Steampunk is Dead …and Other Stupid Things You Might Have Heard This Week Concerning a Justin Bieber Video

So this week, you might have heard from SyFy’s Blastr that steampunk is dead, and let’s face it — when it comes to really knowing what fans of Science Fiction think, you can’t really argue with the same people who cancelled Farscape, Eureka, and Stargate Universe to make room for reality TV and professional wrestling…

…but I digress…

From high profile blogs like Gawker to passionate fan sites like Stellar Four, the death bell tolled for my beloved genre of gears, cogs, and steam. It was all over. Time to dismantle the analytical engine, box up the boater hats, and put your goggles away. Steampunk, a genre created back in the Eighties due to a group of authors that challenged this boundaries of imagination, had officially been ruined, all due to a single music video from a beloved pop star.

My own response to this?

Seriously? Seriously?! Steampunk is dead because of a Justin Bieber video?

I think the guy who’s face truly is next to the definition of steampunk, Jared Axelrod, said it best:

“If having a teen heartrob play your sandbox ‘ruins’ it, then it probably wasn’t your sandbox to begin with.

If you haven’t seen the video, I insist you watch it. I will say this much — it’s a step up from Rebecca Black’s “Friday.”

Pip and I have stepped into the genre just this year, and we came in with our boilers at full with a podcast anthology and a book. We’ve been learning a lot since we dropped that first short story in Tales from the Archives, but one thing I’ve been noticing is a great divide whenever steampunk steps closer to mainstream culture. Whenever steampunk is introduced in mainstream venues, elitists ranging from steampunks who “know how it is properly done” to SMOFs (Secret Masters/Mistresses of Fandom) who have hated the sub-genre now that it is making its presence known at SF conventions everywhere cry “FOUL!” and proclaim that steampunk is dead.

Well, to you nay-saying asshats I say your arguments are completely invalid. Why? Because you — and if you’re looking around the table of geeks and wondering if you’re wondering who the asshat is, congratulations, you’re the wiener — are pointing out why we get persecuted and dismissed by mainstream culture.

Do we want steampunk to go mainstream? Of course we do. Think for a moment about the works in our genre that did so. Harry Potter. The Hunger Games. The variety of comics from Marvel and D.C. Sure, people sneer and call us “geeks” but the same people who persecute us are also tripping over themselves to get to the box office when the films adaptations are released. Steampunk, when you really think about it, is already mainstream as many of us have seen Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea or even Chitty, Chitty, Bang, Bang.

Then something like Bieber’s steampunk video hits (and no, I’m not going to call it Bieberpunk, as I have strong issues with doing that…), and suddenly the asshats scream “The skyship is falling!” and pretty much make rest of us look like utter rubes.

But what really torques me is how websites, fans, and those SMOFs who have wanted to see steampunk fail are so quick to proclaim steampunk is dead.

Ben Love said it best on Pip’s Facebook:

“Steampunk survived The Wild, Wild West. It’s going to survive Bieber’s Christmas video.”

Why are we panicking here, and why oh why are we vilifying Bieber? Chances are, one of his “peeps” got wind of this “steampunk thing” and convinced Bieber that this was going to be the look for his Christmas movie-music video tie-in. Or maybe Bieber is a fan of steampunk. Maybe he said “Steam-what?” when the video was pitched to him. We will never know, but the video is what it is — it’s a pop star trying to be trendy. There’s nothing we can really do about it except admire the fact that Bieber was trying something different because he was told “this is the cool thing.”

Yeah, mull that over in your brain for a moment, because there is a good possibility that was how all this went down: Bieber was told steampunk is the “new, cool thing” so let’s make a steampunk video.

Hugo, an epic steampunk filmAs for steampunk being dead, I’m going to lay down a safe bet these asshats haven’t seen Hugo.

This morning, someone on Facebook questioned my classification of Hugo as steampunk, but this film features an automaton, a child genius with a penchant for D.I.Y. projects, a hidden world within a Paris train station, and a filmmaker who — with no prior knowledge or experience with filmmaking — built his own camera and became a pioneer in cinema.

