If Steampunk Is the Future, Please Kill Me Now

<em>The Independent on Sunday</em> says it's "coming into fashion". Haha!

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21 January 2013, 9:00am

For years, it seemed like steampunk was the one subculture that would never be co-opted by fashionistas. Sure, Will Smith might have dug it for a while and Jamiroquai wrote this ode to it, but it's always been a step too far for the industry that kept a straight face even as it brought us Daphne Guinness, Rick Genest and seapunk. In the past few years alone we've seen goth revivals, rave revivals, punk revivals and looking-like-you-should-be-breathing-fire-at-Burning-Man revivals. Throughout that time, steampunk has remained firmly out of fashion.

Confined to wandering friendlessly around comic conventions and midnight Terry Gilliam film screenings, something about steampunk was just too niche. It was a scene which, unlike most of the others, didn't really come from music, but from a shared hatred of digital technology – Ceefax, Baby-G watches, those toasters that have the LCD screens: steampunks wanted none of it. They said "No thanks" to modern culture and then rubber-stamped their exile from it by strapping goggles to their top hats and poncing around rural train museums lunging at confused children with modified Super Soakers.

It isn't practiced by Tokyo mall rats or So-Cal skate kids, but by retired teachers and artisan picture framers. In short, steampunk is for losers and fashion is for cool people, the two have always been diametrically opposed. But according to an article in last week's Independent On Sunday, it's finally about to go mainstream. In fact, it's "Britain's latest fashion craze" and "the next big thing to hit the high street". Sceptical? Yeah, me too, but let's hear the article out, maybe this time next year we'll all be puking into our pith helmets outside O'Neills.

THE INDEPENDENT ON SUNDAY DEFINES WHAT STEAMPUNK IS 
"Steampunk, once a cultish mix of sci-fi, steam and Victoriana in film and books, is now poised to conquer the world of fashion. Forecasters say the style, which blends the gaslight romance of Victorian London with a frisson of H G Wells and Jules Verne-inspired fantasy, is poised to make a massive leap from niche to the high street."

Fair enough, that's pretty much what steampunk is, although for some reason it always makes me think of the singer from 4 Non Blondes or also-ran WWF star Grandmaster Sexay rather than H G Wells or Jules Verne.

THE INDEPENDENT ON SUNDAY SAYS THAT "FORECASTERS" HAVE PREDICTED STEAMPUNK'S "MASSIVE LEAP" INTO THE MAINSTREAM
What forecasters would these be, I wonder? Could it be Bip Ling? Tavi Gevinson? Maybe even Kanye? Please Margi Murphy, tell us what style prophets have been bellowing "This season, steampunk is in!" from the most fashionable rooftops in town:

"The news will come as little surprise to the tens of thousands who are already into the retro-futuristic style. But experts at the computer giant IBM predict that 'steampunk will shift from low-production, high-cost 'craft' manufacturing to mass-production' within the next two years."

Of course, IBM. I don't know about you guys, but when I want to know what look is going to get props this Spring/Summer, I look to the American multinational technology and consulting corporation that gave us such evergreen style accessories as the floppy disc and the electronic keypunch system to guide me towards the zeitgeist.

THE INDEPENDENT ON SUNDAY SAYS THAT EVERYONE ON THE INTERNET WANTS TO BE A STEAMPUNK
"IBM analysed social media and other internet sites, and found that the amount of online discussion about steampunk increased 11-fold between 2009 and 2012."

Now, I'm no Sean Parker, but I've heard whispers that sometimes, when people talk about something on Facebook or Twitter, it's not always because they like it. I know that might sound crazy to you, but I went on this thing called "tumbler" the other day and apparently mocking strange subcultures is a big thing to the guys who "surf" there. 

That said, IBM could be right, and it could be that everyone who is talking about steampunk on the internet is thinking of becoming one. Just like how around 1AM every night thousands of people suddenly decide they want to be "pizza London late night delivery E8".

THE INDEPENDENT ON SUNDAY SAYS THAT THE SHOPS ARE ALL GOING STEAMPUNK CRAZY
"It also noted that, since 2010, more than 20 major department stores and other retailers had become "steampunk savvy."

What does this mean? Has some kind of steampunk pressure group lobbied Debenhams into improving customer access for people in big hats? Have Selfridges reverted back to a mechanised till system? I guess they're gonna need to make some adjustments to how they're going to operate given "the tens of thousands who are already into the retro-futuristic style".

Tens of thousands? Fuuuuuuuck.

THE INDEPENDENT ON SUNDAY SAYS THAT STEAMPUNK HAS ALREADY INVADED THE CATWALK
"Evidence of the emerging trend can already be seen on the catwalks. Prada's winter men's campaign featured several of Hollywood's leading males, including Gary Oldman, Jamie Bell and Willem Dafoe – dressed for adventure in heavily tailored, steampunk-inspired suits."

Here, the article presents its resounding piece of evidence that will prove to a doubting nation that steampunk is, in fact, "coming in". But if you happen to look like Adrien Brody or Gary Oldman and have been given an expertly tailored coat that probably costs as much to buy as a brand new hatchback, then the chances are you're gonna look OK. Alas, most steampunks are engineering grads from small towns in Somerset who have to find their clothes in catalogues that come free with Metal Hammer.

THE INDEPENDENT ON SUNDAY SAYS THAT STEAMPUNK'S GONNA BE FASHIONABLE BECAUSE IT WAS IN SOME POPULAR FILMS THAT CAME OUT YEARS AGO
"The distinctive style – the name was first coined to distinguish a genre of fantasy set in an alternative Victorian era – can now be widely seen in everything from blockbuster films such as Van Helsing, starring Hugh Jackman, and the Robert Downey Jr Sherlock Holmes films."

Hey, you know what's even more unreliable than paying IBM to read through tweets when you want to predict what's going to come into fashion? Taking tips from blockbuster movies. Take The Matrix: Everyone thought Keanu and Carrie-Anne Moss looked cool in those full-length leather jackets and Oakleys, but in reality they were only donned by sixth formers who spent their Saturdays trying to "free themselves from the dream world" by smoking banana peels after reading the Anarchist's Cookbook.

IS THE INDEPENDENT ON SUNDAY RIGHT?
No, of course it isn't. And thank fuck for that.

Why is the prospect of steampunk coming into fashion such a bad thing? Because it's such a horribly backwards movement. The whole idea is about rejecting the modern in exchange for a misguided Victorian interpretation of the future that failed to see the coming of the digital age. While I'm not saying that we should all be walking around in silver heat-tech puffa jackets and moon boots with digital clocks on them, we shouldn't be denying change, either.

Steampunk is both retro and futurist in the worst ways you can be either thing, it's stubborn but also pretentious, twee but tyrannical. They're the worst blend of sci-fi fans and 1940s tea party types; people who ultimately aren't looking to the future at all, but to a bullshit past that never existed.

Follow Clive on Twitter: @thugclive

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