brass is the new... black?
retrofuturism has been gaining, well, steam lately, notably in the form of steampunk, a literary-genre-turned-nascent-subculture, which imagines a Victorian future that never was, of steampower, dirigibles, and brass gears. as a genre of science fiction, of course, steampunk is not new (from jules verne and jean-pierre jeunet to william gibson and neal stephenson, and most recently, the movie version of The Golden Compass), but it seems to be finding increasing articulation in tinkering/diy projects, installation art, and fashion. kinetic steamworks in oakland have made viable steampowered works of imaginative art like the Neverwas Haul and the Steampunk Treehouse, while various tinkerers have posted online about their steampunk-themed diy projects. legions of former cyber clubkids and gothic lolitas appear to be taking up steam fashion, from pinstriped corsets with pocketwatch pockets (a one-off from Morua Designs) and kneehigh punk rock granny boots, to ruffled collars and cuffs from designers like Steamtrunk Couture.
all of which fits in nicely with the profusion of circus-freak perfomance art and vintage aesthetics proliferating on the margins of popular culture in places like new york and california, among others, and lovingly documented on artsy alt culture blog Coilhouse. nothing, however, sounds the death knell of a new subculture more than well-meaning bougie media attention:
i'm enough of a bob siegel fan-girl to find the coverage entertaining, but i find suspect the theory that steampunk is somehow a response to the impersonal mass-produced consumerism of the information age.
as i recall, the entire point of the Dickensian aesthetic was precisely to chronicle the devastating effects of industrialization and urbanization on so many people (to say nothing of imperialist expansion across the globe). and the steam engine was central to the industrial revolution, which inaugurated factory production and the possibility of mass consumerism. but shoddy memory for history aside, the imagined world of steampunk sure is pretty:
The Mysterious Geographic Adventures of Jasper Morello (animated short)