Is steampunk more than gears and goggles? According to Pablo Vazquez, “We can’t ignore that even though the name began as a joke, we are punks through and through.”
Writing for Tor.com’s steampunk week, Vazquez tries to postulate steampunk as an anticapitalist “revolutionary spectacle” that’s able to fill the “something” that’s supposedly missing from our worldview today.
Vazquez admits that “we can’t exactly pinpoint” what’s missing, “but we know it’s missing.” He just feels it, you know. The future looks “cold and endangered,” Vazquez adds, so we must look back at the steampunk era for inspiration.
Of course, there is “no place” in steampunk for the the elitism, racism, sexism and “various other cruel prejudices” that existed in Victoria’s days but we can rehabilitate the “technological optimism” of the past — as though we have lost confidence in technology as a society nowadays. Vazquez claims that it’s despite if not because of our technological advancement that we feel we lack “something” so we don’t need steampunk there.
But there’s more to be learned from the Victorians. “Communal harmony” and “individualistic development” — two nice things that point in opposite directions. If, like Vazquez, you want people to be “majestic individuals,” able to achieve whatever they want to achieve, you cannot have “communal harmony” at the same time for there will be people who cannot or do not achieve. Which is it? Does steampunk celebrate the individual for his accomplishments or does it promote a form of communalism in which the individual is necessarily bound by conformity?
Vazquez doesn’t reflect on the dichotomy inherent in his argument but lambastes that individuals are chained by the “trite vestments of the modern religion of branding and greed” instead. That “modern religion,” in case you were wondering, is capitalism — the ideology that sets the individual free to achieve, quite possibly at the expense of communal harmony.
There is nothing revolutionary nor spectacular about what Vazquez likes steampunk to be. It’s not as though the ideology which he describes didn’t exist yet. It’s called socialism. You can dress it up with gears and goggles but that doesn’t make it steampunk.