Steampunk gets a theoretical beatdown

[caption id="attachment_98" align="alignnone" width="500" caption="Still from The City of Lost Children"]Still from The City of Lost Children[/caption] Not to double-dip this week, but once again Design Observer serves up some stellar commentary. This time writer Randy Nakamura rakes Steampunk over the theoretical coals. And rightly so. He says, "Steampunking, with its commerce driven, faddish re-skinning of their own history, is closer to Disney than punk or sci-fi." Oh Snap! Now that the New York Times has declared it a trend to watch, I can't help but recall the flannel-covered faux-grunge styles pumped out by fashion houses in the 90's. Clearly missing the point of what it meant to actually "need" flannel to stay warm here in the Northwest, pop culture hugged the style with angst-less abandon. Context meant nothing... and ding-dong go the bells of post-modernism. Speaking of Po-mo, Nakamura's critique reminds me of the scathing attitude some held (particularly by a professor of mine) toward painter Julian Schnabel as he rose to artist-as-rockstar status in the late 80's. He was accused of pastiche as well. Some felt he had no critical basis in his work, but rather he picked ideas and imagery from points in art history without theoretically being able to tie them together. This is Nakamura's point. Nostalgia is subverting the content, and nostalgia is largely false memories of something better.... which is why advertisers love it so much... and cha-ching goes the drawer of the cash register.... Don't get me wrong, I love the reference points of Steampunk (Brazil, Jules Verne, City of Lost Children) but I would have to agree, as a student of art history, that this "up and coming trend" is really an ignorant pastiche of a time that never really existed. Style is one thing, but as an artistic statement it suffers from historic amnesia. I appreciate the aesthetic, but I don't get devoting ones life to costumes and paraphernalia as if it holds the key to ones identity. Like the existentialists (Sartre I believe) used to say- a fixed identity is an inauthentic one.