Do Steampunks Fear Success?

Last night saw the debut of the new TV show Steampunk’d which aired on the Game Show Network and today several online forums are alight with complaints and defenses for the show . . . mostly complaints. Even in the days leading up to the show’s first episode there was already much unrest in the Steampunk Community with pre-criticism for those involved with the show.


The contestants of GSN’s “Steampunk’d” with hostess Jeannie Mai.

Fear and frustration were vented via social media that Steampunk celebrities were being molded and that this in turn has lead to a Steampunk elite of overlords and authoritarian gatekeepers who will judge what is and what is not “Steampunk.” This is not the first time, however, that the Steampunk Community has expressed such anxiety; why is it that the Community trembles with fear or rage whenever Steampunk looks like it might go mainstream?

The term Steampunk dates back to 1987, the aesthetic has been around since the Victorian Era, and June 14th, 1822 is recognized as the fictional day of divergence in which Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine altered history, but as a Community the movement is only about a decade old. During this time “leaders” have come and gone, some faded, some were deposed, some retired, some moved on, but what has been constant is that the Community is a de-centered collective, no one person or group owns Steampunk . . . it is an open source fandom!


H.G. Wells . . . total sell out! Did you know that his books were popular?

For many this is a big part of Steampunk’s appeal, the freedom to explore what Steampunk “can be” versus getting tangled with debates of “what is Steampunk?” It is a glorious and exciting community, the sort of cooperative utopia that H.G. Wells dreamt of; the Steampunk Community may draw inspiration from antique aesthetics, but its organic growth is firmly rooted in the Millennial zeitgeist of 21st century neo-socialism. The downside of this model, however, is a fear and resentment of those who emerge as successful, a distrust of those who are able to make a living being a Steampunk.

As with many artistic groups, there is a predominant not-for-profit mentality that can lead some to assume a pious role and preach the “sinfulness” of “selling out” and actually making some money off of their art. Artistic integrity is a complex debate that doesn’t really offer any sign of conclusion, but the more pragmatic question is that of professionalism . . . essentially, do artist deserve to be paid for their work? Artists and performers struggle for adequate compensation for their talents and work, and a big part of the problem is the mentality that art should be free . . . the very people who are arguing for artistic integrity are actually undermining professional artists’ ability to make a career out of their craft.

Steampunk'd ContestantsThe Steampunk Community has thousands of talented artists . . . makers, costumers, painters, writers, musicians, and so forth . . . inevitably some have emerged as successful, and Steampunk’d is the latest vessel for such recognition. Whether the show is actually much good or not is a matter of opinion, but bear in mind that GSN is selling suspense, drama, and competition; the subject matter may change, but the network’s formula for entertainment is to draw the audience in at a human interest level, and conflict is an effective tool for creating engaging TV . . . “Reality TV” when stripped down is essentially wanton school boys shaking a jar of captured bugs to see if they’ll fight. Regardless of the show’s merits, is it fair to attack the members of the Steampunk Community who accepted the invitation to be part of the show?

Along with the non-profit mentality toward Steampunk art, there is also a subconscious possessiveness that emerges in social media each time Steampunk is exposed to those outside of the Community. How many times have naysayers lamented the “end of Steampunk” when some pop star makes a Steampunk music video, or some TV show has a Steampunk episode? For the past decade there has been a constant supply of Steampunk Community pessimists willing to predict when the movement will peak and thus start its decline, and the advent of Steampunk’d is yet another one of these moments, and it won’t be the last either.

Steampunk'd Judges

The most judgmental Steampunks on TV . . . the judges of “Steampunk’d”

Exposing the wider public to Steampunk acts to strengthen the movement and increase opportunities for those with aspirations to make a career out of their Steampunk talents. If you were a skilled maker before Steampunk became popular, then this is a great time to turn that talent into viable professionalism . . . it’s like our time has come! Instead of resenting the successful artists who have worked hard to win their recognition, get out there and keep on making what you make best! Don’t waste energy trying to tear down those who have done well . . . strive to be best at whatever you’re best at . . . networking and connections are helpful, but at the end of the day real talent can not be faked.


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4 Responses to “Do Steampunks Fear Success?

  • Good read. I was on the show so it’s nice to see something positive about it. Thank you.

  • What a shame! I would have loved to see it just to see everyone’s own personal representation. Sounds like perhaps there is a contingency of INSECURE ELITISTS (?) who are being threatened. Makes me wonder if they make up the “Purists” of their area. But then again, the genre is fantasy and so there is no historical documentation, illustrations or photographs like there is for the 19th century, that must be duplicated for authenticity. And this comes from a long-time historical re-enactor (now Time Traveler) who has enjoyed entertaining and educating the general public from medieval 14th century English/Welsh longbowmen, a colonial French-Canadian Courier de bois with a native wife and “mixed blood” kids.

    Presently, I have traveled to the American borderstates and have become a southern Presbyterian, small town doctor from Danville, not far from Louisville. After lending my medical background “so as to keep taking care of my grown up boy,” a group of us fell in with General Pike as he was marching through the Danville/Louisville Kentucky countryside. Why I even attended the University of Translyvania right there on one of Louisville’s main streets. It’s true, look it up! And Mary Todd Lincoln was also born and raised a few blocks from the university and her home is still standing.

    Steampunkers aren’t the only ones coming up with a historical background/1st person personas…only now, I don’t have to rely on actual & documented historical events. But it sure has been fun bringing my 19th century medical background into my Steampunk presentation.

    PS: no we didn’t operate on anyone without using Ether or Chlorophorm. And for pain maintainence, we not only used Kentucky Whiskey, but many of the men preferred the immediate pain relief from our opiates like morphine and opium. And people think the 1960s created a major drug addiction. Laudenum would become the “miracle drug” found in practically every household for every ailment, young & old. And would become a favorite “pick me up” for the women folk of the era and on into the early 1900s.

  • Wonderfully well written and a nail on the negativity coffin I hope! We need more exposure to survive because, let’s face it, we are barely supporting each other let alone artist on this show!

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