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Treating Steampunk Like it's the New Facebook or TV Dinner

on May 28, 2010 - 1:05pm

steampunk image for FanExpo
Remember back when you'd been on twitter or Facebook for a couple years, and mainstream media picked up on it, and Oprah did a show on it to let the middle class suburban masses in on this great new hip discovery well after it had grown in size so that it wasn't any sort of secret (and Facebook already had one foot deeply cemented in a boot of lame?) And the show was all about teaching you how to be 'with it' too?

Or better yet, remember when Martha Stewart and Rosie O'Donnel did a segment on KidRobot's Munnys, and you looked over to your vinyl toy collection and sighed, a bit hollower than you were 3 minutes before?

Or even going further back for a more accurate comparison, remember when wearing Doc Martins meant risking getting your ass kicked either because you're wearing the wrong coloured laces, or a skinhead or chelsea decided you weren't hardcore enough (after you'd just escaped the drunken football players), or a group of some-alternative-genre-under-the-same-umbrella-as-yours-but-just-different-enough decided they would roll you for them? And then a few years later, preppies were wearing 10 holes with their polo shirts? And now, kids go to Hot Topic because they are rebelling with all their peers. And they think the Dead Kennedys symbol on their skateboard is a logo for the manufacturing company (true story).

I know not all of you understand what the heck I'm talking about, but surely there are a few nodding solemnly.

The theme here, kiddies, is when something - a scene, a product, a style - organically is cool, and grows at its own pace under the radar of the masses, it inevitably gets picked up by mainstream marketing. They sell you on what's cool about it, water it down so it appeals to everyone, packages it so you can be cool at your convenience, and in doing so, homogenizes it until there isn't a trace of cool in the ingredient list (for example, oh, I don't know...vampires who choose to go to high school).

It seems the next group to be promoted and dissected for cool is Steampunk. I've been watching it slowly get more and more broad attention the past few years. Now I've seen the first official warning sign.

There have been fans of Steampunk attending (and dressing for) FanExpo Canada for at least as long as I've been attending the convention. Their numbers have grown, and last year I saw more goggles and top hats than ever before.

This year, FanExpo has announced an entire lineup of Steampunk activities. Don't get me wrong, I think it's great the group is having their interests represented at a convention aimed at a larger group of people who are arguably just outside the mainstream.

The Toronto Steampunk Society who celebrate the subculture with more than 600 members are front and centre on this year's promoted activities with a planned fashion show, meet-and-greet costume reception, and even a photo shoot.

They've also added a Steampunk gaming area, and are heralding the arrival of many Steampunk artists in Artist Alley (where you can find me. And what, did they send out a notice for Steampunk artists that I missed? I think I saw maybe one artist in this genre last year).

I hear you saying Well what's your problem, Ghoul Friday? That all sounds good to me. See, it's the last item on the list of Steampunk-themed events that has me twitchy.

The event is called Steampunk 101:

You've heard about it, but what exactly is Steampunk; aside from being the fastest growing sector of science fiction culture? Here is your chance to ask the questions you have and get the insight of the many Steampunk experts that are attending Fan Expo Canada.

Um.

*scratches head*

So...what are people going to ask? Why are you wearing goggles? Can I get that cane at Walmart? Is there a website where I can order entire wardrobes at discount prices of the same clothes you're wearing, only mass produced and of far less quality?

Alternatively, if the session had been called The History of Steampunk, headlining authors and social historians who would speak about the evolution of the Steampunk genre through literature, fashion, and movies - with a segment on the subculture today in society - I wouldn't even blink and would want to attend.

People who are interested in the lifestyle of a particular group will search out and find them on their own. If they are authentically interested without any hype to urge them on, they will seek out others who share their passion.

I couldn't have imagined, 15 or 20 years ago, walking into a place offering a similar "Goth 101" session, or "So You Want to be Punk" talk with a panel of local punk rockers. I never would have put on my first pair of Docs if there was such a session.

Maybe I'm a bit oversensitive. I can acknowledge that. I just think real cool is organic. It's Zen, in the way that you find it without the help of a brochure.

All scenes and styles self-destruct eventually. Dissecting and mass promotion/production speeds it along. And I'd like Steampunk to stay as cool as it is for as long as it can.

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