Any genre whose aesthetic ties together Victorian costume, history, and a copious amount of top hats (or hats of any kind) must surely point to a concern with manners. As with the first tenet Be Mindful, I believe that steampunk’s exteriors, while important, ultimately gesture towards an interior resolution.
The second tenet I see in steampunk is Be Courteous.
Throughout the steampunk community, you will find an emphasis on courtesy. It almost comes as a mandate, emerging in a concern to preserve etiquette, to promote gracious conversation and debate, and to encourage others to extend the same level of regard to every aspect of their lives.
The punk side of the subgenre appears here. Steampunk, built on reimagined versions of actual history, evaluates and challenges the social mores of those times. However, this analysis isn’t limited to the past. Steampunk critiques not only inequalities in the Victorian era but also the discrepancies in our current one. Consideration is something our modern culture tends to forget in the busy, often impersonal hustle.
For me, courtesy is more than gestures or being polite. While both are certainly important components, this has a deeper root. True courtesy is born out of a genuine love and respect for others. If you believe that other people are the same as you—as interesting, as passionate, as brave, as smart, as creative —or even more in some respects, then expressions of thoughtfulness and civility come as naturally as a first language. Courtesy, essentially, is loving your neighbor as yourself.
There is no getting around it—this takes effort and great deal of intentionality. People don’t always act in lovable ways or know how to accept real love when it’s given to them. Society would have us believe that some people aren’t worth being courteous to, that some cannot be loved.
But we are rebels here. We are bucking the system.
We do not do what is expected of us.
In steampunk, a person is defined by their actions. You are an inventor if you invent; you are an explorer if you explore. It is your manners that make you a lady or a gentleman. It is your desire for a better world that makes you inventive. It is your care for others that makes you not only brave but loud.
Steampunks challenge expectations, and we call ourselves to higher standards in our work, our play, and in our relationships to other people.
As steampunk writer Mark Hodder states, “Steampunk will only become more relevant, as it continually reminds us that motives must be exposed, empire-builders are not heroes, and, though fights must be fought, good manners cost nothing!”
Looking for a definition of steampunk? See here: Steampunk (A Mini Manifesto)
This is the second part of a series I’m writing on what I believe are essential aspects of the steampunk genre. For the first part, please see Steampunk to Me: Be Mindful.
Part III: Steampunk to Me: Be Creative
Part IV: Steampunk to Me: Be Splendid