In the Wikipedia page on Neo-Victorianism (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neo-Victorian) there’s a passing mention of social conservatives being drawn to Victorian aesthetics, as discussed in Linda Lichter’s The Benevolence of Manners: Recapturing the Lost Art of Gracious Victorian Living. However, as the article points out, that is specifically calling for a return to Victorian morality. If we’re discussing simply the fashion, the manners, the art, literature, and theatrical traditions of Victorian society, there’s no need—in my estimation—to draw favorable comparisons to social conservatism. One societal trend from the turn of the twentieth century that I frequently discuss when wearing my teacher hat rather than my writer hat is the shift from Victorian to Edwardian society, and how it ushered in huge changes in mores and attitudes about inter-socioeconomic socializing. (I usually discuss this as part of a unit on E.M. Forster, who is the human embodiment of Victorian-to-Edwardian cultural changes; and as a closeted gay man, he wasn’t too crazy about Victorian morality.) Furthermore, when you apply Victoriana to steampunk, steampunk is all about enlightenment, science, exploration, and optimism. Not that you can’t be politically conservative and be interested in steampunk, but when you have a patina of science enthusiasm on something, it doesn’t always fly with today’s variant of the right wing.
Perhaps, ultimately, Neo-Victorianism is the one place where both liberals and conservatives can create some compelling art. By deconstructing a socially conservative time, can you cause your reinterpretation of it to unpack some of the oppressive baggage caused by that time period originally? And if you do indeed enjoy the fact that the actual Victorian period was so much more literally “buttoned up,” can you hold that period in high esteem without also praising its failings too much? Ultimately I think there’s room for lots of divergent voices in the genre.
If you’re open-minded enough to wear bustles in public and imagine a sky full of airships, I think you’re open-minded enough to accept each other’s differences of political opinion.
Doctor Who is not entirely a steampunk show, nor has it ever been. Still, the element of time travel is one that steampunk often employs, and what television program is more time travel oriented than Doctor Who? To that end, Doctor Who winds up having steampunk elements in it as the aesthetic of time travel media and fiction have changed and grown more steampunk-oriented. There are artists devoted to creating steampunk-esque Who costumes and props. The TARDIS itself in its Eighth and Eleventh Doctor years has sported more of a gears-and-machinery look and a more Victoriana-influenced look (sandwiching a rather living-organic spaceship style used by the Ninth and Tenth Doctors that was more Farscape than steampunk). In the era of “new” Who (2005 and beyond), there have been clockwork robots, steamships, and absinthe-soaked romps through 1890s Europe. The Eighth Doctor looked quite like Lord Byron and even had his own Frankenstein’s monster-style regeneration (though it’s a bit early in the Victorian era, there is definitely an affinity amongst some steampunk afficianados for the Byron/Shelley literary group). And even in its older eras, Doctor Who has employed an aesthetic full of clocks and levers, hourglasses and flowing frock coats. If we one day found out that the TARDIS itself somehow ran on water vapor, I doubt any fans would be terribly surprised.
Last weekend, I went to Pandoracon, a new multi-fandom convention with a steampunk bent to it. I’ve been to probably four different “brands” of science fiction/gaming/fandom conventions at this point, but I’m only just now getting kind of into the steampunk scene, as it were. As a recovered goth, I must say I find the neo-Victorian elements the most appealing part of the cosplay and literature, and I do enjoy the optimism and dedication to research that steampunk engenders in its fans. I would also hasten to say that my multi-part story series The Curiosity Killers (which I hope to turn into a composite novel) is something I’d definitely call “steampunk inspired.” Over the next month, I’ll be shining a spotlight on both steampunk in general and how my story both differs and adheres to various steampunk elements. For now, I’d love to hear about people’s favorite steampunk-inspired television, film, literature, music, and artworks. What do dedicated steampunks think are seminal works that one should become acquainted with in order to fully appreciate the genre?
In other news, if you’re local to the Dayton, Ohio area, please come to Ghostlight Coffee this Sunday, October 7th at 7:30 pm for the next installment of GHOSTLIGHT LIT. Ten authors will be reading horror stories in anticipation of the Halloween season getting into full swing. I’ll be serving as M.C. once more and debuting a little flash piece that hasn’t even been published yet. We’ve got a great line-up of poets and fiction authors, so grab a warm latté and settle in for some scares!