Mrs. Axe is an artist and while her main area of expertise is stained glass, in the last year she’s branched out into polymer clay. Because she kicks ass, she has produced some very neat pieces. In the course of her research, she’s found a ton of clay steampunk jewelry designs. Trips to the local Hobby Lobby and Michaels stores show lots of accessories: gears, keys, brass, etc.
Steampunk is everywhere there days and I wonder if that is a good thing.
I have to tread carefully here, as I am not some kind of snob or elitist that stops liking a thing when that thing becomes popular. Having said that, the multi-media outburst of steampunk is disquieting.
One immediately wonders on the definition of steampunk as well. Here is the Wikipedia definition. To me, the “steam” seems less important than the “punk.” (There is also this Buzzfeed article about having steampunk without the steam.) By definition, “punk” is an aggressive clashing of styles with the norm, existing alongside the accepted norms of culture, style, architecture, technology, and entertainment relevant to a particular era. So in this case, it is a matter of clashing with the elegance of the Victorian era by being inelegant, or the basic lifestyle of the Wild West by being technologically advanced. It is more than that, though. A work of steampunk needs to be faithful to the baseline of the era while still being divergent.
There is also the question of quality control. Individual products, of course, have been superior (here, I would be thinking of things like Girl Genius, and no, I do not want to devolve into an argument of steampunk vs. gaslight fantasy). But when any motif goes popular, there is a bell curve of quality and there is a lot of crappy steampunk out there. Just throwing in some gears or a heavier-than-air machine doesn’t make a work steampunk. Call me a cynic but I am always annoyed when I see some trying to cash in on a trend. It’s dilution of the genre.
But in the case of steampunk, what happens when that which was considered jarring and anti-establishment itself becomes the norm. Oh, perhaps not to the surrounding setting in which a story takes place, but the new norm for those of us current and looking back to that Victorian-style past?
In other words, is it really punk when it’s saturation?
Steampunk is going to be around for a while, until the next trend. Maybe good or not.