Monday, October 6, 2014

Steampunk: bikinis and goggles?

"Steampunk lives in the reincarnated past of shadows and the forgotten. We behold the mystery of possibility; we seek reminiscence about a more elegant Age of Adventure that never really was; we liberate the machine from technocracy and recreate her from Desire and Dreams." 

This is my favorite quote about Steampunk. It's from The Gatehouse blog, 

"Steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction that typically features steam-powered machinery, especially in a setting inspired by industrialized Western civilization during the 19th century. [...] Steampunk perhaps most recognisably features anachronistic technologies or retro-futuristic inventions as people in the 19th century might have envisioned them, and is likewise rooted in the era's perspective on fashion, culture, architectural style, and art."

This is a very clear definition of steampunk from the all-powerful and glorious Wikipedia (and since we're in topic, did you donate?)

I have witnessed very inflamed discussions on a Facebook group, dealing with a gorgeous girl in a golden nylon bikini outfit and a few steampunk-inspired accessories. The main question was, of course, is this Steampunk? On one side, the verdict was NO. Although this has steampunk elements, it is not properly Steampunk. On the other side,YES. Nothing else matters, as long as she wears a pair of goggles.

Steampunk does have definite attributes and symbols. "Anachronistic technologies or retro-futuristic inventions as people in the 19th century might have envisioned them", surely refers to elaborated goggles and other visionary, hyper detailed accessories like boots, corsets, top hats. Airships, big guns and any of the goodies that characterized the turbulent Victorian times, are all welcome. 

But another point is essential to Steampunk. Because the Industrial Revolution just took off, the sensibility and skilled experience of workers and designers -most of whom had been artisans until shortly before- is reflected in the beauty of detail and abundance of decorative elements -even in tough materials such as cast iron. 
Characteristic Steampunk materials are easy to work by hand, supple and raw, like leather, wood, brass, copper, but also lace, silk and canvas. Especially in items of fashion, the manual care devoted to craft them is clearly visible.

A girl in a nylon bikini and steampunk-inspired accessories is missing this second, essential point: it can't be called Steampunk.


if Steampunk is Art, then it can and has to be reinterpreted and reinvented. Art is constantly evolving, it is the highest expression of culture, the collective vision on and understanding of the world around us. Therefore, this girl can be seen as something that Steampunk is becoming. Pop, in my opinion.
The Steampunk movement might have to draw some boundaries and give itself some (even more) definition. There is Steampunk, and that has to stay focused on symbols and ways, never loosing the handmade, artisan look and feel. Have you noticed how utterly hipster Steampunk fans are? 
And then there's a pop version of Steampunk, which borrows steampunk attributes to popular culture, and creates hybrid figures, such as this girl's picure. Meant to be assimilated and processed fast while getting the most pleasure out of it. As Andy Warhol said,

"In the future, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes."

A perfect steampunk scenario.


  1. I would have to see the girl in the bikini before I could make an educated comment. ��

    1. That's a good point. I think your comment implies that each artwork is unique and has to be evaluated as such, which is true.

      Showing a certain pic would drag attention on a specific case, which is not my aim. My aim is to inform, so that everyone can form a personal opinion with more facts at hand, whenever the situation requires it.

  2. Steampop? You have a point! An interesting article, thankyou. I take my Steampunk with a little more handcrafted care, thankyou!
    ~The Navigatrix

  3. Mira,
    Good piece and you raise some excellent questions. I too sometimes feel ambivalent about all the pictures of sexy models in goggles and coggish bikinis. Don’t get me wrong. The models are always attractive and some of the photographs showcase some genuinely impressive accessories and scenes, yet something about them still sometimes feels off to me. So are these pictures legitimately Steampunk or not? I don’t know. But I’d like to offer a different question: are they “good” Steampunk? That is, are they imaginative, creative, and pushing the genre forward. At the risk of sounding snobbish, I’m not always sure they are. Specifically my concern is with the preponderance of these images; there’s A LOT of them. One or two images of sexy Zeppelin pilots is perfectly fine with me, but when every other photo features some young woman in garters, corset, and a tesla gun, I question how much imaginative effort is being put into the photo shoot. Yes, it might be “Steampunk” (whatever that is). Yes, it might even be Art, but is it good Steampunk and good art? Moreover, is it lazy? I consider myself an absolute novice when it comes to Steampunk, and I’ve spent all of five minutes on the scene, yet the thing that attracted me to this genre was the mixture of history, imagination, and storytelling. I was attracted to photographs of carefully crafted costumes and accessories wrought with meticulous detail that made me reimagine my world in a new light. These costumes only get better when someone creates a backstory using a name or a concept for their look. I was attracted to the genre when I saw a USB drive unlike any I had ever seen before or an intricately crafted PC keyboard. A lot of that seems to be missing in the goggles & bikini or goggles and stockings photos. One pretty girl in goggles and bikini looks a lot like another girl in goggles and bikini.
    Recently here in the US, a popular TV comedy show “Key & Peele” did a comedy skit on “Steampunk”. It was funny and well meaning, but I did wonder if it heralded the genre’s over exposure. It’s no longer a hidden subculture. This wide exposure should lend us an urgency to support the more imaginative and creative elements of the culture. I’m not sure that the samples you cited in your excellent piece represent that. Thanks for reading!

    1. I completely agree with you. "the thing that attracted me to this genre was the mixture of history, imagination, and storytelling", it was the same for me. More specifically, I approached Steampunk because of its combination of engineering and aesthetic quality.

      As you have said, there is nothing wrong with a lovely hot model. But the genre is getting saturated with these, rather than with good products. It is a pity because quality and meaning resent, and Steampunk looses its artistic potential.

      I've seen a rising amount of steampunk artists expressing their opinions about this matter, which is great. Thank you for sharing!