Maybe it’s just me?
I never really stopped to consider before what the sub-genre of science fiction known as Steampunk is all about, or why it elicits such a strong emotional response in me. In fact, I wasn’t familiar at all with the term steampunk until recently, but looking back now I can see it as a common thread that runs throughout many of of my favorite science fiction TV shows and movies. Consider the TV show The Wild, Wild West, which I watched as a kid. Consider all of the Mad Max Movies. Consider Firefly. What is it about anachronistic technology comprised of brass and leather and glass that gets me so excited?
It can’t just be me, because look at all the products that are available in steampunk designs …
You can pay anywhere from ten dollars for costume steampunk goggles to several hundred dollars for authentic (i.e. real brass / leather) hand-made goggles. For $800, you can get an electric table lamp or a freakin’ oil lamp wall sconce!
Do you think steampunk goggles look geeky? Then let me ask you this: Which looks geekier, Goober Glass or Steampunk Goggles …
See what I mean? Put those red-tinted steampunk goggles on, and you’ll look bad-ass. Put the Goober Glass on, and you’ll look like you get beat up a lot and still need another beating.
What is it about this stuff that excites me? I think it’s the fact that it implies a technological civilization that is still in all ways comprehensible. One can imagine cogs and gears turning and fluids pumping through pipes. If your steampunk gizmo breaks down, you can probably find some scrap metal in a salvage yard somewhere to repair it on your own. It is entirely serviceable by the end user and therefore it implies a level of independence that simply does not exist with the corresponding modern appliance.
Compare steampunk googles (or steampunk anything) with Google Glass. Do you understand how Google Glass works? When you think of a computer chip, do you imagine a network of electrons running around every which way? Computer chips are kind of lifeless inanimate things. They are boring, and when they do break down, the end user has no way to repair them. As technology becomes increasingly sophisticated and the population becomes increasingly dependent on it, we also lose a certain amount of independence. Steampunk I think appeals to a desire to regain that freedom.
I know a guy who collects antique cars. He has old Ford Model A’s and Model T’s, and I remember he showed me once the owner’s manual for one of those cars. It wasn’t full of legal bullshit such as warnings that driving with your ass out the window is dangerous. It didn’t have twelve different sections in twelve languages. It wasn’t half-dedicated to the operation of a radio or the air conditioner. What it did have was stuff like … how to remove the rear axle! There is something refreshing about that that makes me long for a world where one can remove the rear axle of one’s car and where everyday life isn’t governed by insufferable legalize and nanny-state bureaucratic bullshit. Steampunk conjures images of such a world for me, and the desire for such a world is so strong that, even in a post-apocalyptic landscape, I find it strangely appealing.