Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Steampunk Tuesday - a response to Gawker's post about Bieber's Steampunk music video

This is a response to Gawker, yes, but also a response to a general sentiment expressed on Twitter etc.


First, this is what Gawker said, when posting Justin Bieber's latest Christmas music video - a Steampunk version of "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town":

"Musical haircut Justin Bieber has a new Christmas song, "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town," and the video is inexplicably steampunk-themed. Sorry, steampunks: time to get a new quirky aesthetic pastime before it blows up among 14-year-old Beliebers."

There are many things that frustrate me about this statement.  So I think I'll share what they are.

First of all there's the "inexplicably" part of the post.  And many over the internets have been saying Bieber is just jumping on board the up and coming trend (it's still not there yet, I still have to explain to most people what Steampunk is, I'll let you know when the balance shifts).  Maybe he is.  He's a very savvy guy.  But I don't think the video inexplicably uses Steampunk.  Whether or not you like Bieber or his using Steampunk, the fact is, I think the video makes a lot of sense. 

What I see in this video is Santa's workshop steampunked out in preparation for Santa coming to town.  We tend to think of Santa's workshop as having an oldy-timey feel to it anyway, so why wouldn't it have some amazing magical steampunk fabulousness to make it work?

One could say that they could have been slightly more inventive with the props and set, and that it isn't exactly the most original looking version of Steampunk we've seen.  But I think the context of the video works.  

Next.  "Sorry, steampunks: time to get a new quirky aesthetic pastime before it blows up among 14-year-old Beliebers."

This I find truly condescending, the notion that people who like Steampunk are only doing it to be different, not because they are actually passionate about it.  That what's more important to people who like Steampunk is that they are quirky and different, not the Steampunk itself. 

From my experience with fellow Steampunkers, it seems to me most of us came to it because there was something special about it that struck a chord with us.  In the future I plan on blogging about what that something was for me.  But I choose Steampunk for a specific reason, just as I don't choose to be a skater (and why skaters choose to be such and not goths, and why goths choose to be goths etc etc). This means that when something becomes popular I don't suddenly decide I don't like it.  I like something because I like it.  Not because other people like it.

It's kind of like the whole Harry Potter mass obsession thing.  I knew so many people who refused to even read one of the books because they hated anything that was so popular like that.  I would always say, "Look, you are free to like and dislike whatever you want.  But not liking something because everyone else likes it, is just the same as liking something because everyone else does.  You aren't making up your own mind on the subject.  You're letting the mob dictate your response."

So I'm the kind of person who loves Harry Potter, but maybe not certain other popular books.  I adore the Lord of the Rings movies, but maybe not AVATAR.  I like what I like, regardless of what other people think.

So yeah, Justin Bieber made a Steampunk music video, thus making the genre explode for 14 yearolds etc, well, what do I care?  I didn't like Steampunk because no one else did.  I like Steampunk because I like Steampunk.

Lastly, I take this post to be hinting at the fact that Gawker isn't a fan of the Biebs (if someone that Gawker thought was cool was doing it, I doubt it would have had the headline of Justin Bieber Ruins Entire Nerd Subculture).  Personally I don't see what's wrong with Bieber.  Sure his music isn't my kind of thing, but it's hardly aimed at someone like me.  He seems nice enough and talented enough.  I dunno.  But let's run with the notion that you, Gawker, don't like Bieber.  Well why on earth would you then give him the power to ruin something that gives people so much pleasure?  Why make him meaningful to you?  On the one hand, you're attempting to diss him by saying when he makes a video he ruins something special, but on the other hand you're uplifting him and giving him the power to destroy.  Make him meaningless, that's how you deal with things you don't like.

There's a bigger message though, behind all this.  Something I touched upon a few Tuesdays ago where I talked about "The Next Big Thing?".  I made a plea to Steampunkers to please not do that snobbish exclusionary thing where the second something gets popular those who were there from the beginning turn their noses up at those just getting involved with Steampunk because it's cool.  This is what I said:

But until we do, and if/when we do, I ask all Steampunkers the following favour:  let's not judge.  Let's not be like the hipsters who pride themselves in getting there first with, you know, everything.  Where something becomes uncool the second the layman knows about it.  That's not what Steampunk is about.  Steampunk is about Steampunk, not about an image.  It is the ultimate Rorschach test and can be interpreted to be whatever the individual wants it to be.

So let's not judge, but be welcoming and open.  And let's not judge if Steampunk becomes a trend: "Oh that person is only dressing like that because they bought that skirt at Top Shop."  Let's be happy to see others having fun with Steampunk, even if for them it is a fleeting thing.  Steampunk, ultimately, is about having fun.  Playing.  Let's not lose sight of that.

And I stand by this sentiment.  It clearly is going to become more important in 2012 as Steampunk really makes its way into popular culture.  But I stand by this sentiment in general as well, with everything in life:  Pursue your dreams because they are your dreams, not someone else's imposed on you.  Love things/people you love because you do, not because someone else loved them first (or even more tricky, not because others have told you NOT to). 

Be true to yourself. 

Because trends come and go, but passion is forever.


S.K.S. Perry said...

I've been a fan of Steampunk since before I think it was even called that. Most genre people, or at least people in the SF community, tend to like what they like because they like it--they don't really care what anyone else thinks. That, more than any other reason, is probably why I tend to like those people, whether or not I happen to agree with their particular obsession.

Doug A Scott said...

"But not liking something because everyone else likes it, is just the same as liking something because everyone else does."

I've been saying that for years! Thank you for that.

And I'm no fan of the Bieber's music, but I'm kind of tired of people treating him like the freaking anti-Christ.

Joe said...

You know, if you can get past Bieber's vocals on that track, it's a good arrangement. It sounds like a late 70s/early 80s Michael Jackson song, which is a welcome change from all the Auto-tune/synth-heavy pop we've been hearing lately.

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