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Closer to Disney than punk
July 23, 2008 11:09 AM   Subscribe

"I haven’t figured out whether cracking open your computer, attaching it to an Underwood typewriter, then inserting it into a combination Victorian mantel clock/desk and calling it “The Nagy Magical-Movable-Type Pixello-Dynamotronic Computational Engine” is some sort of daft wit or evidence of a pedantry bordering on the pathological. " - Steampunk'd, Or Humbug by Design, design writer Randy Nakamura takes a look at the Steampunk phenomenon.
posted by Artw (115 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
Ah, what would the Internet be without scorn?
posted by Malor at 11:10 AM on July 23, 2008 [3 favorites]


And cue the Doctorow/boingboing bashing in three, two, one, NOW.
posted by cereselle at 11:16 AM on July 23, 2008



Ah, what would the Internet be without scorn?


BBS?
posted by Dr-Baa at 11:16 AM on July 23, 2008


I'm going to say the second thing.
posted by yhbc at 11:17 AM on July 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


Wow, there's someone who isn't completely tired of steampunk by now.
posted by Afroblanco at 11:18 AM on July 23, 2008


I can't wait for the Next Big Thing We Hate On.
posted by DU at 11:19 AM on July 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


(Also, how could anachronism possibly be pedantic?)
posted by DU at 11:20 AM on July 23, 2008


"Maybe Randy Nakamura would like "steampunk" better if it was called "Eamespunk" and involved making computers out of bent plywood." - Bruce Sterling's response.
posted by Artw at 11:21 AM on July 23, 2008 [6 favorites]


posted by Malor Ah, what would the Internet be without scorn?

It would probably look a lot like Boing Boing, in all its unpublished beauty.
posted by optovox at 11:21 AM on July 23, 2008


Let's go for 1950ss retro-futurism instead. It's much more fun.
posted by Harry at 11:25 AM on July 23, 2008


" hvn’t fgrd t whthr crckng pn yr cmptr, ttchng t t n ndrwd tpwrtr, thn nsrtng t nt cmbntn Vctrn mntl clck/dsk nd cllng t “Th Ng~y Mgcl-Mvbl-Tp Pxll-Dnmtrnc Cmpttnl ngn” s sm srt f dft wt r vdnc f pdntr brdrng n th pthlgcl. "
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 11:27 AM on July 23, 2008 [10 favorites]


I'm with DU--still scratching my head over the use of "pedantry" in his statement. I'm not entirely sure that word means what he thinks it means.

"Eamespunk" is terribly amusing, though.
posted by wintersweet at 11:28 AM on July 23, 2008


Personlly, I think it's evidence of pudentistry.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 11:29 AM on July 23, 2008


Antipunk must be the new thing with people hating on what others are doing with their free time.
posted by JibberJabber at 11:34 AM on July 23, 2008


From the comments:

[M]y bike sports a fully functional handbuilt steam-boiler, produciing 100psi steampressure in just about 20 minutes. If you want to feel the superficial quality of my steampunk art, then please place your hand over this valve while I open it.
posted by cereselle at 11:34 AM on July 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


If you want to feel the superficial quality of my steampunk art, then please place your hand over this valve while I open it.

Worst pick-up line evar.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 11:36 AM on July 23, 2008 [3 favorites]


Dear Randy, flag it and move on. Honestly, the huffy hating on steampunk is actually getting more annoying than steampunk itself.
posted by cashman at 11:37 AM on July 23, 2008 [3 favorites]


Metafilter: Feel the superficial quality of my steampunk art
posted by tommasz at 11:38 AM on July 23, 2008 [2 favorites]


The larger, more impossible questions are missing. How would the Victorian imagination conceive and execute a functioning computer? The answer must be more interesting than adding wood veneers to your laptop...

Hah.
posted by delmoi at 11:38 AM on July 23, 2008


This guy is awesome. Now excuse me while I go glue some watch parts to my cat in anticipation of the next next big thing (STEAMCATS LOL).
posted by kittens for breakfast at 11:38 AM on July 23, 2008 [16 favorites]


If you want to feel the superficial quality of my steampunk art, then please place your hand over this valve while I open it.

I'm kind of curious about that - does the boiler actually DO anything? He says the thing runs of a battery (like wot proper Victorians did, honest) which implies the boiler is for show, so isn't that both superficial and dangerous?
posted by Artw at 11:40 AM on July 23, 2008


Honestly, the huffy hating on steampunk is actually getting more annoying than steampunk itself.

Actually, that's hardly possible.

Steampunk itself is clearly the most huffy of the two, what with the pumps and the steam and everything.
posted by splice at 11:41 AM on July 23, 2008


Metafilter: Feel the superficial quality of my steampunk art

See, I would've gone with the other half.

