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Author Topic: Is Steampunk a Conformist Subculture?  (Read 3218 times)
RJBowman
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« on: September 15, 2015, 03:39:22 am »

I ask this question because I have noticed conformity within youth subcultures that are supposed to be non-conformists; I.E. all hippies have to be left wingers and have long hair; goths have to wear black and smoke cigarettes, etc. Some people seem to think that you become a nonconformist by adopting the trappings of a non-conformist type.

Now the steampunks seem at first glance to be nonconformist, at least against the backdrop of the mainstream culture. But it seems to me that some people within the subculture seem to expect steampunks to conform to conventions of the subculture; you must have goggles, and you must dress in shades of brown and tan to look like a figure from a sepia photograph, and you must pretend that you are part of the crew of an airship.

Am I wrong here?
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« Reply #1 on: September 15, 2015, 03:43:40 am »

Is Steampunk a Conformist subculture? NO
Am I wrong here? Yes!

There are different categories of steampunk.  I fall into the maker category so dress is of minimal importance compared to creation.
« Last Edit: September 15, 2015, 03:49:53 am by Maets » Logged

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« Reply #2 on: September 15, 2015, 03:43:55 am »

ahh...depends. One of the things about SP is you can be different in your own way. I do remember the 70s as everyone had to be different the same way...Wink

That being said, you have to have a number of commonalities to create a subculture to begin with. The only danger is some pompous a*** deciding what's 'authentic' or not. As long as that doesn't happen, we're good...Wink

Corrected for English spelling of obscenity...Wink
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« Reply #3 on: September 15, 2015, 03:48:05 am »

I believe like any subculture there are boundaries to steampunk, but as many people on the forum have said, there is no definite version of steampunk, so there are far reaching boundaries, if they are not constantly evolving with the subculture.
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« Reply #4 on: September 15, 2015, 04:57:14 am »

I think you've misunderstood the concept of "nonconformism." There's an excellent explanation in Christopher Stasheff's Escape Velocity, but the short version (as near as I can recall) is that the term always relates to some specific aspect of "mainstream" society. (It was originally used to describe Protestant subsects which were rebelling against the commonly-accepted tenets, dogma and practices of mainstream Protestantism.) So-called nonconformist groups are almost always far more homogeneous internally than society at large.
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« Reply #5 on: September 15, 2015, 07:48:15 am »

In any group, there is going to be a "base definition" that you have to fulfil in order to be a member of the group. Not so much because of "conformity", but because if you don't tick those boxes, you just don't belong in that category. A bit like calling yourself a hippie, but if you're a city lawyer with a sharp suit and haircut, and you vote Tory, think nuclear weapons are a good idea and environmentalism is a waste of money, and drive a BMW, nobody's going to believe you. You just don't meet any of the important criteria for "hippiness".

Likewise, with steampunk, I think the "base definition", is something to do with an appreciation for the Victorian-Edwardian aesthetic, and an imaginative application of science/science fiction to that aesthetic. What you do with it after that is pretty much up to you. But the Victorian/Edwardian bit is important because if it's earlier you don't get the "steam" part, and if it's later you're moving into diesel. If you don't have the imagination part, then you're straightforward historical.

What you do within that seems to be pretty much up to the individual.

Personally, I've never considered pretending to be part of an airship crew, I don't own a pair of goggles, and I wouldn't be caught dead wearing brown. If other people want to do any, or all, of those things, sequentially or simultaneously, that's up to them. They can do their thing, I'll do my thing, and we'll all be happy.
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« Reply #6 on: September 15, 2015, 08:03:51 am »

In any group, there is going to be a "base definition" that you have to fulfil in order to be a member of the group. Not so much because of "conformity", but because if you don't tick those boxes, you just don't belong in that category. A bit like calling yourself a hippie, but if you're a city lawyer with a sharp suit and haircut, and you vote Tory, think nuclear weapons are a good idea and environmentalism is a waste of money, and drive a BMW, nobody's going to believe you. You just don't meet any of the important criteria for "hippiness".

Likewise, with steampunk, I think the "base definition", is something to do with an appreciation for the Victorian-Edwardian aesthetic, and an imaginative application of science/science fiction to that aesthetic. What you do with it after that is pretty much up to you. But the Victorian/Edwardian bit is important because if it's earlier you don't get the "steam" part, and if it's later you're moving into diesel. If you don't have the imagination part, then you're straightforward historical.

What you do within that seems to be pretty much up to the individual.

