This article was written in response to a thread with over 600 posts on the Whitby Gothic Weekend page saying how "steampunks are ruining Whitby".

Steampunk and Goth

Steampunks are often jokingly described as “goths who have discovered the colour brown”.  Of course it is much more than that but the tag does have more than a modicum of truth in it.  Many steampunks were once or indeed still are goths. That should not be too surprising.  The website GOTH.NET tries to define goth thus:

“Goth in its simplest form, is a subculture. A group of people who feel comfortable within each others company. There is no specific thing that defines what you need to do or be to fit into the goth scene (except of course the implied black clothing). People in the goth scene all have different musical tastes, follow different religions, have different occupations, hobbies, and fashion sense.”

This description would work just as well to define steampunks.  Try simply substituting steampunk for goth in the text (and remove the implied black clothing of course).  It is therefore hardly surprising that steampunk has manifested itself as a fashion trend within the goth community (just as cyber-goth seemed to do).  With such a profound similarity in general outlook  then the adoption of different fashion trends would seem to be so minor  as to go without notice.  Steampunk has caught on as a fashion trend within goth circles quite rapidly.  With its aesthetic roots in Victorian Gothic the fashion styles are directly transferable and even the cyber-goth’s penchant for goggles is reflected in de-rigeur steampunk wear.

Unfortunately this is not actually the case.  There are a number of goths who are openly hostile towards steampunks.  This hostility may include rants on internet boards and forums and comments and behaviour when they meet.  Whilst neither sub culture espouses aggression or violence this is simply unpleasantness.  The  unpleasantness is most certainly a one way street since many steampunks still consider themselves to be goths and do not understand the hostility and in any case steampunk only has one rule – “be nice to one another”.  The wiki article on goth includes this:

“Goths, in terms of their membership in the subculture, are usually not supportive of violence, but are tolerant of alternative lifestyles that incorporate themes such as BDSM—always involving consent. Violence and hate do not form elements of goth ideology; rather, the ideology is formed in part by recognition, identification, and grief over societal and personal evils that the mainstream culture wishes to ignore or forget. These are the prevalent themes in goth music.”

It is perhaps ironic that the UK goth community is proud of its support of the Sophie Lancaster Foundation.  Sophie died following an “horrific attack on her and her partner Rob in Stubbeylee Park, Bacup, Lancashire,” which was launched just because they were goths and different.   The Foundation works tirelessly to promote the idea that being part of an alternative sub culture should not be a reason to suffer hostility and hatred.  The aims of the foundation are:

  • To create a lasting legacy to Sophie.

  • To provide educational group-works that will challenge the prejudice and intolerance towards people from alternative subcultures.

  • To campaign to have the UK Hate Crime legislation extended to include people from “alternative subcultures” or “Lifestyle and Dress”

Even so we find a sub culture that has experienced this kind of prejudice and intolerance that has members who are themselves propagating exactly the same kind of prejudice and intolerance and in this case it is hostility aimed at people who share an awful lot in common with them.

Now it must be pointed out that the hostility comes from a minority of goths but that minority is very vocal and some of the people involved consider themselves to be leaders within the goth sub culture.  This sub group of goths can be found saying “steampunks have ruined Whitby” (the main UK goth festival) and “they should stay away”.   This is certainly not in keeping with the official attitude of the Whitby Gothic Weekend organisers who actively promote to steampunks.  Their posters advertise that steampunks as a sub culture are welcome at the event and they have twice hosted Abney Park as one of the leading steampunk bands at the Spa. They even invite steampunk traders to trade from their venues and it would be wrong to suggest they are simply interested in netting fees.  Even so the hostility continues and is not often openly challenged by the majority of goths.  Are goths afraid to challenge their fellows who peddle hate against steampunks or is it perhaps the case that they tacitly agree with what is being said?

Why should a goth hate a steampunk?  The steampunk is not being aggressive towards them.  The steampunk is not competing with them for tickets to bands etc since the events rarely sell out.  Indeed steampunks spending money with goth traders or attending gigs etc are actually contributing to and supporting the infrastructure of the goth subculture.  Perhaps the only criticism that could be levelled at steampunks is that they tend to look intriguing and interesting.  Are goths perhaps upset that steampunks are attracting more attention?   That would be a very childish reason for open hostility would it not?

The only reason therefore that a goth may have to be hostile towards a steampunk is that they do not understand him or her and their sub culture.  This however is precisely what the Sophie Lancaster Foundation strives to address.   There is no excuse for hostility towards someone purely because they are a member of a different sub culture.  Being a member of a different sub culture does not give a right to be abusive indeed it should instead serve to show there are similarities and encourage mutual support not hostility.   Anyone who chooses to be hostile about a different culture should simply be ashamed of themselves and they should be challenged in their hostility – by the community they are abusing, by the community they belong to and by wider society.

Goth hate towards steampunks is wrong pure and simple.

Goths do not have to like steampunk.  Goths do not have to become steampunks.  They should simply practice the tolerance they want to be shown towards their own sub culture and let people express themselves as they wish to.  As Sylvia Lancaster says the Foundation “will focus on creating respect for and understanding of subcultures in our communities.”  It would be nice to see this vocal minority of goths afford that same respect to steampunks.

Steampunks simply want to be able to express their creativity and artistic ideas just the same way as goths do. 

Steampunks see goths as kindred spirits. 

Steampunks would simply like to be able to peacefully co-exist and indeed share a sense of goodwill.

No one is forcing goths to embrace steampunk but a little bit of tolerance should not be too much to ask should it?