Metafilter: Please place your hand over this valve while I open it.
posted by cereselle at 11:43 AM on July 23, 2008


Well yes but, you gotta admit that steampunk pettipants are just about as sexy as it gets!
posted by Mike D at 11:44 AM on July 23, 2008


Huffy.

Now THAT'S retro-fun.... Good times.....
posted by Debaser626 at 11:45 AM on July 23, 2008


some sort of daft wit or evidence of a pedantry bordering on the pathological

Can't it be both? Anyway, Nakamura and his prescriptive ilk can take on the gushing mass-media style writers in a big old cage match to the death, and that will clear up some space for people to actually get things done around here. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to find something onto which I can glue some wood veneer.
posted by Faint of Butt at 11:47 AM on July 23, 2008


OK, the pettipants are cute. Or the girl in them is, at least. And I'll let Cory off without any hating if this makes it to BB's front page.

Someone (thousands, perhaps) must have submitted it already, right?
posted by imperium at 11:48 AM on July 23, 2008


Let's go for 1950ss retro-futurism instead. It's much more fun.

Agreed! Where's my fins! Where's my jetpack? Where's all the brightly colored plastic-fantastic that we got on our Drive-Ins and Jetsons Cartoons. (The Jetsons were 60s, I know.) Googie architecture! Mondrian-inspired kitchens! PLASTIC EVERTYHING.

I want this now!
posted by SansPoint at 11:50 AM on July 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


He seems angry. Maybe he needs to stop reading boingboing.
posted by Pronoiac at 11:56 AM on July 23, 2008


Ok, any bets on how long before someone posts a step-by-step of how they built their eamspunk mod? I'm saying 5 working days. The point I take from Sterling's sour-grapes riposte is probably not the one that he intended -- twee is like relationship troubles, in the sense that if you have your own kind you don't want to hear about anyone else's. And both are inflicted upon others far more than they should be, by people who think their tale is the most interesting one to tell, EVAR.
posted by nímwunnan at 12:03 PM on July 23, 2008


" hvn’t fgrd t whthr crckng pn yr cmptr, ttchng t t n ndrwd tpwrtr, thn nsrtng t nt cmbntn Vctrn mntl clck/dsk nd cllng t “Th Ng~y Mgcl-Mvbl-Tp Pxll-Dnmtrnc Cmpttnl ngn” s sm srt f dft wt r vdnc f pdntr brdrng n th pthlgcl. "

! ! Cthlh ftgn!
posted by JHarris at 12:10 PM on July 23, 2008 [2 favorites]


I don't care much about steampunk, but Nakamura isn't nearly as clever or historically erudite as he thinks he is.
posted by nasreddin at 12:22 PM on July 23, 2008


These comments are steaming something.
posted by srboisvert at 12:24 PM on July 23, 2008


Sanspoint, total agreement with looking to the '60s, the last big attempt to move style forward. The '70s fumbled and retrenched with '50s influenced punk, which started the reshuffling of the past that we're seeing today. I think steampunk is the very cute last gasp of retroism, because you can mod things fairly easily to look Victorian, but Regency is tough.

Okay, going '60s would still be retro. But at least it would be the cutting edge of retro. After that, you're just into the recursive retro of style commenting on what it's commented on.

Hmm. Must make an Adam Strange suit now.
posted by shetterly at 12:29 PM on July 23, 2008


I was going to write something witty and withering but the pettipants photo took all that away from me.
posted by Ber at 12:31 PM on July 23, 2008


I still like steampunk.

I also carried a Bert and Ernie lunchbox until I was nine and my dad started taping new images over the front so the other kids would stop making fun of me.
posted by katillathehun at 12:31 PM on July 23, 2008 [2 favorites]


Yeah, from reading this, his steam boiler on the moped doesn't actually do anything aside from steam.

Also, in the first picture, he appears to be entering the World's Largest Douchebag Exposition and Faire.
posted by klangklangston at 12:38 PM on July 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


(I am of course using modern electronics to control the input and output of electrons, yet the principle is the same one that powered the first electric vehicles.)

That right there is the true money quote.
posted by rusty at 12:39 PM on July 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


Why would I want to ruin my Underwood typewriter by attaching it to a computer? I love it specifically because it's not a computer. (It is, however, about 12 pounds of toe stubbing fury, which is to say; it's under my desk and it's fucking heavy.)
posted by quin at 12:47 PM on July 23, 2008


I don't get the steampunk hate. I mean, if it's not your thing, it's not your thing (and it's not really my thing), but none of these people are interfering with anyone's ability to build (or not build) DIY projects in $YOUR_STYLE, and they are fostering what seems to be a supportive culture that encourages DIY creativity. I like that they're into documenting their process -- I used the electrolytic etching process that Jake Von Slatt described on Steampunk Workshop to make homemade christmas gifts a couple of years ago. The stuff I made wasn't "steampunk" in aesthetic, but the process was neat and simple for a not-particularly-trained novice to execute.