Personally, I've never considered pretending to be part of an airship crew, I don't own a pair of goggles, and I wouldn't be caught dead wearing brown. If other people want to do any, or all, of those things, sequentially or simultaneously, that's up to them. They can do their thing, I'll do my thing, and we'll all be happy.



agreed on this. though I do have goggles and do wear a brown coat, I would NEVER claim to be a part of ANY crew, considdered, perhaps, but no. just no. and I avoid looking like a sepia as much as possible.


not me.
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« Reply #7 on: September 15, 2015, 08:32:28 am »

agreed on this. though I do have goggles and do wear a brown coat, I would NEVER claim to be a part of ANY crew, considdered, perhaps, but no. just no. and I avoid looking like a sepia as much as possible.


not me.


How the hell did you get that picture of me?

I could have sworn I'd burned all the negatives....
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« Reply #8 on: September 15, 2015, 08:50:19 am »

agreed on this. though I do have goggles and do wear a brown coat, I would NEVER claim to be a part of ANY crew, considdered, perhaps, but no. just no. and I avoid looking like a sepia as much as possible.


not me.


How the hell did you get that picture of me?

I could have sworn I'd burned all the negatives....


I have more of those so be careful Tongue
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« Reply #9 on: September 15, 2015, 11:16:51 am »

If any Steampunks expect me to conform to their own perceived 'conventions' of the subculture then they will be disappointed.

Rules are made to be bent, broken, repurposed and sometimes twisted into different shapes.

But I have goggles and sometimes I wear brown.  Wink
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« Reply #10 on: September 15, 2015, 12:34:08 pm »

As better people have said there is the thorny issue of perspective here. From the outside looking in there is non-conformity. From the inside looking out there is conformity within the bounds of the bubble and "everyone else" on the outside.

Conformity whether inside or outside the bubble of sub-culture can take many many forms. Thought, dress, world view, modification etc etc etc. The only reason anything has any value is because the majority of people within the group agree (conform) that it has worth.

Outside the group said item may not have value or not the same value. A top hat may get you shouted at in the street for instance where as at a Convivial or the like; not one eye is batted at it's passing. By the same token someone turning up in football kit would cause people to politely enquire if he was feeling well and if he needed a sit down.

We all conform; it is how we derive "worth". That said Steampunk has a very broad and inclusive view of worth. Broader than most sub-cultures and more stable than popular culture at large.

To this end I would postulate that we are something of a minor evolution in the state of affairs. Although as an unimpressive bolder on the shores of steampunk my judgement may not be best placed.

If any Steampunks expect me to conform to their own perceived 'conventions' of the subculture then they will be disappointed.

Rules are made to be bent, broken, repurposed and sometimes twisted into different shapes.

But I have goggles and sometimes I wear brown.  Wink

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« Last Edit: September 15, 2015, 12:55:16 pm by Clym Angus » Logged

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« Reply #11 on: September 15, 2015, 08:01:46 pm »

Ahh......I have recently purchased a brown morning coat and trousers, and am currently working on goggles for my top hat.  Roll Eyes
Though I must point out that I have been here since 2007, so it has taken me 7 years to finally 'conform'...


Mind you I always thought the common trait in steampunk was our addiction to turning things inside-out! I mean women wear corsets (underwear) as fancy accessory tops (outerwear), men tend to have their trouser legs tucked into their boots, we prefer to see the mechanical workings of clocks and devices (or at least be covered in those parts), and no Steampunk device is complete without a sprinkle of fragile glass thermionic valves that used to be safe inside the case ....   Undecided
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« Reply #12 on: September 15, 2015, 08:04:43 pm »


Mind you I always thought the common trait in steampunk was our addiction to turning things inside-out! I mean women wear corsets (underwear) as fancy accessory tops (outerwear), men tend to have their trouser legs tucked into their boots, we prefer to see the mechanical workings of clocks and devices (or at least be covered in those parts), and no Steampunk device is complete without a sprinkle of fragile glass thermionic valves that used to be safe inside the case ....   Undecided

that seems strangely correct 0.0
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« Reply #13 on: September 15, 2015, 08:37:38 pm »

...The only danger is some pompous a*** deciding what's 'authentic' or not...

Sadly, at a convention with a Steampunk track, while waiting for the Steampunk Ball or Dance or Hootenanny or whatever it was called, we overheard some pompous (noun) telling a couple who were clearly new to the scene something to the effect that if people aren't using English accents then they're not doing it right. We should have said something, but neither of us "trusted" ourselves at the time to do so.
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« Reply #14 on: September 15, 2015, 08:41:28 pm »

...The only danger is some pompous a*** deciding what's 'authentic' or not...

