Tor.com’s steampunk month is over. Throughout the past four weeks or so, the website has published an impressive collection of artwork, essays and original fiction that has kept us thoroughly entertained. About midway through the month one article appeared that we would like to comment upon.
In “There is Totally Punk in Steampunk” one Jaymee Goh writes about how the ‘punk suffix relates to the genre and the developing subculture that we understand today under the banner of “steampunk.” She rightly reminds readers that steampunk’s roots are literary; costume and cosplay, while oftentimes appealing and amusing, were not originally part of steampunk: up until the late-1990s, only books, some anime and maybe a handful of films were. That is not to say that costume and cosplay should therefore not be called “steampunk.” Rather, what was originally a genre has today become a movement that encompasses much more than books. But Goh seems to think that steampunks have forgotten that.
“Some of us like tackling the hard issues,” she notes which include class schisms, colonialism and imperialism and presumably related topics as racism and sexism that were prevalent during the nineteenth century. In other words, there are steampunk enthusiasts who like to mingle their hobby with a bit of politics and, of course, there is no harm in that. Indeed, we here at The Gatehouse occasionally do the very same thing. Goh goes one step further though and declares that, “to write about the hard issues then is also writing about the hard issues today.” In other words: by discussing period politics one implicitly discusses modern-day politics.
What these modern-day politics entail, the article does not state explicitly. Goh vaguely adds that, “some of us are actually activists,” but practically leaves it at that after very eloquently concluding her position: “Some of us put the punk into our steam, and some of us steam up our punk.”
Very well. We beg to differ and gladly debate the issue but let’s not pretend that those who “put the punk into our steam” are somehow rescuing the rest of steampunk from descending into “simply being Neo-Victorian,” as Goh puts it. Neo-Victorianism is not the same as steampunk without the punk. It is the anachronism that made steampunk different from Neo-Victorianism in the first place; not an association with political activism of any sort.
Goh takes offense at those who “run around” telling people that there is no punk in steampunk; “it erases those of us who feel there is.” Hopefully, she can understand however that to those of us who feel that indeed there isn’t, people who “run around” proclaiming that activist politics are inexplicably inseparable from steampunk is something equally frustrating.