I can see how people get annoyed with all the blog coverage steampunk gets on certain blogs, but the "n" key in Google Reader only takes like, what, half a second to press, amirite?
posted by Alterscape at 12:49 PM on July 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


My annoyance with this genre dissipated rapidly once I unsubscribed from a certain link blog.

Yeah, I said it.
posted by everichon at 12:52 PM on July 23, 2008 [2 favorites]


amirite?

It really depends on how quickly your pneumatic actuators react.
posted by Dave Faris at 12:55 PM on July 23, 2008


(from klang's link):

TS: Ya, it's just standard propane tank and torch, just stuck it in there, and my friend TIG welded it together and helped me get it all sealed up. There are still a few leaks. We call them safety valves [laughs].

SPWS: I'd love to see it steam up!


Now, first of all, I'm actually kind of indifferent to steampunk as a rule, in that I've never given it any more thought than I have to, say, the ethics of Miley Cyrus' Vanity Fair photoshoot. So I have to ask: Is steampunk fandom predicated on excitement about steam in and of itself? Because if so, that blog should come get a load of my '50s-era gas stove with a double boiler on top. Hoowheee!

Second, and more important, do you think this guy's friend TIG like saw an early draft of that article where he was just "Tig" and was all like, "How dare they? I am Tee-Eye-Gee, Tank Implementation Guru, and I demand proper credit"? Because that's how I imagine it, in which case the World's Largest Douchebag Expo just found itself a blue ribbon winner right there.
posted by gompa at 1:02 PM on July 23, 2008


I think he was referring to the process of TIG welding.
posted by everichon at 1:04 PM on July 23, 2008 [3 favorites]


So, wait, half of the posts on this thread are complaining about those that complain about steampunk - the other half are people complaining about steampunk.

Well, I want to completely rip the space-time continuum here and complain about the complaining of those that complain about the complaining and just those that complain to round it out and make it even. Feel free to complain about my complaining about the complaining complainers.

I'm off to make some anagram maps.
posted by Muddler at 1:05 PM on July 23, 2008


My annoyance with this genre dissipated rapidly once I unsubscribed from a certain link blog.

My annoyance with this genre dissipated rapidly once I toggled the release valve.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 1:06 PM on July 23, 2008


My annoyance with this genre dissipated rapidly once I learned some arc welding lingo.
posted by gompa at 1:09 PM on July 23, 2008 [2 favorites]


lingo 8 mai babby
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 1:11 PM on July 23, 2008


Anagrampunk is so five minutes ago.
posted by cortex at 1:11 PM on July 23, 2008


A sum of septugenarian vikings: "om."
posted by cortex at 1:12 PM on July 23, 2008


The problem with steampunk is that the people doing it think of it as (in the words of Tom Sepe of five minute internet steampunk-motorcycle half-fame): a vibrant and multi-faceted artistic movement.

Steampunk is dull when it's an artistic movement. Gears. Tubing. Brass. Blah. Whatever. It seems to me that steampunk is a reaction to the homogenity of modern culture. What motivation can there be for transforming your computer into a weird contraption from an alternative history other than to have it not look like the beige boxes and design-conscious fruit-flavoured creations produced in their millions?

And then the people doing this stuff start a movement and suddenly it's all homogenous within their own little subconscious.

Incidentally, I think this is why people get so pissed off with BoingBoing's constant coverage of steampunk. Seeing that motorcycle chugging along the street would be surprising and unexpected. I guess most people would think of it as something fun and unique. On a street full of ordinary cars it would be. But when you put this stuff together it loses its appeal. Its novelty is clear when juxtaposed against the everyday humdrum, but completely obscured when you can look at post after post of it.

I don't want to see steampunk stuff lined up in clichéd rows. If I have to see post after post of this kind of stuff, well, I want to see technology modified to reflect every possible history that someone can dream up. Sumerian MP3 players. Carolingian bicycles. The digital camera that Lorenzo de' Medici would have used to take pictures of Botticelli's tablet PC. But really, I'd prefer to see any of these come out of nowhere and be an awesome moment in a day when all I expected to do was buy some milk from the shops, something that does what art should actually do: surprise, confront, astonish.

So fuck the idea of steampunk as an artistic movement and fuck the people who think turning it into just another goddamn aesthetic is a good idea.
posted by xchmp at 1:14 PM on July 23, 2008 [7 favorites]


My annoyance in general dissipates when I toggle my "release valve".

Wait, what?
posted by everichon at 1:14 PM on July 23, 2008 [2 favorites]


And then the people doing this stuff start a movement and suddenly it's all homogenous within their own little subconscious.

