There has been substantial buzz regarding steampunk as a radical political movement recently. The notion has been stated as a fact by some, i.e. radical political ideas are an integral part of steampunk. It was even declared as such in an article featured during the latest Steampunk Week on Tor.com.
I find this most puzzling. I have on a number of occasions made political statements on my blog, I am an active member of a political party but it does not influence me as a steampunk. To be more precise, if I had to define a political stance for my version of steampunk, it would be radically different from my real world views.
I consider steampunk to be an aesthetic and literary movement with very little politics involved. Most people I know who made up a steampunk persona have it set in some version of the past when monarchies still dominate, and most have also chosen aristocratic backgrounds for themselves. The same people have similar real world political views to mine, so again, there is a discrepancy between steampunk and real life.
If an individual steampunk uses the subculture to express their political stance (which can be anything from anarchic punk to monarchist), there is nothing to say against it. But to say steampunk is inherently political, which also implies all steampunks have a similar political stance, is simply wrong and an attempt to press the scene into a pidgeon hole.
There is another thing I find odd in this context and which shows the situation in North America is likely similar to the one in Europe, i.e. steampunk is not political: If steampunk was a radical political movement, I would expect to see people who are obviously steampunk in one or better several videos and photographs of the Occupy Wall Street and related rallies.
I have by now watched quite a few videos from a wide range of sources. To just name the most recognizable ones: CNN, BBC News, Tagesschau (German television), NHK (Japanese Televison), the TYT Youtube Channel. Not a single steampunk in any video.
Thus, I did some deliberate research into the matter, but the only form of political activism I could find with a clear relation to steampunk was Anachro Emma Goldman’s address to the protesters at Occupy Wall Street. This form of activism deserves the respect of every steampunk, but it is the sole example.
This does not proof steampunk to be a political movement. It proves the dedication of literally a single individual. Steampunk Emma Goldman has been arrested twice (as of me writing this), this is dedication!
If steampunk was truly a political movement, I would at the very least expect to find steampunks scattered in the crowds. Steampunks stand out, they are visible. I only found the steampunked version of Emma Goldman. No one else. No photo I have seen and no other video relating to the protests has any signs of steampunks in them. The steampunks are not there. Much less any steampunk with a similar degree of dedication. The regular punks are present at the protests, at Wall Street and around the world, and so are a lot of regular people.
I also could not find a single instance of the Occupy Wall Street / Occupy Everywhere being discussed in relation to steampunk let alone what it means to the movement on any of the more popular steampunk blogs. If steampunk was radically political, the steampunk blogosphere should be abuzz discussing the matter.
To claim steampunk is a political movement and then failing to be present at one of the most significant grass root activist movements of recent history, except for one individual, is appaling. At best, it shows a disconnect from the true heart of the steampunk movement. At worst, it could be interpreted as phony cowardice or an attitude of “I do not need to take action, I am already a steampunk”.
My conclusion is: Steampunk is not a political movement, it is about aesthetics and literature with some escapism for flavour. To call it political, or even radical political, is to deny the observable reality of what is happening right now.