Steampunk inspiration and resources

Making it to the Party Early Does NOT Make it Your Party

I have to get something off my chest. I try to keep this website a positive space without too many rants, but there was been a phrase rolling around and around in my head all weekend and I just have to let it out.

Making it to the party early does not make it your party.

I do my best to stay out of the debates over whether or not something is *really* Steampunk  because all they do is make me angry. I prefer to look at movies, books, art, fashion, etc that other people have called Steampunk and then highlight the things that I see that are consistent with the genre and can inform steampunkery to come. Perhaps it is my background in Anthropology that makes it so, but I see myself as an involved observer, taking in the culture as it is and trying to find patterns and meaning.

I do not think part of being a fan or trying to learn about a micro-culture like Steampunk involves limiting other people, or telling them that they are not allowed to participate because their exact vision of something is different than what has come before, or maybe it is an echo of something that came before but the person does not have the technical skills to execute what their imagination has produced.

Here is an example. I subscribe to the Steampunk facebook feed. A few days ago, this meme was posted:

Evelyn Kriete, one of the creators of the Steampunk Bible

Evelyn Kriete, one of the creators of the Steampunk Bible

Many of the people who responded made jokes (But what if I like dragons better? Dragons have to eat too!) a few people supported the statement, but it seemed to me as I watched the comments accumulate that most people COMPLETELY missed the point and made comments along the lines of “But if something ISN’T really steampunk then I should be able to say so. Sometimes people are just wrong and they need to be told so.”

This one got the most thumbs up, and manages to miss the point twice by both making a joke about dragons and by being ignorant:

If it’s not Steampunk, then it’s not steampunk… If a kitten dies everytime I say a cactus is not steampunk just because you glued some gears on it (a very bad example, but you get my point) so be it. I’ve always rooted for Khaleesi and her dragons anyway.”

Let’s take the cactus-gear contraption as an example. First of all, if a person was inspired by classic sci-fi or anything at all in the “approved” steampunk canon, then the thing they create is steampunk because it was influenced by steampunk or the same roots as steampunk. It is THAT PERSON’s contribution to the ever-evolving discussion. You don’t have to like it, you can think that it is not as high a quality item as a REAL clockwork cactus would be, or that it isn’t the BEST example of steampunk, but that doesn’t mean it ISN’T steampunk.

Second, if a person has a vision of clockwork cactus but they do not have the money or skills to make exactly what they imagine, does that mean they should not be allowed to create at all? Imagine you are that gear-gluer and you finally get up the courage to post your creation because Steampunk is all about DIY and sharing, right? The wild west is a popular backdrop for steampunk and in the story you are writing there is a whole battalion of clockwork cactuses poised to attack the backwater town. But when you post your vision of a clockwork cactus you are met with a tide of criticism telling you that you failed to create something steampunk and people are not interested in your contribution. They are effectively telling the creator to shut up, their voice is not welcome.

And that is an act of violence.

Not only is it an act of violence, it completely undermines steampunk as a movement. I know how us geeks like to be technically correct (which is the best form of correct) but there needs to be room for kindness and encouragement as well. The person who says the gear-cactus isn’t steampunk could just as easily say “You know what would be even MORE steampunk, if it was a fully functioning clockwork machine!” That would acknowledge the effort and vision of the creator, allow the commentator a chance to express themselves and no harm is done.

In the act of building our identities, humans find it easiest to split the world into a series of opposites. We are prone to pattern recognition and then use the patterns to shape who we are and how we interact with the world, and dichotomies are simple and easy to understand. So the act of trying to define steampunk is an act of identity-building for those engaging in the conversation, and that is a valid process. It is true in all genres and people everywhere nitpick details of the things they love. But just because the propensity is there, it doesn’t mean that is it the most productive way to look at the world.

I think a lot of the backlash I see about things that aren’t *really* Steampunk is from people who have been fans for a long time. They have been LARPing, writing, creating, reading, attending cons, dressing up, and spending their time and energy on something the love for a long time and they see their beloved idea being infiltrated and changed by the newcomers.

But making it to the party early doesn’t make it your party.

In fact, hosting a party doesn’t even make it your party, as many an event planner will tell you. The party, or in this case the Steampunk scene, cannot help but be shaped by those guests who come later, who come with a different set of experiences or skills, who want to join in the conversation. And they should not only be allowed in, but welcomed with open arms.

There are two ways to deal with a difference of opinion: “No, but” and “Yes, and.” The first is how most people respond, especially if something they believe is being challenged. They circle their mental wagons and create arguments to justify their own sense of self (though of course we aren’t aware that this is why, we think of it as “truth”) and let the bullets fly. They do battle with their enemy and try to vanquish them with words. But, what if instead we acknowledge the other person’s point of view, find a common ground (Yes) and then continue the conversation in a constructive way (and).

Humans love to draw lines between things, but couldn’t we just keep moving the line and widen the circle?

Of course there are some facts that are immutable. Gravity works whether or not you believe in it. The energy of the sun powers our world. But can you say with certainty that it rises in the East? I would say the surest you can be at this time is to say “The sun appears to rise in the direction commonly agreed upon by the majority of human beings to be East.” We believe that it is East because we need a way to bring order to our world and find a way to communicate across it, but that doesn’t actually make East a “real” thing. Most other animals use real and detectable magnetic field lines to navigate, not some imaginary arrow superimposed on the surface by those uppity monkeys. Birds only fly South because we say so. In their own minds, they are flying probably simply “toward”.

Steampunk is not an immutable fact. It is an idea. Further, it is an idea based on punking the status quo, striving to innovate and express. Telling a person their voice is not welcome is the antithesis of the movement. On the flip side, I encourage anyone who has ever been told something of theirs or something they posted or loved “isn’t steampunk” to stand up for your right to add to discussion with this phrase:

Making it to the party early does NOT make it your party.

On an ironic side note, as this meme and the discussion it sparked were rattling in my brain, I was talking to my hubby about the bumper sticker I designed for the Kickstarter campaign. I was worried that stylistically I ventured too far from the beaten path with my modern/graphic silohuettes, and even though I used a car from the early 20th century and an airship, that people wouldn’t think it was “steampunk enough” to be interested.

His response? “Maybe you need to put some gears on it.”

I laughed so hard I cried, and then reminded myself that I know why my creation is Steampunk no matter what anyone else says.

Bumper Sticker to go with my Steampunk Zine!

Bumper Sticker to go with my Steampunk Zine!

Please please please join the discussion by commenting below!

Read more about what other bloggers are saying about conflict resolution on the Daily Post.

5 responses

  1. I didn’t set out to respond to the Daily Prompt about conflict, but it seems apt for this editorial


    April 22, 2014 at 10:33 am

  2. An important point well made. I think that, as you’ve touched on, those negative reactions are a lot about sense of identity. If someone’s sense of self is heavily invested in their view of what is or isn’t ‘steampunk’ or ‘sci-fi’ or whatever then, on some subconscious level, they may feel threatened when people broaden the boundaries. This leads to defensiveness and thus into attacks that aren’t pleasant for either side.

    Far better to take a deep breath, step back, and ask what the person is adding to the thing you love, rather than reacting like they’re taking it away.


    April 23, 2014 at 10:34 am

  3. Pingback: 10,000 Views and Counting… | For Whom the Gear Turns

  4. Pingback: This is my 300th Post! | For Whom the Gear Turns

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