By which I of course mean "subculture". Damn my subconscious.
posted by xchmp at 1:19 PM on July 23, 2008


Welcome Mr. Nakamura, to the democratization of design; it's a shame you've arrived so late.
posted by xod at 1:19 PM on July 23, 2008


are there other people besides this guy who are trying to place brazil as a sort of steampunk originator? I mean, aside from the total lack of steam and punk, it seems patently obvious to me that brazil was an amalgamation of futurism and 50s television culture, among the other dystopian effects gilliam used. Pneumatic tubes, sure, but rounded televisions and plastic moire pattern magnifiers are not victorian in the slightest. the style of the movie is all art deco and 50s propaganda. in point of fact, I saw the use of mirrors and magnifiers as a fairly obvious indicator of the relentless penny-pinching bottom-lining lunacy of both socialism and corporate business. maybe that's me. either way, I see about as much victorian era material in the movie (outside of victorian sensibilities and ethics) as I do in a bowl of cheerios. sure, that name makes you think "oh! pip! pip! it's so swell being victorian and english!" but in substance the product looks and tastes more like a tire than a carriage wheel.

tiresome steampunk superficiality aside, there must be some more concrete steampunk origin out there that someone can point to. You'd think this guy hadn't even heard of it before a year ago.
posted by shmegegge at 1:23 PM on July 23, 2008 [2 favorites]


tiresome steampunk superficiality aside, there must be some more concrete steampunk origin out there that someone can point to.

Yep.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 1:28 PM on July 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


man i've been meaning to read that for forever, now. i cannot imagine what's stopped me so far.

also: I wish gametap or somebody would re-release this game without all the bugs.
posted by shmegegge at 1:32 PM on July 23, 2008


Can't say I enjoyed The Difference Engine. It took too long to build up any momentum, and then it suddenly boiled over before anything much could come of it.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 1:37 PM on July 23, 2008


oh wow. I'm gonna go wash that joke out of my mind, now.
posted by shmegegge at 1:40 PM on July 23, 2008


Oh, Arcanum. Why couldn't you be perfect instead of awesome and bugged to hell?
posted by cortex at 1:42 PM on July 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


Yeah. The joke was bad, except... I actually meant it. I wanted to like The Difference Engine, but it put me to sleep.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 1:43 PM on July 23, 2008


Oh, Arcanum. Why couldn't you be perfect instead of awesome and bugged to hell?

Because it was made by Troika, who did not once in their short life as a studio release a game that was actually ready for play. I don't know who it was over there that caused them to so consistently have this problem, but I hope he's very happy working in whatever field he actually IS good at, instead of whatever he did at Troika.
posted by shmegegge at 1:53 PM on July 23, 2008


I thought the stuff pictured was pretty. Isn't that the whole point?

I don't get you people.
posted by kyrademon at 2:03 PM on July 23, 2008


I like to think that having been principally responsible for the Fallout games just broke them the same way genius destroys young mathematicians.

Or maybe it was a Scientological mole, destroying the company from the inside as revenge for all the Hubologist jokes in Fallout 2.
posted by cortex at 2:05 PM on July 23, 2008


I imagine there must have been some point during the productin of Temple of Elemental Evil where one of the leads looked at another and said:

Do you think it was a mistake to try to code the entire AD&D 2nd Edition rule set, complete with all of the supplemental books, into a fully realized Greyhawk?

Maybe the other lead would agree, or not. I don't know. But I like to think someone in that room would sit back in his chair, think back to those days in someone's parents' basement and remember with horror all the times that some weird circumstance where a particular combination of spell and/or ability effects on some peculiar material would result in an argument over what precisely would happen that was so virulent, so poisonous in its vigor, that friendships were forever broken, or at least broken for the summer. And then, picturing that argument happening in the internal workings of some poor schmuck's computer, he might sob quietly to himself, saying just under his breath as he did so "oh god, what have we done?"
posted by shmegegge at 2:13 PM on July 23, 2008 [3 favorites]


However, the jig is up: as a design aesthetic, Steampunk is still nascent, a set of interesting ideas that have been given the spotlight far too soon.

This, & xchmp, touches on the spectrum of subculture vs. overexposure, which seems worth exploring to me.
posted by Pronoiac at 2:16 PM on July 23, 2008


I was going to leave a pithy comment but the bolier on my steam powered laptop crapped out.
posted by fixedgear at 2:18 PM on July 23, 2008


I'm thinking of forming my own throw-back lifestyle/art movement. We will follow classic James Bond films for guidance. Men will dress in suits and women will take names with awkward sexual puns. We will only use items that also function as weapons or communication devices. We will drink martinis and hang out in exotic locals. We will live the life of spies.

Now we just need a name. Cloakndaggerpunk doesn't quite role of the tongue. Maybe something like bond-age.
posted by drezdn at 2:24 PM on July 23, 2008 [6 favorites]


Now we just need a name. Cloakndaggerpunk doesn't quite role of the tongue. Maybe something like—

Spypunk?

