You mentioned hippies — and talk a lot about hippies and beatniks in the book. How is steampunk similar to, or different from, those movements?
BDJ: Much like James had seen in his previous work with beatniks and hippies, people were using this as a way to talk about challenging culture as it is now. So for beatniks and hippies it was around gender roles, it was around the economics of self-expression—and one of the things that made steampunk really interesting is it was doing very similar things but focusing on technology. It didn’t hate technology but it said we want something different from technology than we have gotten before. By playing with the past they were playing around with a different future. For me that’s what was so fascinating about it, just the numbers. Since we started the project it’s come so much more into mainstream. Even IBM said that 2013 is the year of steampunk, that we’ll be seeing it more. This is an indicator of something going on in broader culture.
And you mentioned that Justin Bieber has a steampunk-inspired video.
JHC: Justin Bieber isn’t counterculture, obviously, but he’s a sign of the counterculture catching on and becoming cool, and that’s part of the life cycle of counterculture.
BDJ: Even the beatniks. It became about the striped shirt and the jeans and the beret when it started moving into the mainstream, like the Justin Bieber effect. When it moved into American television, which is when most people actually found out about it.
JHC: Yeah, the character of Maynard G. Krebs on the Dobie Gillis show is the ultimate beatnik stereotype. A columnist in San Francisco, Herb Caen, coined the term beatnik, from the Beat Generation, this literary movement. The people gathering around it started to become a countercultural scene in San Francisco and Caen put together “Beat” and the most subversive scary communist thing that was going on, Sputnik. He created this bugaboo and the image caught on in popular culture. People started to see it. And because they saw it, it sparked a lot of the interest and brought more people into the ’60s counterculture. A kid in rural Iowa who never had the opportunity to come across On The Road except for a sensationalist piece in the New York Times about these frightening beatniks that are everywhere, goes “Hmmm, that’s really interesting, I wonder if I should look into that.” Those sorts of things start to draw people in. It’s a gateway drug.