Ladies and gents, that’s steampunk.

Oh, and did I mention this film sports some brilliant performances from Sir Ben Kingsley, Jude Law, Helen McCrory, Chloë Grace Moretz, and Sacha Baron Cohen? And this film marks a break-out performance from Asa Butterfield…a performance that helped him hand the role of Ender in the upcoming Ender’s Game film?

So, asshats, I see your Bieber video and raise you with a mother fucking Scorsese film! Call!

To repeat what Jared had said earlier — Maybe steampunk wasn’t your thing after all, if you think it so fragile a thing that a holiday music video is going to tear it down. Steampunk is not only alive and well, I believe that Hugo has given it a delightful shot in the arm. As the asshats read this and salivate at citing its less-than-impressive numbers at the box office, allow me to read off a few acclaims it has already received within its first month in release:

  • National Board of Review: Best Director
  • National Board of Review: Best Film
  • Rotten Tomatoes: 94%
  • IMDB: 8.5 out of 10 stars

If you haven’t seen this steampunked homage to the history of cinema, just go. Stop reading this, book tickets, and go. (I’ll be here when you get back.) Pip and I saw it on a standard screen and are still raving about it the next day; so if you find it in 3D, you are in for an experience. After you watch Hugo, come back here and tell me steampunk is dead. Go on. I dare you.

Suck it, asshats. Steampunk is just getting warmed up.


  1. With the advent of Hugo, Sherlock Holmes, Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter and a host of other “mainline projects” I think the genre is coming into it’s own.


  2. PS – I liked the Justin Bieber video, saw it prior to Arthur Christmas


  3. So is breakdancing out too because Bieber did it in that video too? I don’t think so (breakdancing will never be dead)

    Also, I just want the kid to wear some pants that fit, but I digress.

    Aside from the music the video wasn’t bad, the clothes were fun, the workshop was cool, the glowing robotic arm was sweet!

    If you think a popstar can end something you love then you don’t live it (just like Jarod said) and you are a trend follower, and this is why people hate hipsters. I don’t like something because it’s obscure, I like it because I like it, period, nothing will change that.


  4. Tee, you make me proud that I know you. A well-reasoned, well-put argument. Given your experience as someone who has worked to get an audience for the things you enjoy (see PodCasting for Dummies, All A Twitter) I believe you’ve got the firm ground to stand on as well. Thanks for putting this together, sir.


  5. I’ve never been a fan of Beebz, and I thought the retro assembly line stole the show.

    BTW, if anyone’s interested in a fantasy featuring rocs, genies, big shots in huge turbans, and … steam power, go to Double Dragon Ebooks and search for “Mistress of the Topaz,” my latest novel.


  6. Good arguments, Tee. Anyone who seriously thinks Steampunk could be killed by a music video really has no idea how the creative world works. Hell. The genre will probably pick up steam.

    I’m not shy when discussing my issues Steampunk, but even I know there’s more momentum than can be stopped by Bieber. At the end of the day, as long as you’re having fun with it, what the hell should you care what other people think? 🙂


  7. Tee, you are my man. Excellently put and you blasted the assheads right out of the sky.
    And a note to self (or as I sometimes say “Memo an mich”): Don’t make Tee angry!


  8. You go, Tee! Frankly, I was tickled pink when I got Just Dancing 3 and discovered the Gwen Stefani song on the game was done with a big steampunk themed background. In fact there are a few songs in the Just Dance games that have a steampunkish theme to them. And you don’t get much more mainstream than Just Dance!

    Anyway, you’re dead on. The people declaring steampunk dea need to go find something else to play with and let the rest of us have our fun. Now, if those same folks tell me **zombies** are dead… well, yeah, obviously!


    1. Helen,

      That would have been another nice reference…

      In my XBox game Child of Eden, one of the levels is steampunk-themed…and it is utterly badass…


  9. I knew I was going to love this article from the very first chapter. Not disappointed!

    But it does put me in mind of the ’90’s. You remember the 90’s. When every other news story was about how a company called Apple Computer was going to go belly up any day now. For a whole decade the news was full of stories of eminent demise. We saw how well those predictions came out. I’m sure that in 2021 they’ll still be ringing the death bell for Steampunk. And they’ll still be wrong.



