Many people have been noticing lately that the online Steampunk community has been full of arguments and rifts, especially in light of the recent closing of Steampunk Industrial Revolution. Why is our community so argumentative, and what can we do about it?
Before we go any further, let's nip the whole "Steampunk has gotten worse" thing in the bud, shall we?
Steampunk has always been a fractured community, even from the very beginnings back in the early 2000s. If you search back to the early days of Brass Goggles (if you can even still do that), you'll find a whole host of people arguing about whether Steampunk needs to be historically accurate or not, and whether or not props should really work. In fact, the arguments got so bad that Brass Goggles instituted a strict no-arguing policy.
These arguments continue to this day, and while it's less likely to see them on, say, Steampunk Revolution or Steampunk Empire, you can still find them pretty quickly on Reddit, and other non-Steampunk-specific sites.
It's also a fallacy to say that Steampunk is worse than the Goth scene, or SCA, or any other such group. The only difference is that Steampunk arguments are extremely visible.
You can thank the internet for that one.
Steampunk is the first real subculture to be born out of the internet age, and as such, Steampunk is a "digital native" (as opposed to a digital immigrant). This means that all of its growing pains are on display for everyone to see.
In the beginning, Brass Goggles was pretty much the only place to go for Steampunk discussion. It was off the beaten path of the internet, so to speak, so not that many people were aware of it.
Now, people are too lazy to go to sites other than Facebook or Reddit, or places where they already go anyway, so the arguments have been moved there. This means that any arguments you get into are totally visible to your friends, your parents, and maybe even your grandparents. No one wants to think about their grandparents reading a comment-war on Facebook, but that's essentially what happens.
It's like airing your dirty laundry at the mall. Everyone can see it and smell it, and you're lucky if they don't comment on it. Sort of like this:
It doesn't help that there's currently a "type-first-think-later" mentality pervading the internet. Many arguments and discussions are exacerbated by the tendency for people to speak before thinking. Knowing when not to speak seems to be a mostly lost art.
The classic Steampunk arguments are things like "What is the definition of Steampunk?", "What is Steampunk music?", and "Is this outfit/prop/whatever Steampunk?". However, differing opinions aren't what cause the arguments to happen. I have a lot of opinions, but I don't go out on the internet and argue about all of them.
Part of it is a question of identity.
In this post-digital age, many people are looking for a way to identify themselves, so they look online. God forbid we all just be people, right? Instead, we have to be Democrats, Republicans, Christians, Atheists, Goths, Steampunks, Bronies, whatever.
Unfortunately, everyone's idea of what a Republican, or a Goth, or a Steampunk is will be different. On its own, having different opinions is a great thing, but when we couple it with the quest for identity, we begin to run into problems. Allow me to explain.
Without a personal stake, two people could respectively have the opinions that Steampunk is anything they want it to be, and that Steampunk needs to be historically accurate. No conflict necessary, despite the lack of agreement. But if one of those people identifies as a Steampunk, then suddenly differing opinions directly affect their identity.
Let's say that I believe that Steampunk must be historically accurate (I don't, but bear with me), and that I consider myself a Steampunk. Well, when someone else says that Steampunk can be anything they want it to be, that means that people who hear that philosophy will assume that I subscribe to it as well, which I don't. Thus, conflict of identity.
As there are very few things in the world that people want more than to be understood, this muddying of the waters can absolutely infuriate people. That is, I believe, the very root of the problem in subcultures, and the one responsible for arguments.
We can't stop having arguments, that's for sure. Not only does disagreement seem to be a part of human nature, it's a healthy part of life. There's no growth without conflict! Even within your own body, you can't grow new muscles without tearing up the old ones.
What we can do, however, is be aware that no one out there is purposefully trying to steal or distort your identity. They're just trying to do the same thing you are: cement their own identity. Just because you disagree doesn't mean you can't also be friends. Be like this guy:
You can also stop tying your personal identity to a single term. If you consider yourself a person rather than a Steampunk, there's no need to get personally insulted when someone disagrees with you. That said, I don't think there's anything wrong with identifying as a Steampunk, but when you tie your identity to the clothes you wear, you're asking for trouble any time you post pictures of your outfits on the internet. Someone will inevitably have something negative to say.
Generally speaking, the most important thing we can do as a community is to think before we speak. A little civility and politeness goes a long way, and that's a lesson that the entire internet could stand to learn!