—bond-age.

Ah. I see what you were doing there.
posted by cortex at 2:27 PM on July 23, 2008


Well, actually, I think the comparison to Disney is apt. Steampunking objects is just the same kind of fanwank as decorating your entire household in Star Trek: The Next Generation or lining your wall with McFarlane toys. The problem, as revealed in the comments, is that its advocates want to play both sides of "its just a hobby" and "profound statement about commercial culture." And to the extent that it does have pretensions of being more than a fanwank, Nakamura nailed it.

Although looking over the infamous BoingBoing, it seems that Steampunk has appropriated large chunks of found/junk/trash art. Which is sad given how that does have a tradition in the design world going back to Duchamp and Man Ray.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:29 PM on July 23, 2008


Steampunk is form over function. Therefore, bad.
"We build pretty things", no ethic or aesthetic urge, hardly any artistic value or reasoning inside, a caricature of a style that hardly existed in its own time, re-read and interpreted for the crafty steampunkers by the mass media. Also, steaming (pun intended) commenters on the DO post are unsufferably verbose, which I think is fitting.

last thing I saw on the BB stream, I think, "pretty" broches made from ancient typewriter keys. Touch my 1908 Remington, kid, and I'm pulling the other Remington out of the closet
posted by _dario at 3:02 PM on July 23, 2008 [4 favorites]


The problem, as revealed in the comments, is that its advocates want to play both sides of "its just a hobby" and "profound statement about commercial culture."

Well, can you really blame them? When someone writes an online criticism against any subculture, of course members of that subculture are going to defend themselves and rarely are they going to do so in the same way. Some people are going to say, "You're thinking way too hard about this, it's just a hobby!" and some will say, "You clearly don't get that it's so much more than a hobby!"

When not actively defending it, most steampunk advocates probably just thing it's a fun and cool thing. I don't think it's necessarily fair to ignore the fact that the comments are in response to a critic starting a dialogue on their hobby, and act like these commentors are coming out of nowhere with their rhetoric.

If that makes any sense, it reminds me of what always happens when someone posts an FPP about (for example!) criticisms of some random thing people never think about. Then posters reply with their thoughts, and someone always goes, "That's the problem with you people, you spend way too much time thinking about this!" when most posters probably never give it a second thought on a normal day.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 3:05 PM on July 23, 2008


KirkJobSluder, makers get props for being makers instead of consumers, no matter what they're making. So long as it's not a death ray. Or maybe, especially if it's a death ray.
posted by shetterly at 3:12 PM on July 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


Insert footnote for my favorite maker of all time: Ed Galloway of Galloway's Totem Pole Park. But the Watts Tower is mighty awesome, too.

If steampunk makers really want respect, they need to start building rockets. Or, at least, zeppelins.
posted by shetterly at 3:19 PM on July 23, 2008


Actually, I think a steampunk death ray would be awesome!
"Now everybody stand right there while it warms up..."
"No."
Everybody walks off.
"Damn you, Fourier! DAAAMN YOUUUUU!!!"
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:25 PM on July 23, 2008 [3 favorites]


If the number of recent articles in the mainstream press is any reliable barometer (The New York Times, Boston Globe, Paper, and Print all have featured the movement in the past year), Steampunk is the next big thing.

Whoo. What a relief. Seriously, the writer for Design Observer thinks that articles in the mainstream press are an indication of the next big thing?

He seems a little jealous that this flavor of dork is having fun with something that would make him feel silly. So many backhanded compliments and backhanded derision.

Meanwhile, he's using a sort of trendy writing style that could be skewered along the same logical lines as he uses in this piece, what with his weary analysis tempered with tidbits of respect unwound by backpedaled sarcasm with a touch of postmodernist senior thesis. Confidential to Mr. Nakamura: please research synonyms for "seems." I was beginning to think you were dreaming the whole thing.
posted by desuetude at 3:36 PM on July 23, 2008


> nostalgic for an imagined, non-existent past, politically quietist, and culturally insular hidden
> behind cul-de-sacs of carefully styled anachronisms that let in no chaos or ferment. The
> larger, more impossible questions are missing.

fuller checks mirror. Yep, that's us all right.


> I wanted to like The Difference Engine, but it put me to sleep.

I note, gratefully, that it put me to sleep faster than a pill for twelve nights running. I'd love to find another book like it.
posted by jfuller at 3:46 PM on July 23, 2008


shetterly: KirkJobSluder, makers get props for being makers instead of consumers, no matter what they're making. So long as it's not a death ray. Or maybe, especially if it's a death ray.

