Maybe I've just been writing steampunky stuff for too long now (I think I started AtWS in 1993 or 1994, and the idea for the city of Eiledon dates back way before that), but it seems to me that the aesthetic roots here have been around for a long time. Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, of course, but we've been mining that field for a long, long time. Castle Falkenstein and Brisco County, not to mention the venerable The Wild Wild West. (Non-Will-Smith edition, although I am a Giant Spider In The Third Act apologist.)
There's a whole world of Beyond Thunderdome postapocalyptica in the grunginess of it, but the color scheme is different, resulting in brown leather and brass fittings instead of black leather and tattered chainmail. (Seriously, run Master Blaster through a couple of filters and see what you get...)
Which is not to say the steampunk thing isn't cool. I've been playing with technofantasy since I was in high school. I'm pleased to see it finally becoming an overnight success, after twenty or thirty years of obscurity. And besides, it's nifty looking.
...Maybe it's just what happens when kids who grew up on Krull and Labyrinth get jobs and money and a little bit of time on their hands.
Or maybe we just finally figured out how to run the 80s through Photoshop to achieve a sepia tone
I do think it's interesting how trends and fashions work. They're a way of skinning reality, of creating an aesthetic that reflects a worldview and vice versa. Time periods look like themselves, and there are all sorts of visual cues there as to what's important and what's the focus in any given era. I find it all intensely cool...