confusing about the project of "steampunking" things like computers - although I will admit here to being very taken with some of the designs I've seen. Sure, you can box your computer in wood and attach old-timey typewriter keys to the keyboard, but isn't that just obfuscating how the thing works & suggesting it is something it is not, rather than celebrating the design elements of its function?

A fair number of people seem to disagree with and even be offended by the article and I do agree that - at least from my understanding - the author is wrong when he says that steampunk reflects nostalgia for a time when technology was mysterious. blue, I think your interpretation in post #2 is more accurate. I think a lot of people look back on the Victorian era and see a period where the non-professional (i.e., the "gentleman scientist") could still hope to contribute to scientific discovery. And from what I've read about the history of science, this is an accurate picture. Shortly after this period, scientific discoveries exploded & science became much more professionalized and closed off to the amateur, who could no longer afford the time and sophisticated instruments required to make valuable contributions. As blue points out, who now except a small number of people would feel comfortable taking apart a computer?

apr 21, 2009, 8:21am


Right; computers are fantastically intricate, but mostly at levels where we cannot modify them - the fine detail is all inside the chips and hard drive. We want control over our environment, and since we don't build our goods from raw materials by ourselves, we are reduced to decorating them. Then again, decoration has always been a feature of technology - the ancient Greeks painted scenes on their vases, which certainly wasn't necessary. Computer technology points toward a plain box plus keyboard, screen and mouse; all smooth, characterless and abstract. Yet computer casemods - fancy, often whimsical cases for the functional parts - are very popular, and steampunk is only one of the themes the builders adopt. Perhaps we should just think of this as one more fashion, part of the universal tendency toward decoration.

I am acquainted with Jake von Slatt. He has a rare set of mechanical skills, and he'd always be doing something to make things his own. If steampunk didn't exist, he'd be doing something else. An esthetic movement provides something to aim at.

The Google trends comparison shows steampunk still on the rise, I see.

feb 27, 2011, 1:51pm

Very good point, bluesalamanders.
Steam was something that could be understood and experienced.
Computers, on the other hand, are mysterious to us even now. Very few people will ever really know how their computer works (especially since most use secret operating systems) compared to how many people were familiar with automobiles or steam engines.

The idea of somebody having anything to say about this as "criticism" is just bonkers. Critics need to stay away from good/bad judgements anyway.

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