Nothing quite kills the ethos of your punk-inspired subculture like a mass-market purveyor of UGG boots — or worse, a tween singing sensation — adopting its aesthetic. That’s why fans of steampunk, the Victorian-era sci-fi cosplayers, may be fleeing en masse to another form of dress-up. Macy’s and Justin Bieber were inspired by steampunk for their holiday windows and Christmas music video, respectively, and fans are worried that their movement could be co-opted for mainstream commercialism.
Steampunk, for the uninitiated, is a genre of literature and a cosplay theme that involves envisioning life in an science-fiction-inspired era where steam power is still used. Steampunk heroes include H.G. Wells and Jules Verne, and practitioners of the craft wear Victorian-era clothing, such as monocles, spats, top hats, and bustiers. They also modify gadgets and accessories to look as though they are of the era, often by adding gears and a bronze patina.
Bieber’s new video for “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” which also promotes the film “Arthur Christmas,” features a wind-up corseted Victorian robot. Workers toil away in a gear-filled factory as they dance, and the Biebs wears a high-tech but ultimately useless glove. Over at Macy’s, the famous holiday windows feature tiny Victorian characters taking a rocket ship to the North Star before a backdrop of gears.
When the steampunks learned about the windows and video, they were wary of the infringement on their subculture. Several blogs proclaimed that Bieber “murdered” steampunk. Others, though, are confident that steampunk will survive its case of the Biebs.
Tampa Steampunk quotes Isabella “Captain” von Pumpernickel, who shuts down the complainers: “If you think steampunk is dead because the ‘mainstream’ has noticed it, well then you weren’t really into it that much. ... You are not a steampunk, you are just a hipster.”
“This will not cause a gigantic influx of early-teen girls into the scene. The Twilight Saga failed to produce such an effect on the goth scene so why should one video/photo shoot now make steampunk something hip for young teens?” writes the Traveler’s Steampunk Blog.
For those who see steampunk as forever tainted by the side-swept bangs of Bieber, there are other subcultures out there. Topless Robot commenter Skipples suggests a switch to Atompunk , and there’s Teslapunk, Clockpunk and Dieselpunk. Punks a-plenty.