Sadly, at a convention with a Steampunk track, while waiting for the Steampunk Ball or Dance or Hootenanny or whatever it was called, we overheard some pompous (noun) telling a couple who were clearly new to the scene something to the effect that if people aren't using English accents then they're not doing it right. We should have said something, but neither of us "trusted" ourselves at the time to do so.

wait WTF

I can't talk in an english accent, trust me I try.
« Last Edit: September 15, 2015, 08:43:08 pm by Caledonian » Logged
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« Reply #15 on: September 15, 2015, 09:44:09 pm »

Most of England, nevermind the rest of the UK, does not speak with an "English" accent either...  Huh

Mind you, I'm a Geordie (a native of Tyneside in the N.E of the UK) so even talking posh 'R.P' (as the queen speaks), I still sound 'northern'.  Grin
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« Reply #16 on: September 15, 2015, 09:48:22 pm »

Most of England, nevermind the rest of the UK, does not speak with an "English" accent either...  Huh

Mind you, I'm a Geordie (a native of Tyneside in the N.E of the UK) so even talking posh 'R.P' (as the queen speaks), I still sound 'northern'.  Grin

(Paraphrasing from a certain medical program, involving who I don't know):  "Lots of Steampunk realities have a North!"
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« Reply #17 on: September 15, 2015, 09:58:49 pm »

I know that, but well, I'd rather NOT have this strange Dutch sound.

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« Reply #18 on: September 15, 2015, 10:22:05 pm »

Mind you, I'm a Geordie
That's odd - I can understand you perfectly... Roll Eyes
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« Reply #19 on: September 15, 2015, 11:04:36 pm »

The rules are so badly made is hard to be comformist.

For instance, their thoses like me than equate steampunk with historical sci-fi.

With all this punk genres, you can wear every color you desire.
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« Reply #20 on: September 16, 2015, 01:40:38 am »

Steampunk has less rules (stated or unstated) than many subcultures so the definition is blurred around the edges.  What binds us is liking some of the same things.  
Think of some of aspects of steampunk: home decor aesthetics, literature, goggle wearing, Maets' airship flotilla, cosplay, etc, etc.  Chances are you will have a similar taste to other Steampunks in several of these areas while almost certainly you also disagree violently er splendidly in other areas.  
The dystopian, leather-masked survivor of the Airship Wars may never wear a Nerfpunk bathing costume but may agree with its wearer on best steampunk author and work together to write the lyrics for "If You Liked It Then You Should Have Put a Gear On It"  

I think that variety is what I like best about our great big nebulous subculture.
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« Reply #21 on: September 16, 2015, 02:29:46 am »

We can't be a "conformist subculture" when we can't agree on what we're conforming to.
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« Reply #22 on: September 16, 2015, 08:06:45 am »



Them fighting words, Mr. Bowman. *looks in the mirror* I didn't know I was a conformist.

Conformity is completely relative and ineffable, because it is always measured by comparing to another type of conformity, whichever your "rebellious inconformity" demands from you. There's another name for a person who is truly inconformist relative to everyone else.

We call such a person "lonely."

I can personally attest that loneliness is detrimental to your well being. I should know. And I believe that a balance must be struck between complete conformity and perfect inconformity, in order to maximize one's happiness.

You see, in all likelihood this problem is a corollary to the mathematical theory of "competitive dynamics. " If instead of well being, we talk about happiness, then the happiness of the members of a group is minimum when the value of the individuality is zero, that is, when you are 100,% conformist, and everyone is the same. But happiness is also at a minimum when you are so individual in nature, as to be completely alone, that is, at exactly zero conformity. 

The maximum benefit for the members of the group is reached at some point where the individual retains characteristics common to a group, with common behaviours which benefit the group, but the individual retains enough individuality to express his or her inner self and be perfectly distinguishable from any one else in the group. A bit like a machine where every cog is different to any other cog.

There is no pre-set  level of conformity or individuality which satisfies all groups. The level of individuality retained depends on the nature of the group and the needs of the individual.
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« Reply #23 on: September 16, 2015, 10:28:45 am »

...The only danger is some pompous a*** deciding what's 'authentic' or not...


Sadly, at a convention with a Steampunk track, while waiting for the Steampunk Ball or Dance or Hootenanny or whatever it was called, we overheard some pompous (noun) telling a couple who were clearly new to the scene something to the effect that if people aren't using English accents then they're not doing it right. We should have said something, but neither of us "trusted" ourselves at the time to do so.


As the history books say only England had the 1800's everyone else had something else. Not sure what it was but as the only country in the world that existed from 1800 to 1899 it is completely impossible for anyone wishing to be Steampunk to speak with anything less than a clipped English accent. As Brian Blessed would put it;



I feel cheated. I want that man/woman/thing on these boards right now so I can berated them properly.
« Last Edit: September 16, 2015, 10:37:25 am by Clym Angus » Logged
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« Reply #24 on: September 17, 2015, 01:57:09 am »

...and all this time I've been told that the fastest way to get on the wrong side of someone from the UK was for a 'murican' to even attempt an English accept. Most of mine are from either Dr. Who, Monty Python, or Dangermouse (blame Netflix and BBC America...Wink

Load of Bollocks, indeed...
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