  10. Well put Sir. Well put. Even the part that came *after* the first ‘asshat.’

    When something like this comes up, I know I can always turn to you for a well placed response. People just don’t know what they’re talking about, and many in the media are quick to jump on the band wagon yet again to proclaim the end of something.

    I think it’s quickly becoming the national pastime.


  11. BTW Showed this to TEK and he said the video was missing an important element, someone running, stopping, leaning back and then correcting the time on his watch. (Except in reality he did a nice Tee impersonation)


  12. I’m simply speaking from a pragmatic spot; I’m watching the number of vendors in my dealer’s room selling “steampunk” related items explode, from one, then two, now five. In a room with maybe 20 vendors, that’s a lot of people catering to what is, ultimately, a rather narrow genre.

    I’ve seen this happen before, for example, with Star Trek. Now it’s rare to see a vendor at a non-STrek con who’s devoted largely to STrek. But for a while there they were ubiquitous.

    Things like steampunk are popular, and popular, and popular, getting bigger and bigger and bigger until, suddenly, they’re gone, like a burst balloon. Sure the core “real” fen will always be there, but in a much smaller way, certainly not enough to support five vendors.

    Steampunk will likely never go away altogether. But the smart money would be jumping off that bandwagon ASAP. Telltales like the Bieber video and SP at Hot Topic are the canaries in the coalmine.


    1. Hey, Bob!

      You are absolutely right — everything has a saturation point. I think Star Trek reached it to an extent with Enterprise but “got it back” with the success of the feature film reboot. When you think about it, too, steampunk has a long way to go as so many people still don’t know what it is. you can ask anyone on the street and they know Trek. Ask them what steampunk is, and they don’t have a clue. Even Homer Simpson made a crack about that on The Simpsons. I believe Bieber’s video is hardly the “final nail in that coffin” for steampunk. And if Hot Topic is to blame, them Michael’s Craft Stores should be held accountable too for “steampunk’s death” as they are now selling steampunk trinkets, and even a (really good) guide to steampunk arts & crafts. It’s really hard to say what would be the turning point will be. I argue it would take something far more epic than a Christmas video.

      Now if J.J. Abram’s Boilerplate film (which is in pre-production) were to flop, that might carry some mainstream consequences.


  13. Cheese and crackers, the so called self-proclaimed, mainstream elitists have been announcing the demise every year since its inception and every year the genre says “Whatever” and continues to grow in influence and popularity.

    That level of DIY snark, cool and confidence is what attracted me in the first place.


  14. The comparison with Star Trek is a little bit of a stretch, because that was attached to a series and a movie franchise. When those went off the air, it faded from the public consciousness, but there were as you say plenty of hard core fans that held on. (Hello, Firefly anyone…)
    Steampunk is broader than that however. It has no particular attachment to a movie franchise, or series of books to date it.
    I admit to bafflement when people seem to be wanting steampunk to die. Personally I am not a fan of urban fantasy, the same kick-ass-woman-meets-vampire-falls-in-love thing just isn’t my schtick, but I would never wish it to fall off the face of the planet. It’s popular, people enjoy it and it’s no skin off my nose if it’s out there. (And how many years has the demise of UF been touted?!)
    Personally, I love the creativity and cleverness of the steampunk community; the music, the art, the costuming. It’s a heady mix, and one I don’t think will curl up its toes just because someone popular dared to dip his toe in that aesthetic. It combines history, nostalgia, beautiful dress, and an air of adventure that our present just doesn’t have.
    Though I admit…I wish Justin would pull his pants up…


  15. The video reminds me more of the toy shop in Chitty-Chitty Bang Bang than something definitively steampunk. Covering a Jackson 5 rendition of the song also reminds me of Janet and Michael’s “Scream”. Speaking of MJ … some of his movie/videos had steampunk elements and no one cried foul. Despite the set, I see this more as a tribute to MJ’s style than Beibs trying to ride the coattails of a subgenre of SF. Just my two-cents.


