Steampunk was first christened in 1987, a lifetime ago as cultural and literary fads are measured. It has proved remarkably long-lived, but as Steampunk hits the mainstream cultural radar and finds its way onto primetime tv shows like CASTLE, how long before people start saying they're sick of it? Or is this a genre that will have lasting appeal?
Your analysis, IMO, is spot on. It's not simply about taking things apart. As a mechanic, (I've actually worked on those elegant old steam engines) I can attest to the delights of putting somthing back together and making it run. And yes, the issues of industrialization are still here. Getting worse as globalization renders the means of production more and more abstract and less and less humane.
SteamPunk is not about escapism. It's about reclaiming a positive future by rewriting the past. The claims staked out are the de facto gold rush of renewed literary works, artistic endevours, and appropriate/humane/beautiful technologies. How about that as a new twist on "The Gilded Age?"
All despite supposedly shortened attention spans, the disinterest of young people in history, reading and writing, and imaginations stunted by TV or video games. I've read the entire list of introductions at Brass Goggles. I was amazed how many teens could express themselves. Not just the highly educated Europeans, but ordinary kids in the American midwest. Think about this: SP is driven by literature. Not by pop music, violent video games, or single sentence mispelled self-centered instant communications.
There is another aspect of "putting things back together." A decade or so ago, deconstruction was all the rage. It was an outcome of the idea that since Einstein's relativity, there is no spot from which to make an objective observation. Especially since "objectivity' had been found to be simply the viewpoint of western European white males. So then on to taking apart what was once taken for granted. But this quickly devolved into something edging on solipcism. That every view was valid. And that there were no absolutes, and thus no standards by which to make judgements. So then what?
As European historians tell us, modernity, the Enlightenment belief in rational science as the answer to all human problems, died in the trenches of WW I. Postmodernism has been declared, but has yet to take shape. Well, we've gotten past the stage of delight in destroying the old and established. We're sitting on the bricks, wondering what to replace them with. But that's the point of SP. There has been enough distance that we can reclaim what was of value. Those old bricks can be made into dandy boiler fireboxes. Full steam ahead to what I like to call PastModernism.
I think the key to all this is support. As authors, it is up to us to write and continue writing the very best stories we can to keep the readers happy. As a whole we can find more and more ways to build the genre with items, costumes, events, films, etc.
One of the keys to this would be the independents. Film companies, publishers, artists. With a grand display of support for one another, we can build this into one of the strongest and long living genres.
I hate to state this but Paul di Filippo may have a point...
"Generally speaking, by the time a subculture such as steampunk secures the attention of major media, resulting in extensive coverage of the craze, said phenomenon is already on the way out."
I saw that Castle episode and it wasn't very good.
I think its got a few years in it yet. I remember about 5 years ago sending a kind of steampunky paranormal thing to an agent. In the first page or so someone gets atttacked by a vampire - a horrible knobbly thing, not a guy in a dinner suit or a glittery teenager. The agent's reply: I think the vampire fad has about finsihed now.
Shame - it wasn't actually about vampires anyway, and the vampire thing doesn't seem to be going away yet...
Judging by the amount of information I read, track and report on AirshipAmbassador.com, interest is still picking up and new people are joining in the fun in all aspects. There are more steampunk-specific conventions as well as steampunk programming tracks at other conventions. There are more local groups and events happening each month, and there are more books being released each month. Boilerplate is being made into a movie, and other movie ideas are being pitched around.
C.J is right that there are lots of people who haven't heard about steampunk, which means still more people to find it and be interested.
Still, "some day" steampunk will be on the decline, at least for awhile. it's the usual ebb and flow of an interest in anything. And with the cyclical nature of things, it would rebound with a new generation and be similar but different than it is today. Vampires, zombies, aliens, Star Trek... the interest comes and goes, and each cycle has a different take and presentation, often based on culture and world events/feel at the time.