Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Bollocks to the Makers

VERY IMPORTANT NOTE: In my original post, I had forgotten who had written the introduction, and tried to keep it vague by using the pronoun "they" for the author. This ended up making it sound like the VanderMeers had written the introduction. Jeff VanderMeer won't stand for such rubbish, and corrected me in a most gracious manner, pointing out that the introduction was penned by Jess Nevins.

ANOTHER NOTE: That means that the publisher of the book I was writing about commented on my blog. How cool is that?

THE ORIGINAL NOTE: I should point out that the following represents my own views, and does not necessarily reflect the views of Ann or Jeff VanderMeer, Jess Nevins, or anyone else involved with the Steampunk anthology.

I recently read the introduction to the VanderMeers' Steampunk anthology, and I must say, it's rather gotten my blood up. At the moment I forget the exact words Jess Nevins used, but they described the current Steampunk movement, which they call the second generation, as a cliche and a fashion trend. This really struck me, as I quite like Steampunk fashion, but they explained that Steampunk was originally a way for people to make a statement about our culture and our time. It was a way to raise an outcry against society, to put the -punk into Steampunk, to show how really we're just modern-day Victorians who all too often believe that money is the measure of a man, progress should benefit the rich and be built on the backs of the poor, and that other cultures and viewpoints are strange, alien, and best when forcibly "civilized."

This sort of Steampunk was created by the writers: William Gibson and Bruce Sterling and others. As storytellers, they were interested in the ideas behind Steampunk. They used Steampunk to spread a message and make a statement. Like the best science fiction, they used a fictional setting to say what could not be said in a realistic one. By transporting our problems to another place, they threw those problems into sharp relief.

The new generation of Steampunk is created by artists. It's about a look, a fashion and a trend. This is the Steampunk that is exemplified by the Makers: Vladislaus Dantes and Datamancer and their kind. It exists not on the written page but in Deviantart and forums and livejournal, with people squeezing themselves into dresses and putting on goggles and boots to show themselves off and prove to everyone how Steampunk they are.

I think it's obvious whose side I'm on. I never realized it, but I miss the message behind Steampunk. I really like the Steampunk aesthetic, don't get me wrong, and I am full of admiration and jealousy when it comes to the works of the great Steampunk artists and crafters. But I do think that we have lost something. The style has overwhelmed the substance, and Steampunk is the poorer for it.

3 comments:

bluefish said...

I think the problem is that the word "steampunk" refers to both the aesthetic and the cultural movement. One isn't necessarily a weakening of the other, it's just a completely different animal that ended up with the same name.

JeffV said...

Hey--I don't really have an opinion on this post one way or the other, because there are so many different facets of steampunk. I can kind of see all sides of it. But the important thing is that you are attributing, for better or worse, an introduction written by Jess Nevins to us. We did not write that introduction, and Nevins knew it would be somewhat controversial. We also actually differ with Nevins on some of his conclusions. Although we love the introduction--it's a great overview of Steampunk history.

Cheers,

Jeff & Ann VanderMeer

Lord Admiral said...

Thanks for pointing this out. Serves me right for blogging at work, where I didn't have access to the book. The good news is that, as far as I know, you're the first person to read this post whom I don't know in real life. In any case, I have amended the post.