  16. Wait. Hold up. Are you really trying to sell Harry Potter and Hunger Games as steampunk? I buy your argument that the genre is alive and well for those who love it. This is true of all genres. Also, I agree that it is not yet dead in the mainstream. However, Harry potter is modern fantasy, NOT steampunk, and Hunger Games is post-apocalyptic dytopianism, again, NOT steampunk. Not. Even. Close. Know your genres. Name one unique steampunk element in Hunger Games. Oh, because they dressed funny in the capital? No. The tech was all modern and futuristic, not Victorian era. Just dressing old doesn’t make it steampunk. For shame, you should know better.


    1. When I read your comment, “Person of Average Intelligence” (if that IS your real name…unlikely…) I was brewing up a good and snarky response to your asshattery…untill I read my own words and nearly spewed Hard Times 4-way Chili (Cincinnati style) all over my laptop…

      Do we want steampunk to go mainstream? Of course we do. Think for a moment about the works in our genre that did so. Harry Potter. The Hunger Games. The variety of comics from Marvel and D.C. Sure, people sneer and call us “geeks” but the same people who persecute us are also tripping over themselves to get to the box office when the films adaptations are released. Steampunk, when you really think about it, is already mainstream as many of us have seen Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea or even Chitty, Chitty, Bang, Bang.

      Okay, this was a glaring miscommunication on my part. When I said “Think for a moment about the works in our genre that did so.” I was talking about all forms, varieties, and geekiness of science fiction. Ergo, my response — “Harry Potter. The Hunger Games. The variety of comics from Marvel and D.C.” Reading this again, yeah, I could see how you could make the assumption that I was lumping the kid with the scar and the hot chick who could work the bow and arrow into steampunk. That sentiment could use a rewrite, so for coming across a little off-target with that, allow me a quick second pass on that…

      Do we want steampunk to go mainstream? Of course we do. Think for a moment about the works of science fiction and fantasy that have done so. Harry Potter. The Hunger Games. The variety of comics from Marvel and D.C. Sure, people sneer and call us “geeks” but the same people who persecute us are also tripping over themselves to get to the box office when the films adaptations are released. Steampunk, when you really think about it, is already mainstream as many of us have seen Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea or even Chitty, Chitty, Bang, Bang when we were growing up.

      Yeah, I can see how my original statement might bring on the head tilt. So thanks for calling me to the mat on that, P.o.A.I. I do appreciate it, and I apologize for the confuzelation.


  17. I didn’t think you meant “works [of Steampunk] that [went mainstream]” but maybe that’s just me.


  18. Well said Mr. Morris.

    It is ironic that in a time when the population at large is more free to tinker, contribute and build their own creations than ever before the thought of a genre that celebrates just these personalities is scoffed at by the “establishment” pundits.


  19. I certainly don’t “live” steampunk or embrace it fully; but I don’t think one little video from this kid could kill an entire genre. It’ll still have the die-hard fans and the folks like yours truly that occasionally dip their toes in the water, so to speak. Relax, like what you like, and don’t worry about what’s in fashion or on trend at the moment.


  20. I love the aesthetic but honestly feel like it someone needs to do it up right and then it needs to die. Repeating the same themes over and over steampunk has become the new high fantasy with no accomplishments like Lord of The Rings to extoll its merits. That said I enjoyed both A Dream of Perpetual Motion, and think the Mainspring series was a great idea with poor execution.


    1. Therein lies the problem: doing it up right. It’s tough on a visual scale as you are not only doing science fiction but you’re doing science fiction in a historical backdrop. That is an investment of many resources, so it’s tough to get that kind of budget for an untried-and-true storytelling format. In media.

      What about books? Some people think I get it right. Some do not. If people dig what I do, then I’m good. Maybe my series serves as a gateway, but I think steampunk is still alive and well. Where are we headed? We will see in the coming years.


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