Last night a friend asked me if I was familiar with "Steampunk." I was, but not terribly. My understanding of steampunk was that it was kind of like Goth for video game enthusiasts. And, not unlike some of the more Edwardian (i.e. queer) aspects of Goth, I regarded steampunk with semi-detached curiosity. I've picked up a few details here and there--just enough to come to the conclusion, "Oh, neat. I want nothing to do with that!" It's sort of like when I walk past a furniture store that, from the street, appears to possess all the sleek and modern design touches I like. Then I step inside the door and realize, nestled among all the angular couches and geometric-patterned throw rugs, oh look--there's one of those chairs shaped like a lady's shoe. "I get where this is going," and I immediately turn around and exit the store pretty much knowing, where there's smoke there's fire, and by "smoke" I mean that shoe chair, and by "fire" I mean one of these. (And probably one of these, too.)
Then, just this morning I see this article in the New York Times about the rise of Steampunk. (And it must be on the rise because, according to their picture slideshow, they found no fewer than seven people in New York City who are into Steampunk, and a couple of heavyset girls who are into wearing old-fashioned welding goggles with their Ren Faire costumes.) Because the New York Times provides a smart guy context that helps legitimize wasting time reading about micro-trends, I got to learn a whole bunch more about steampunk today. I'll give this to you, steampunk guys--the asthetic is pretty neat. Bravo on all the sepia tones and tailored pants and stuff. But this strikes me as an annoyingly high-maintenance commitment, with more punishment than reward built into it. Forget the amount of time you'll invest cloaking your 40" plasma screen television set inside a frame of dusty burlap or rich, polished marble--once you're done, what are you even going to watch on TV? How many times do you have to cycle through your very limited collection of steampunk-approved DVDs--basically, Van Helsing, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Young Sherlock Holmes, and Howl's Moving Castle--before you realize you might have jumped on the wrong band-dirigible? And think of all the important life events you're likely to miss because you were too busy polishing your wooden ray gun, or adhering brass and nickel fixtures to your ipod nano?
It's such an inconvenient subculture, and very cost-prohibitive with in our current economy. With oil at over $100 a barrel, who has the kind of disposable income required to operate their gas-powered wristwatch and old fashioned peanut brittle oven? And if you ever get tired of the steampunk lifestyle--AND HOW COULD YOU???--good luck trying to sell your clockwork top hat on consignment. At least Goth kids who get tired of the scene can always dust off their old clothes for a Dracula Party, Edward Gorey retrospective or cocktails at Tim Burton's house. Ex-steampunkers are stuck with their old junk, except in one of the following very rare situations:
- The Museum of Zeppelins and Old-Fashioned Motorcyle Sidecars is looking for a tour guide
- An ambitious young director decides to expand Tom Petty's music video for "You Got Lucky" into a feature-length film, and desperately needs extras with their own wardrobe
- Kanye West reads that NY Times article and decides to piggyback on the trend six years from now, then pretend he invented it
- Jack the ripper finally perfects his time machine!
I guess steampunks should live it up for now, while they still can. At least there's the new Hellboy movie to look forward to, right? Too bad you can't buy tickets on Moviefone using your refurbished Strowger wooden wall phone.
" 'Allo...two admissions for 'League of Extraodinary Gentlemen Part 2: Extraorindarier Gentlemen', if you please. And please do tell, does your moving picture house provide a sheltered space where I one might park one's bathysphere?"