Topic: Elitist?

There's a lot of talk about the perceived elitism of steampunk subculture nowadays.  A discussion over at The Steampunk Forum seemed to conclude that the movement is not elitist in a snobbish kind of way, rather that it's welcoming and non-restrictive (which, I think, is true, for at least the majority of steampunks) though perhaps not ashamed to consider itself somewhat superior compared with other movements?

A message recently posted on the home page of Steampunkopedia inspired some further thought on this subject;

[Steampunkopedia] is not about the elitist "steampunk subculture" being an antithesis of Punk.
It's about a genre of speculative fiction awkwardly called Steampunk.

While the latter is definitely true--that is, that our beloved genre was most awkwardly named--I rather disagree with the point raised in the first sentence. 

The steampunk movement is no antithesis to punk ideology.  Though I believe steampunk to be not even close to punk, it does incorporate some punk elements, and even people of more punk-like/anarchist perceptions don't shred from labeling themselves "steampunk".  Steampunk does not exclude punk-like themes or thought, but it is much less anti-establishment than punk.  Perhaps, even, in does regard, it is more opposed to punk thought?  Still, the presence of anarchists in our midst should disprove that statement, and there's obviously still the question to be answered whether steampunk even shares a unified political agenda in the first place.

Can a subculture be elitist then, while still maintaining certain anti-establishment views, or at least some within it?  I think so, in a sense that it is not a subculture of the elite, but a subculture that considers itself elite, i.e. superior, to others, and the "establishment"--which ought in this regard to be understood in a broader sense, as in, the way society works as a whole, nowadays. 

Please, share your thoughts!

Re: Elitist?

Ottens wrote:

...still the question to be answered whether steampunk even shares a unified political agenda in the first place.

The answer is a resounding NO. Steampunk, at its basic level, is taken from the past. This allows for both the rehashing of historical political issues and the addition of modern ones. In fact, steampunk can host such a variety of political ideals that works in the genre can even directly conflict with each other. It is many faceted and can be used as a vehicle for whatever political agenda one wishes.

As far as the "elitism" of steampunk is concerned, I find the whole idea of it rather silly and shan't bother to discuss it.

Re: Elitist?

You know, ever since my growing interest in steampunk, I've noticed that no matter where I go there are people who are very intent on explaining to me just what steampunk is. I don't think I've ever seen a movement so neurotic about its own identity.

All movements become elitist; movements are naturally exclusive towards those who aren't a part of it, and eventually you get people who become hellbent on determining just who's "really" part of the movement and who's not. In short, people who take things too seriously end up moving in.

I recommend just riding the wave and enjoying yourself. It's fine to discuss these sort of things, but there's a danger in getting too obsessive about the details; steampunk, much like any movement, can be loosely defined as a large collection of people who wear funny hats and speak in funny ways. I see no reason to make the entrance exam any more rigorous, nor do I see anything here that makes our funny hats and funny ways of speaking any better than another movement.

This isn't directed specifically at anyone in this thread, mind you--it's just my thoughts toward those who would want to make steampunk somehow exclusive or raise it up above other movements ("your hat is not NEARLY funny enough! Out with you!").

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Re: Elitist?

I think that the perseption of steampunk being elitist comes from those few that ARE elitist jerks.  Sadly they can get quite vocal, and thus give the entire community a bad name. 

They seem to forget that there are no set rules of what steampunk should be.  And if they want those, they are probably better off in the Gothic Aristocrat movement that originated in Japan than in Steampunk.

Personally I find that steampunk is very inclusive, people are generally warm and welcoming, and willing to help others to improve their art and style and explain things where necessary.  And that's how it should be really.

Re: Elitist?

DeVorn wrote:

You know, ever since my growing interest in steampunk, I've noticed that no matter where I go there are people who are very intent on explaining to me just what steampunk is. I don't think I've ever seen a movement so neurotic about its own identity.

I suppose that's a symptom of our own lack of understanding what precisely steampunk is.  wink 

I like to say, steampunk is different to every steampunk.

However, I also like to think that there's a little more to steampunk than Neo-Victoriana.  Indeed, there ought to be for steampunk to be somewhere different than Neo-Victoriana.  I don't favor some kind of unified political philosophy, however I do think that steampunk is more than an aesthetic.

HildeKitten wrote:

Personally I find that steampunk is very inclusive, people are generally warm and welcoming, and willing to help others to improve their art and style and explain things where necessary.  And that's how it should be really.

