The Etiquette of Not Being a Dick (Part One)

Wil WheatonLaws of physics bind the universe together, but there is a law that binds together many different types of fandoms and is known universally as Wheaton’s Law . . . “don’t be a dick.” Actor Wil Wheaton, most famous for his portrayal as the overachieving goody shoes Wesley Crusher from Star Trek: The Next Generation, was certainly not the creator of this law, nor the first to discover this simple truth, but he has been the one to spread the good word as a fellow geek to nerds all over the globe . . . but what does it mean to “be a dick”? And what does it look like at a Steampunk Convention?

Typically Steampunks are some of the most well mannered and polite people you will ever meet, but some are also the most snobby and judgemental people that you will ever meet. Jokingly referred as the “Eurotrash of Nerdom” on The Guild, it is the “dicks” of the Steampunk Community that compound this negative stereotype of Steampunks held by other fandoms. Worse still, the “dicks” who attend Steampunk events manage to make the experience less enjoyable for fellow Steampunk attendees, but there is hope! Here are a few ways to identify “dickish” behavior and avoid making the social faux pas that would label one as being a “dick.”


Special PoliceThe most common failing is that of Costume Policing, in which the “dick” will make critical comments about another person’s outfit either directly to the person or loud enough for the person to hear. Admittedly, some critics may think that they are genuinely helping the person be “more Steampunk” with his or her advice, but regardless of intent the “dick” is positioning themselves as more of an “authority” on Steampunk than his or her target. There are certainly going to be times that you find someone’s outfit unappealing, or in your sense “not quite right,” but what is achieved by making the person feel inferior for not living up to your vision of Steampunk? There is a good probability that the person is new to the fandom, and probably already nervous and insecure about what he or she is wearing. When the “dick” comes along to offer fashion “advice” the outcome will most likely sour the novice and lose the community one more person.

SP LincolnThe typical phrase to be uttered in this scenario is that object or item of clothing is “not historically accurate.” This person is forgetting that in Steampunk, or any kind of retro futurism, there is no such thing as “historically accurate”! It is the anachronism of adding juxtaposing items together that allows Steampunk to create flights of fantasy of ravenous imagination . . . but nor does that mean that everyone should modify everything about their outfit to steampunk it. Men and women who prefer a more plain neo-Victorian aesthetic make a wonderful foil to those who like to add various brass devices and copper contraptions to their attire.

SP Jack CostumeAs many Steampunks strive to be unique, there is also the common disdain for mass produced Steampunk outfits and accessories. Given the D.I.Y. philosophy that permeates Steampunk, and also the heartwarming willingness to support artisan vendors who hand make their wares, it is very easy for us to sneer at people wearing something purchased from a Halloween store (been guilty of this myself), or wearing that same corset “that you see everywhere!” SO WHAT? Is this person hurting you? Even if the outfit insults your eyes, just turn away. Again, chances are that this person is a novice, and by the end of the event my well have purchased some great and unique items from vendors for next time. Let the person discover their own vision of Steampunk before you decide to fire a volley of barbed criticisms at the dirigible balloon of their fledgling imagination. If your friends and companions point out such attendees and ridicule the target’s “run-of-the-mill” costume, please politely remind him or her that we all had to start somewhere.

If you love the Steampunk Community then the best way to support it is to help it grow, and this can be done easily through encouragement, and if you really have nothing positive to say, then please say nothing. As with any subculture, there are some who quietly want to keep it exclusive and only available for the “true believers,” fearing that more people will spoil it, but without new blood things become stale and wither.

There are plenty more pitfalls to being a “dick,” which is why this article will be a series, but as a closing thought for now, you can not correct a “dick” by being a “dick” yourself. Very few people actually welcome unsolicited criticism, and your friend who is acting like a “dick” is not going to warmly accept being told his or her failings; there’s some deep rooted insecurity going on there to bring out such “dickish” behavior in the first place. The biggest antidote to being a “dick” is empathy; take a moment to see things from the target’s point of view and counter the “dick” statement with something positive to say about the “dick’s” victim. We can support our “dickish” friends by showing them a more positive way to behave 🙂


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One Response to “The Etiquette of Not Being a Dick (Part One)

  • Nice article! When I first got into this fabulous genre I was surprised by the comments I saw on facebook. There were so many people ready to give a strong (and so often negative) opinion about what other people had done. I wrote an article in response, called “Making it to the party early does NOT make it your party”. Check it out if you are interested!

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