A quick note before I fly off to Atlanta for Dragon*Con: Wilhelmina Frame and I sat down for a long Skype interview about the role of politics in steampunk fashion and art. Below is a snippet from our interview, but you can read Part 1 of 2 here on the Steampunk Chronicle.
WF: I want to focus specifically on the United States, because I think there are different things going on depending on the locality of the players. How do you think the American Steampunk scene is interpreting Neo-Victorianism in reference to these concepts?
DP: It’s very interesting that you say American Steam because I also think that there are a lot of Steampunk observers who think that Steampunk is exactly the same; that the scene has the same ideas and groups all over the world, which I definitely don’t agree with.
WF: Nor do I.
DP: Exactly. Whenever I write about Steampunk I specifically say, “I’m writing with a North American focus or particularly an American focus.” It’s so easy, especially because of the internet and how quickly information can spread, to make assumptions about a global community just from one person talking from one particular standpoint. What I think is very interesting about American Steampunk first of all is that the Steampunk subculture started off as a subculture in North America and not in the UK. I’m sure there are Victorianists in the UK and that there certainly was a proto-Steampunk scene there that existed contemporary to whenever American Steam started. But I think that particularly in America, it had influenced the formation of a subculture in a dramatically different way than it has in the UK and that perspective is the one that has been popularized in the media.
American culture has a long fascination with Anglophilia so it’s not surprising that we’re all into the Victorians. Also, because American culture has a long-standing fascination, there has always been a British “Other” versus the American identity. Whether it’s the bad guy from Die Hard or The Beatles or those people who called us “Those Damn Yankees!” America has always had this interesting self-reflexive relationship with itself that is connected with the fascination of England and English culture. American Steampunk, on one hand, does have that Anglophilia obsession. With the growth of the Steampunk community, what Steampunk has been doing as a general trend, is turning away from Victorian England, and becoming more focused on what is important in local culture. This is not just for Americans but also for Canadians, Mexicans, Latin Americans and other European countries. Of course, there is still a fascination with Victorian England but people more and more are becoming more interested in their own culture and in what was happening during the nineteenth century for them.