Certainly, and I don't see where anyone is not getting props for making. But how much additional props should makers of pastel pink toilet paper cozy dolls get for their claims of a radical critique of modern product design?
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:50 PM on July 23, 2008


Thanks for asking this. I would have missed the FPP otherwise. :)

Cool article, since I know most the crap he's writing about.
posted by cjorgensen at 3:54 PM on July 23, 2008


I actually did like steampunk a quite a bit when it started cropping up, what, three years ago? Four? Now it's ready for the attic (I've cleared space for it next to my Oldenberg hamburger.) Fads don't go to the New York times to become the next big thing; they go there to die.

But now I think of it, steampunk could have a future. If it persists outside the Times and the attic it could become the next furry.
posted by jfuller at 3:59 PM on July 23, 2008


The Difference Engine came out two or three years after Game Designer's Workshop's Space: 1889, but Victorian technology on steroids has been an occasional theme since the Victorian era.

Once upon a time I showed someone a picture of my work bench and they asked why I went to all that trouble (dovetails, redheart inlay, the only metal fasteners are part of the vise) and I said something like, "If you want to do beautiful work, it helps to use beautiful tools." They looked at me like I was nuts. Given that the person I was talking to is someone who is generally regarded as having good taste makes a pretty good point about where our design aesthetics have gone.

Look at our high end stuff - say the instrumentation in a science lab - and it will be that god-awful soulless "putty" color. Rosewood, brass and tempered black paint at least make you feel like what you're doing might matter somehow.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 4:10 PM on July 23, 2008 [2 favorites]


If it persists outside the Times and the attic it could become the next furry.

I think that will require a whole other sticky, creepy sexual dimension that steampunk just doesn't have (yet).
posted by doctor_negative at 4:11 PM on July 23, 2008


I think that will require a whole other sticky, creepy sexual dimension that steampunk just doesn't have (yet).

My harem of pneumatic pleasure-automata and I beg to disagree with you.
posted by infinitywaltz at 4:14 PM on July 23, 2008 [2 favorites]


But how much additional props should makers of pastel pink toilet paper cozy dolls get for their claims of a radical critique of modern product design?

Agreed. Steampunk is a community, not a movement, an aesthetic without a cause. It's Faux Victoriana? I dunno. But I still love the look, for all that I think it's become too hot to be hep. Maybe I'm not being fair to cozy doll makers, but the Steampunk makers put some serious time into their craft. Whatever it is, it ain't buying the TM toys and keeping them in the bubble wrap.

Or maybe, what Kid Charlemagne said while I hit "preview."
posted by shetterly at 4:16 PM on July 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


Weird. I know the "Datamancer" featured in the illustration at the top of the article. He's really very nice, and I don't think takes himself at all seriously.

He made a really good Schroedinger's Cat joke once.
posted by deafmute at 4:42 PM on July 23, 2008


No he didn't.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:48 PM on July 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


Yes he did.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:48 PM on July 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


I look forward to Elizabethan Shakespunk, where all I/O must be either in iambic pentameter, or as rhyming couplets, and all hardware must be built from raw wood, stone, or shit.

Or Leonardopunk, where you glue wooden cogs onto everything and have it powered by leather sails attached to a wooden shaft that sticks out through the window.
posted by 5MeoCMP at 4:55 PM on July 23, 2008 [2 favorites]


5MeoCMP, clockpunk. I dunno if any makers have gone there yet.
posted by shetterly at 5:35 PM on July 23, 2008


Why did he focus on a bike that only uses steam for aesthetics when there are actual steampowered ones out there?
posted by small_ruminant at 6:03 PM on July 23, 2008


Why did he focus on a bike that only uses steam for aesthetics when there are actual steampowered ones out there?

Yeah, I like Steampunk stuff but it kind of annoys me that he calls it a "Steam Electric Hybrid Motorcycle." he should either hook a piston up to an alternator, add a mini steam turbine to charge up the battery or change the name.

This is a steam powered bike
posted by Tenuki at 7:04 PM on July 23, 2008


from the comments:

Hello --

I'm a designer and artist who has made several works in the Steampunk style:

The Dihemispheric Chronaether Agitator

The Tiraparator

and The Steampunk Treehouse

And while there is much to malign about "Steampunk" there is also much to praise. It should not be picked on simply because it’s gotten allot of press lately.


* This article is too quick to accept that everything the style sections have lumped together as Steampunk are of the same type. A wooden box with old gears glued to it is unlikely to be equal to, say, a complex set of brass apertures.

* The quick dismissal of a group of artists as”mediocre hobbyists” smacks of the arrogance that makes most people who actual build object think that those who simply design them are over-paid snobs. Design is difficult and so is fabrication.

* Aligning Steampunk closer to Disney then punk or sci-fi exposes a lack of understand of all three. White it is true the “punk” in Steampunk came about as a reaction/comparison to cyberpunk the Steampunk does in fact some elements in common with the essence of punk. While I am no authority on the punk movement I do know it included more then punkrock. A core element of punk culture is the DIY philosophy which Steampunkers have in spades.

