Recently, a blog post from a self-proclaimed steampunk fan posed that very question to his readers. He listed several reasons why Steampunk was dead: unsurprisingly, those reasons focused on a highly self-absorbed premise; that, because Steampunk wasn’t exactly the same as when he started, it must be dead. At the very least, it no longer held any interest for him, which is clearly all that matters. Another opinionated blogger opined that Steampunk, having lost it’s anti-authority edge, could no longer claim the “-punk” moniker at all.
Sorry to use such harsh language in front of the children, but seriously, I’ve been attending Steampunk events now for a decade. Steampunk is still going strong, and while the community certainly has its ups and downs, there continues to be strong interest in the community, and new enthusiasts are coming in all the time, both from the general public and from the larger cosplay community. As to the second blogger’s remarks, I’ve never seen any anti-authoritarian edge to the Steampunk community at all, so I don’t know where that author is coming from, save a deep well of bottled rage.
Steampunk is, first and foremost, based on an alternate reality premise. Anyone who opens by telling readers what Steampunk should or should not be a) has an agenda to promote, and b) is full of shit. It is challenging for me sometimes to see someone wandering the halls at a Steampunk event wearing jeans, a t-shirt, and a cape and top hat, and not make snarky remarks. We all started somewhere; had it not been for the fact that my wife is a talented seamstress in her own right, I could well have been that person. Even now, I tend to dress in period-appropriate clothing, with not so much by way of fancy accessories or hand crafted replica weapons. I am well aware that there is a significant portion of steampunks who snicker behind my back at me for not being as “deeply into it” as they are, but they can go fuck themselves: I’m making an effort, I’m having fun, and I have a lot to offer the community, particularly in terms of time and convention-running experience.
Second, things change. As time goes on, people leave a community, whether because they’ve found something that more immediately captures their attention, or because they’ve grown weary of it. This is a natural process that happens with any group. I’ve seen a healthy number of younger fans getting involved in the community over the last few years, and most of them have returned the next year, and the next. I do think the initial bloom is off the tree: steampunk is not the pop-culture phenomenon it was five years ago, but the community still seems robust, and new conventions are cropping up with astonishing regularity. Will Steampunk last forever? I doubt it. It requires a lot of effort and no small amount of money to participate to a large degree. Many people dabble in Steampunk, and that helps keep attendance high at events, but the dabblers will eventually lose interest and move on. Steampunk does seem to be more popular in the Midwest US, and I’m fortunate that I live within a few hours’ drive of a number of strong events.
One thing that has routinely disappointed me about the Steampunk community is my perception that Steampunks don’t support their authors the way other fandoms do. Steampunk fiction mainstays Cherie Priest and Gail Carriger have both given up — or set aside — writing steampunk, as it no longer pays the bills for them. When two of the top authors in the genre can’t make a go of it, something is wrong. To try to correct this, I’ve been making an effort to improve the visibility of steampunk authors at one of my local conventions, Geneva Steam: /http://www.genevasteam.com/. So far, it doesn’t seem to be helping much, but something like that needs time, and I will persist.
Steampunk is many things to many people. One thing it isn’t is perfect. It will never appeal to everyone, nor should it. It’s a niche hobby within a niche hobby, and as such will never grow to the dizzying heights of pop-culture events like the San Diego Comic Con. Steampunk’s popularity will not last forever, but nothing does. I plan to enjoy it for as long as I can.