Why Steampunk? Why Now?
Even without the label “steampunk,” the genre has been growing ever since the 1960s. But, “experts” are pointing to the next couple years as the apex; a time when Steampunk will be part of the mainstream rather than a sub- or counter-culture. Which begs the questions, “Why Steampunk?” and “Why now?” IBM has analyzed data from blogs, websites and the like and created the informative graphic at below charting the rise in online chatter.
But that is only part of the story. The timeline shows that Steampunk is on the rise, but not why it would appeal to people more now than ever before. This lead me to ask myself what I liked Steampunk and why it resonates with me and so many others, and I think in many ways it is for the same reason that the early science fiction authors that inspired Steampunk wrote what they did.
Turn the clock back to the turn of the 20th century. The Industrial Revolution was in full swing and complex technology was becoming an ever-present force in peoples’ lives for the first time. Ready-made clothing, furnishings and parts were becoming ubiquitous. European nations were jockeying for power in underdeveloped places because of the natural resources like oil that they offered for manufacturing and powering the new tech; war seemed imminent.
Jump ahead a hundred years or so. Spurred by the Information Revolution (aka the internet age), smart phones and computers have replaced conversations and storytelling. People consume media and technology like popcorn, and yet they have lost the ability to make anything for themselves. Clothing is mass-produced, cheap and of low quality, and society has been promoting homogeneity above all else since the 1950s. The US and other developed nations are still fighting over the oil in the Middle East, but now they have nuclear weapons to wave at each other.
Notice any similarities? I think Steampunk is a reaction to technology and its effects on culture now the way that “scientific romances” were attempting to open a dialog with the culture these authors feared (rightly) came hand in hand with industry. This is not to say every author that penned an airship adventure was thinking about deep thoughts or considering politics, but I think this is why the time period resonates with people, especially those of us who were young when the internet became ubiquitous.
What do you think? Leave a comment!