If steampunk goes mainstream, does it stop being cool?
JHC: Yes and no. I think one of the things that’s different about steampunk is it’s not a youth culture. It’s not a drug culture, so unlike a lot of bohemian countercultures of the past this one has a much broader root. It’s also come up in a media environment where people can talk back to one another and critique things. It’s also come up in a media environment where people can talk back to one another and critique things. There’s a great little internet meme music video, “Just Glue Some Gears On It (And Call It Steampunk).” It’s this great playback of the steampunk culture talking back to the people who are appropriating it. It’s also multigenerational; steampunk isn’t going to be killed off by speed or exploded by youth rebellion. There’s something different about the context of what’s going on.
So people who started it won’t have to find a new way to express themselves now?
BDJ: The people who started it, they were being themselves. Most of them have this moment where somebody tells them, usually at a conference or on the internet, ‘that’s a great steampunk sculpture’ or ‘that’s a great steampunk outfit,’ and they go, ‘steam-what? Oh. Okay. That’s what we’re calling this.’ Cool comes and goes. People have been predicting the death of steampunk for a while and saying that it’s jumped the shark, but it still keeps rolling. And technology is not going anywhere. The modern ways of talking about devices just really fall flat and steampunk is filling that vacuum.
JHC: I’m not sure there really is a shark to jump anymore. We’re well past that. We have seen people who’ve left because of its popularity, who said “I’m not doing steampunk anymore”—and then have come back to it a couple years later. But as far as countercultures go, it almost certainly will move on. Another movement will take its place. It has an interesting staying power, but ultimately the creative core of any counterculture movement is people who are dedicated to doing things differently. Once their message gets across, they’re pretty far down the line doing the next thing already.