People say that the medium is the message. Will entertainment meld with the technology we use to consume it?
BDJ: People still like pop songs because people like pop songs. People like movies because people like movies. People still like books. What I find interesting is that technology is providing more capabilities for people to interact with all of those pieces of media. Steampunk allows people to talk back. It’s about dialogue and that is wholly new. Very early on when James was explaining why we should do this project, he said if you wanted to be a beatnik you had to go to New York or California, if you wanted to be a hippie you had to go to the Haight Ashbury, but if you want to be a steampunk all you had to do was go online. I do think you can see steampunk as a manifestation of a lot of that change and what technology is bringing to the arts and to media.
JHC: At the same time that it’s something wholly new, it’s also very old.
BDJ: Says the historian.
JHC: Brian’s right in terms of the speed of communication and the ability to travel and those interconnections, but in some sense the 20th century was an anomaly from an entertainment point of view, because you started to really get this monolithic culture. I grew up in the ‘70s and ‘80s receiving culture and not really getting to create it myself. Our imaginations for a long time were served to us. I grew up and my imagination was Star Wars. I saw it when I was 5 and it changed my whole life but the stories got handed to us. Now people are able to take those things and create steampunk Star Wars.
What’s some of your favorite steampunk entertainment?
JHC: Chap-hop, which is kind of steampunk hip-hop. There are a couple of rappers who are engaged in this chap-hop war: Professor Elemental and Mr. B the Gentleman Rhymer. On the visual end of things, I’ve been really drawn into the great short film The Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello. And I see it almost everywhere I go. The beginning of Game of Thrones, for crying out loud—which is the least steampunk thing—the little graphic that they start every show with is the cities coming up in this mechanized gears kind of way. I’m like, “What does this have to do with Game of Thrones?” It’s the way people understand how to build a world now.
BDJ: For me, the first would have to be the Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling. It was how I came to know steampunk in a very deep way. The other one is Wild Wild West, the movie. It’s how most people in a very broad, broad popular way came into it. My third one is Dr. Grordbort’s Contrapulatronic Dingus Directory. It’s by Greg Broadmore and it’s this lovely collection of devices that are beautiful designed and have funny stories behind them. They have so much humanity behind them.
J: And Boilerplate, which I think is one of the best examples of using steampunk in a really smart way. It’s history with a robot.