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March 2017

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writing rengeek magpie mind

when goths discover brown

So the thing about the steampunk aesthetic that everybody's talking about: it's weird to me, like watching a band you've loved for years get popular.

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...

Comments

It's true. We happily re-invent the wheel and then say, "But look, it's NEW! It's got a hub cap and everything!" :)
its always funny to see an old familiar "face" take off...
the steampunk bracelet workshop at beadfest .... wow
I blame the death of goth (as a subculture as I know it), and the Matrix finally tapping the last bit of juice of out cyberpunk.

Also, in the Victorian age, vampires never sparkled.
Not even a little, unless they were ON FIRE.
I've been having very similar thoughts. Like, "Wait...is this supposed to be NEW?" And I think the rules have been tweaked a little... on the other hand, it gave me my Halloween costume, so I can't complain.
I do love the title of this post, because it's exactly what I've been thinking about the steampunk aesthetic for a while now. It's another re-tread of neo-Victorianism, with a different color palette and a double helping of goggles. It does absolutely look cool, but it's just a post- "Will It Blend?" take on stuff we have seen before, and it has definitely been bubbling along for a while.

For instance, when Disneyland decided to ditch the '50s-Future look of Tomorrow Land for something that didn't look quite so dated, where they went with it was a Jules Vernian brass-and-sepia look that is utterly steampunk. Likewise, both the Stoneship Age and Channelwood environments in Myst have a very Vernian/steampunk feel.

What I'd like to see is a more pre-Victorian steampunk aesthetic. The techno-fantasy element, and the steam-and-clockwork element, ought to work just as well going at least as far back as the Regency and Romantic periods.
No steam, but I've got crazy magic clockwork in my next Onyx Court book, in the mid-eighteenth century. So I certainly agree that it can work. :-)

What I really really want is for someone to do an Antikythera Mechanism-inspired ancient Greek variation on steampunk.
one of the things i think is neat about steampunk is that it IS something that the older crowd kicked off, because we haven't stopped having the affection for subculture and appearance statements just because we''re not the kids in the '70's and '80's anymore (thank gods for that). we don't necessarily want to rehash the same fashions we were lived through the first time over and over again, after all. how many times to bell bottoms need to come back?

when i first started following it as a fashion thing a few years ago, there wasn't anyone younger than the mid-30's, from all appearances. older goths that were sick of the stagnating scene, and didn't care for emo, reinactors that wanted to play a little, costume-makers, tinkers, etc. and like you said, it was already popular as a genre when it comes to books and movies.i think it honestly just started drawing attention because the nyt and mtv were searching for something NEW and steampunk fashion and decor happened to be more accessible for the majority than say, their short-lived fascination with afropunk. ;)

Edited at 2009-11-10 08:43 pm (UTC)
You've pretty much got my group pegged. Older, costumers/crafters, some SGA and re-enactor experience, etc. We were never goths, though.

At Dragon*Con this year we did Star Trek Steampunk. (Unofficial motto: We don't need no stinkin' brown.)



Though this picture is definitely "The Avengers: 1889".

lots of colors in "Girl Genius"
Intriguing that you use "skinning" as a verb that way.

Tiem was, it meant removing the skin to show what was underneath. Now, the exact opposite!

Ah, language. You never can pin it down.
It is its own antonym.

Win.
I love the browns of steampunk. Love them love them love them. I don't know from Steampunk's family background, I'm tickled enough by the change in outfit.

You see, I do leatherworking. Most of my customers are SCA, and they buy a lot more black than brown. I get so insanely sick of making black pouches and belts and whatnot that I have a hoard of non-black leather that I turn to for stress relief. When I finally figured out something fun and steampunk to make, I think I happy-danced around the room just because I could do it all in shades of brown, none of that awful icky black to be seen!

Ahem. Excuse me, I'm working like crazy trying to get things finished in time to put in the Windycon art show come Friday, I think I may be a bit deranged at this point. :D

FWIW, I also tend to think of Steampunk as being not as dark and brooding as goth, at least visually. Probably in part because of too much Kipling (wait, is there such a thing as too much Kipling???). That noonday sun thing, Kim and the Llama on the Grand Trunk Road, yadda yadda.
*reads "but it seems to me that the aesthetic robots here have been around for a long time"*

*reads again*

*reads aga----oh!*

*wanders workwards, wondering what random bit of brain-sparkage and/or caffeine-deprivation and/or inner mental associations with steampunk, look of, caused that particular "to b or not to b" moment....*
I like your better.
Oh yeah. An "overnight success." :P

I'll let you know when I get to design my first steampunk room. It's tapping on the edges of mainstream but it's coming! *waits for it*
Or maybe we just finally figured out how to run the 80s through Photoshop to achieve a sepia tone

That is a very interesting observation. I don't think you're far wrong.

---L.
not to mention the venerable The Wild Wild West. (Non-Will-Smith edition, although I am a Giant Spider In The Third Act apologist.)

Another Kenneth Branagh fan? That has got to be one of the worst roles he's ever taken [g].
True, and yet... It's a giant spider and he's so cartoon evil that one simply must love it.

Edited at 2009-11-11 01:33 am (UTC)
Ah, Krull. I once impressed a bunch of friends in college by knowing all the words to Krull. (I quickly became annoying because I didn't realize I was syaing them out loud). I need to get a copy of that, now that I think about it. it's such a classic. Labyrinth of course goes without saying. We have copies of that and Legend. Legend had me trying to convince people there was such a think as glitter goth :D.
Glitter goth. INDEED.

This stuff was old when our great-great-grandparents were babies!

I love the simplicity of the "goths discover brown" headline, and am reminded of a very early literary source, now part of the Hebrew Bible. Ecclesiastes, also known as "The Preacher", or Koheleth, considered, in some circles, to be King Solomon, wrote, more than two thousand years ago, "What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun." (Ecclesiastes 1:9 N.I.V.).

Re: This stuff was old when our great-great-grandparents were babies!

as it is, as it was, so it shall be. and so it goes.