Steampunk: Cogs, Goggles & Sepia

Or: Why Clichés are actually a Good Thing.

First up, I need you to know that I’ll be talking about Steampunk as a subculture today. Not the genre, which also includes the phenomenon of the “Steamsona”. Should I ever make a list of words that I really don’t like, “Steamsona” would be on it. But actually, this doesn’t matter here.

Back in 2011 there was a video on Youtube that went viral in the Steampunk community: Just Glue Some Gears On It (And Call It Steampunk). While I have some minor disagreements with the lyrics of the song here and there, the overall theme of the song is what dismays me most. While I’m certainly not a fan of copper-sprayed plastic, I have to take up the cudgels in behalf of gears and goggles. Dismissing everything that has useless cogs on it or everyone who wears goggles as a mere accessory as “not truly Steampunk” is a perfect example of horrible elitist behaviour, and it actually makes me want to touch people’s faces. With high velocity. Repeatedly.

What kind of achievement gives someone the right to dictate my fashion? None. Why should I care about the rules self-proclaimed Steampunk experts set up (yes, they’re out there)? I shouldn’t. If I did, I wouldn’t deserve the suffix –punk. Which brings me to my actual argumentation
More often than not those who strongly oppose of goggles and gears say that these elements should only appear when actually necessary. I see those things as more than just simple accessories or patterns: They’re symbols.
They’re something to identify a kindred spirit by.
When I see a person with a gear-patterned T-shirt, or a necklace made of mechanical brass bits, or with a lacy parasol or goggles around their neck, I know they might at least have already heard of Steampunk.
And now, back to the punk thing. When someone claims that gears shouldn’t be worn as a mere accessory, would that person deny a punk the fashion choice of wearing a safety pin through their ear? The safety pin doesn’t pin together anything, so it doesn’t serve its original purpose. It’s just a piece of improvised jewelery, and also, again, it’s a symbol. It’s part of our modern-day iconography. Person with safety pin through their earlobe = Punk enthusiast. Person with a single gear on a string around their neck = Steampunk enthusiast.
Of course this doesn’t mean that the other way around every person with a safety pin as a piercing is an avid disciple of the Sex Pistols. This also doesn’t mean that the gear necklace person has to be a fan of Abney Park, Jules Verne and tea duelling. It’s just a hint. Iconography just isn’t what it used to be.
And with this, I confess that I like goggles as mere accessories, even though I also wear them as protection now and then. I confess that I wear a single gear around my neck on a string from time to time. I confess that I like sepia pictures if they’re well done. I’m not a big fan of Abney Park, though, but that’s for another time, maybe. I think gears and goggles make great symbols. Punks have an anarchy “A”, why shouldn’t we have a cogwheel?
Additionally with an A inside.
This is actually the old version of this post. I’ve got notes for a more in-depth one on this topic in store, but I didn’t dislike this one enough to just delete it. So bear with me posting the improved version sometime soon! ^^

Want more Steampunk Hands? Try here.

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3 thoughts on “Steampunk: Cogs, Goggles & Sepia

  1. I hate elitists! Most people I know agree that even if a person’s outfit is terrible, at least they are learning, and will soon have a better one! Also a lot of cog stuff can be really good!

  2. Great article, especially because of the reference to the punk attitude. I often think that there’s too much steam and not enough punk in a lot of steampunk-related crafts and communities. After all, without this it’s just Vicorian re-enactment, which I often find difficult because of the inherent nostalgia for the “good old times” which weren’t all that good for women, people in the colonies, the poor etc. I mean, if you play a cyberpunk game, you do not really play a fuctionary of a corporation either, so why all the lords and ladies in steampunk?. (I don’t want to judge people, it’s just that I miss a lot of the grime you can find in earlier steampunk novels like “The Difference Engine”…

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