I very much agree.  I don't think there's communities or movements out there so welcoming as steampunk.  Perhaps our enthusiasm about bygone sensibilities and perceptions about good-conduct, decency, etc. are part of the reason why the steampunk community is so kind.  Of course, I'm reluctant to state that steampunk's just better, for that would be elitist.  wink

Re: Elitist?

Ottens wrote:

However, I also like to think that there's a little more to steampunk than Neo-Victoriana.  Indeed, there ought to be for steampunk to be somewhere different than Neo-Victoriana.  I don't favor some kind of unified political philosophy, however I do think that steampunk is more than an aesthetic.

But how can it be more than an aesthetic if we detach it from political meaning and make it all-inclusive? Would you define a craftsman who retrofitted all his belongings into Vernian wonders but had no interest in history or speculative fiction as a steampunk? Or would you exclude him? On what basis would you exclude him? Wrong history? Wrong ideology? Wrong mindset?

In order for steampunk to be something more than an aesthetic, it has to exclude someone. That's why I think this sort of thing ("What is steampunk really?") might be barking up the wrong tree.  I say there's absolutely no reason why it shouldn't be 'merely' an aesthetic; someone can look deeper into it, but that's their prerogative.

Re: Elitist?

Creating an aesthetic doesn't necessarily need to serve a political purpose, but I think that the intent with which a steampunk art is made is almost just as important as its appearance.  The intent to shape from existing technology or a non-existing thought, a more beautiful contraption or a graceful work of art or fiction, is what I feel unifies steampunk artists.  To dream of a past that never really was to make the world of today a little prettier.

There can be ideologies affixed to the aesthetic, but I think that that basic intent, to (re-)create something as if from the past, that appreciation for individualist art and technology rather than the products of mass-production, is more defining of steampunk than any political philosophy.

Re: Elitist?

Ottens wrote:

The intent to shape from existing technology or a non-existing thought, a more beautiful contraption or a graceful work of art or fiction, is what I feel unifies steampunk artists.

The situation changes when we look at steampunk as an artistic movement that's about disassembling and reassembling things from a specific era into something interesting and new. If that's what you're after, I definitely agree. Whether or not that's merely a matter of aesthetics is a semantic point and easily dismissed.

And I think you can look at steampunk as an artistic movement, so long as you're not a snob about what constitutes art. Maybe for the sake of other artists' upturned noses it would be better to refer to it as a 'crafting movement' instead--since steampunk is focused on the quality of goods more than artistic expression. That's not to say it isn't about artistic expression, but you can't express yourself artistically if your work isn't high quality--I don't think we'd call a highly expressive piece that fails to perform its intended function 'successful'. In modern art, sure--but not in steampunk.

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Re: Elitist?

I'd say that if you wear a top hat or you liked The Difference Engine and want to call yourself steampunk there's very little stopping you, and I'm not sure there should be, either. I think there's no inherent political slant to steampunk, in the same way there's no inherent politics to wearing, say, a Ben Sherman shirt.

I think (although this may be splitting hairs) it's better to ask whether things are steampunk rather than whether a person is a steampunk. What about a reader who wears a tracksuit but knows Wells and Verne backwards? One way of keeping snobbery out of the genre is to remember that there is more to steampunk than look: there is also craftmanship, design and literary appreciation, none of which require goggles.

To make one of my inevitable comparisons to Goth, I became annoyed how many goths seemed to think they were making a vital political statement, had discovered a truth everyone else was too dumb to see or were somehow destroying "the system" just by dressing in a certain way ("gother than thou" was the usual phrase!).

I don't think steampunk is like that, but I think some more vociferous people linking it closely to anarchism and the like would easily push it in that direction.

Re: Elitist?

DeVorn wrote:

That's not to say it isn't about artistic expression, but you can't express yourself artistically if your work isn't high quality--I don't think we'd call a highly expressive piece that fails to perform its intended function 'successful'. In modern art, sure--but not in steampunk.

He he he...modern art. What exactly is the standard of "quality" you are using? Are you suggesting that somebody who paints a canvas as a flat plane of a single colour is not producing a high quality piece of work? Would you say that someone who did this and covered every inch perfectly has a higher quality result than someone who has left some areas less opaque with visible brush strokes?

Also, how do you determine the intended purpose of a piece of art? Perhaps it has none. Perhaps it has many. In this case, your suggestion of calling it a "crafting movement" is quite reasonable. However, I do not think that encompasses many of the steampunk works out there. You'd be surprised at how much steampunk art resembles the fine arts as opposed to the crafts.

Sorry for getting a little off-topic, but I can't resist an art debate wink