* The article tosses the baby with the bathwater in dismissing the media hype (rightly so) it dismisses the creators of the work. It never asks why people have chose to work in brass and copper. Why people have chose to restyle modern objects in antique style. Brass and copper are very workable metals that require simply tools to cut, form and fuse. Unlike working with mild and stainless steel it’s easy to make things from these materials in your basement with tools from the local hardware store. Also building objects with wood, brass and copper is largely a reaction against the over use of plastics by the contemporary design lot.

* However, allot of what is dubbed as Steampunk is largely about style then function. And allot of it also has a cheesy prop look to it. But the point is not that the “Steampunk” object people make on the weekends out of old junk are cheesy and cliche — it’s that they are making objects. Steampunk is part of a larger subculture that is emphasizing the actual making of objects

* The author dismisses Seans quote “The wonderful thing about a steam engine is that you can follow the path of power generation …” by saying “One could easily argue that following the etched surface of a printed circuit board would provide no less a fascinating visual “map” of the processes of a computer or electronic device.” While this statement has some truth in it largely misses the point. Sure an electrical engineer could deduce the function of a _simple_ PCB, assuming he had full knowledge of the chips and code involved (for this reason the authors statement demonstrates a poor understanding of of how modern electronics work) but your average person could not. It is because, as Sean said, you can not just how it works (as is with the PCB) but you can see it working (unlike a PCB). It is for this reason that people will stare and marvel at the steam engines and Steampunk devices that KSW shows.

* I wish I had a good publicist.
posted by flotson at 7:57 PM on July 23, 2008 [2 favorites]


flotson, publicist hint: include your favorite links to your work to ease the googling.
posted by shetterly at 8:14 PM on July 23, 2008


Sumerian MP3 players.

I want one. Now.

I don't know enough to mod my ipod to do that. And I don't know any cuneiform. Damn.

(I was at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston today, saw an Assyrian lawsuit. There was a stamp in the center that could replace an ipod wheel. But you'd need the text to run all over the entire product, not just in some small window. There's potential with this idea, but the execution will be tremendously difficult. I'll stop now.)
posted by Hactar at 8:26 PM on July 23, 2008


Check it out:
Synchonicitous phlogiston expulser

Gravitic lenticular velocipede

See? I'm steampunk too.
posted by Mister_A at 8:35 PM on July 23, 2008


Phlogiston, IIRC, went out the window as a serious theory in the late 1700s, with the discovery of oxygen. They had luminiferous aether until the 20s though.
posted by Artw at 9:30 PM on July 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


I keep wondering why Stephenson's The Diamond Age isn't popping up more often as a steampunk reference. Nanotech, dirigibles, supercomputers disguised as ornate library books, oversized dusters (with many buckles and flaps) swirling in the wind, &c.
posted by gac at 10:01 PM on July 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


I always assumed that steampunk was simply a reaction to the future-wank that is cyber punk, which in turn was a reaction to the original future-wank that was the now totally uncool design aesthetic my parents grew up with (Danish Modern and Birmingham Library, anyone?). Right now the conventional design themes I see involves using solid blocks of bright primary colours and seamless plastic and metals that give everything the appearance it was designed by playskool engineers, ala the latest ipods. The counter-aesthetic influence that seems to shine through is found in the ornate brocades and florals that keep popping up on stuff, and while I would not blame steampunk, the resurgence of very feminine fashion shows that the late 00’s are very, very frilly.

What strikes me about this article is that it ignores that when I was a young teenager, and a goth, there was a lively cyberpunk influence to alternate fashion that seems to have burned itself out in the sleek ‘matrix’ look. I suspect given the vocal backlash against steampunk, all that will soon be tamped down with some aggressively brushed concrete and function over form art, until sufficient time has passed that ‘turn of the century’ is cool again.
posted by Phalene at 6:06 AM on July 24, 2008


I'm still waiting for Dandypunk to take off. It'll be great! Everyone bust out their best lead-based makeups and faux beaty marks. We can learn to titter again! I'll convert my moped into a Fop Mobile by attaching a giant powdered wig to the handle bars. Also, snuff, lots and lots of snuff.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:18 AM on July 24, 2008 [3 favorites]


I'm still waiting for Dandypunk to take off. It'll be great!

The template is right there, but somehow I just can't see it. With steampunk, as with most fashion movements, all you have to do is stand there and look the part; dandypunk, done right, would require you to actually say clever things. For obvious reasons, that would never, never catch on.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 6:34 AM on July 24, 2008


STEAMCATS LOL!
posted by sixswitch at 7:51 AM on July 24, 2008


Steam engines are cool. Pneumatics and hydraulic machines are cool. Glueing brass gears to a modern electric motor to spin but do no work is not cool. Nor is a steam powered smoke machine.
posted by garlic at 8:04 AM on July 24, 2008


Rosewood, brass and tempered black paint at least make you feel like what you're doing might matter somehow.

