Steampunk: Our Playground, Our Classroom, our Workshop
Probably the simplest definition of steampunk I can come up with is: It’s an artistic movement based on retro-futuristic elements.
Steampunk is a reimagining of the past and the future that never was. Generally speaking, it’s a mish-mash of the Victorian Period, the Industrial Revolution, and the speculative aspect of technology common in science fiction.
But for many of us, steampunk is more than a mere visual art, fashion statement, or aesthetic (although all of that is VERY important to the genre). Steampunk can be such a fun playground. Visually, steampunk is just so striking and beautiful.
As a writer, I use steampunk to explore many of the major societal-historical issues existing out of the 19th century world. Think about it…the 19th century saw such tremendous growth in intellectual, technological, and sociological expression. Like anything else, such growth and prosperity came at a tremendous cost.
19th century history is also riddled with all kinds of oppression: racial, sexual, social, and economic inequality. European Imperialism might have started in the 15th century, but there was an explosion of colonization in Asia, South America, and Africa by the European powers.
Here in America, our country struggled with slavery, the industrial revolution, and social upheaval. Globally, conflicts arose from the British, French, Dutch, Russian empires extending their reach beyond their borders.
It’s easy for an artist to pull from history and find all kinds of profound conflict to explore. Along with all this global upheaval came the intellectual boom. People began to apply science to society in its attempt to understand the human condition. Marx, Comte, Darwin…these were just some of the big thinkers to propel the social sciences.
Literature in the 19th century gave birth to the Realism Movement. They were a sharp contrast to the Romantics. These new writers tried to portray the world not as they wished it would be like, but as it truly was. Life could be unfair, brutal, and filled with strife.
Steampunk is such a powerful platform to explore all of these themes, yet have some fun in the process. On the surface, all the cool steampunk aesthetics might seem pretty and otherworldly. But if you dig deeper, you’ll find that the steampunk movement is:
* An exploration of where we’ve come from (history)
* The imaginative expression of “what if” (speculative)
* Where we might going (future)
* A reflection of our society today (contemporary)
Steampunk has served as a way for many of us to learn more about ourselves, yet stretch our imaginations in the process. We can still tackle the profound societal ills that still plague us in the 21st century, but we can do so in a way that is appealing, fun, and interesting.