Rosewood, brass and tempered black paint are very hard to clean and sterilize. Hence their notable absence from modern laborotoria. This goes back to the form vs. function argument -- sometimes the form dictated by the function is extremely unimpressive.

That actual steam powered bike is awesome, though. I think it shows perfectly the difference between the true beauty of a machine whose parts and their arrangement are dictated wholly by their purpose, and the proppy faux beauty of a scavenged motorbike with lead-acid batteries disguised by a bunch of wooden crap. Note also that the Jake Von Slatt victorian computer mod in the original article is only beautiful when it's off. Find a picture of it with the screen on -- it immediately turns to shit.

"Steampunk" is riddled with gluers of nonfunctional cogs and sadly lacking in makers of functional machines. That's the problem with it.
posted by rusty at 9:05 AM on July 24, 2008 [2 favorites]


"original future-wank that was the now totally uncool design aesthetic my parents grew up with (Danish Modern and Birmingham Library, anyone?)."

Uh… Danish Modern is cool as shit, man.

"When not actively defending it, most steampunk advocates probably just thing it's a fun and cool thing."

Well, yeah, but part of my take-away from "punk" is not to uncritically accept anything. That's what regarding it as just "fun and cool" does, and the vast majority of the work can't stand up to any critical examination.

(I am trying to remember the name of the mid-'90s steampunk RPG that my pals and I played after we got sick of Shadowrun, as it was pretty damn sweet.)
posted by klangklangston at 9:34 AM on July 24, 2008


Uh… Danish Modern is cool as shit, man.

In non-cosplay design circles mid century modern seems to be very big right now.
posted by Artw at 10:25 AM on July 24, 2008


also: I wish gametap or somebody would re-release this game without all the bugs.

I just read recently that the Final Patch had been released, as created by a particularly tenacious fan of the original game. I believe you can find it here:

Click Me

...And more goodies here

Enjoy.
posted by zueod at 11:27 AM on July 24, 2008 [3 favorites]


"In non-cosplay design circles mid century modern seems to be very big right now."

Yeah, and has been for some time. Try looking at these and not thinking of Bo Concept, or similar hip design houses. The biggest threat to Danish Modern (or mid-century modernism or Scandinavian modernism) as "cool" is probably Ikea making sure that every dorm has some.
posted by klangklangston at 4:32 PM on July 24, 2008


Heh - I was pre-weaned of infatuation for Steampunk at an early age; my dad got me one of those working steam engine models and the thing gave me quite the scalding...

Though - I *liked*; The Difference Engine, Space: 1889, Castle Falkenstein, The Diamond Age and most Jules Verne... I have to admit - I like the visual asthetic, but fundamentally it is a niche/geek thing to do like extreme Star Trek/Star Wars fandom, cosplay, etc.
posted by jkaczor at 5:15 PM on July 24, 2008


"I am trying to remember the name of the mid-'90s steampunk RPG that my pals and I played after we got sick of Shadowrun, as it was pretty damn sweet.

Castle Falkenstein, baby. This whole steampunk thing is *so* fifteen years ago, for us pen & paper nerds.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Castle_Falkenstein_(role-playing_game)
posted by Amanojaku at 5:42 PM on July 24, 2008


No, I was thinking of Deadlands and Space: 1889, now that I've looked back on 'em. I think we also set a Turtles in Time campaign in a steam-powered alternate past.

(NERDS!)
posted by klangklangston at 11:53 AM on July 25, 2008


Hey, turtles were cool when they were B&W.
posted by Artw at 11:55 AM on July 25, 2008


Heh. I looked at my old sourcebooks when I moved and I was amazed at how crude the TMNT stuff was—I mean, it looked like it had been all typed on a failing Selectric and xeroxed sloppily. But it did have plenty of great art, and the Palladium/Rifts gameplay was pretty solid. Too bad every time I've mentioned getting a game together, people have reacted like I was selling copied of the Watchtower.
posted by klangklangston at 1:47 PM on July 25, 2008


(copies, obvs.)
posted by klangklangston at 1:47 PM on July 25, 2008


Cyberpunk vs. Steampunk in the Austin Chronicle.

Weirdest choice of "cyberpunk" examples ever: As cultural soothsayers, the cyberpunk auteurs still have their trademark long teeth and sinewy, loping legs, but the black fact of the matter is that the futurist fictioneering of Gibson's "The Gernsback Continuum" and Sterling's Zeitgeist has not only been superseded by the sort of reality mind-bombs not seen since the steampunk days of the Industrial Revolution.
posted by Artw at 2:04 PM on July 25, 2008


Eamespunk
posted by Artw at 8:32 AM on July 29, 2008


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