On Bieber-Punk and Elitism
I’m not going to link to the Justin Bieber “steampunk” music video, mainly because I’m too busy and lazy to look it up. But I’ve seen people gnashing their teeth about it and declaring steampunk “dead,” “critically injured,” etc. (At which point I open my mouth to make a snarky comment about zombies and how they manage to get around just fine, only to end up shutting it again.) But I’ve decided that I’d actually like to say something about it. This is rare. I usually don’t post my opinions online.
When it comes to those ready to attend steampunk’s funeral, I think it’s fair to say that they’re not merely reacting to Bieber’s use of stylistic elements from the subgenre. Let’s face it, there’s maybe a 5% chance Bieber came up with the idea on his own – more likely the entire thing was designed for him, and he showed up groggy one morning, did a few dance moves, and then left the studio, never to work with those dancers, costume designers, makeup artists, or video directors ever again. That’s how the music industry works. Instead, the outraged-and-be-bustled are reacting to the idea that the mainstream might have its claws in the subgenre, and hence it now feels appropriated, inauthentic, no longer “special.”
At the risk of alienating people, I’m just going to say this. If you latched onto steampunk just because you thought it was rare and special and something the really meta hipsters were engaging in, and your feelings are hurt to the point where you no longer want to participate in it – can I buy your clothing collections really cheap, then? I’ll pay a fair price, but I mean…they’re rags to you now, right? I’ll take them. Because they’re still treasures to me. Because I didn’t come into this subgenre/subculture thinking it was “cool.” I came into this subgenre because I knew it and loved it before it had a bloody name. (Edit: Depending on whose history you listen to!) This is who I am. And it’s going to take more than three minutes of teenybop-laced footage produced by a croony Canadian kid to kill it in me.
I’m not happy the video exists, but you know what? I look at it this way. Somewhere out there, in a bland suburban living room, there currently sits a very lonely, sad little girl. Her hair is stringy, her clothes are dowdy, and she’s generally the ostracized child in the neighborhood, the picked-upon one, the “weird” one, the one to whom Poe’s poem “Alone” will speak volumes when she first encounters it – “From childhood’s hour I have not been / As others were; I have not seen / As others saw; I could not bring / My passions from a common spring.” She loves what others hate; she hates what others love. She’s in fifth grade and she reviles The Disney Channel and she loves the Bronte sisters, but she can’t say that aloud because then she’ll rocket even further down the social ladder. (Oh, what would happen to her social stock if the other girls knew she knows what “reviles” means…)
In fact, this girl just wants desperately to have some human contact in her life, and at this point she’s willing to sacrifice her own soul to get it. She long ago resigned herself to the fact that she will never have many friends – or so she thinks – but she still likes to orbit the “normal” children, to have somewhere to go. And thus she hides the things she loves, she lies about the things she values, and she learns the names of the young people in the shallow magazines her “friends” read and she goes along with what her “friends” want and she knows perfectly well that these “friends” are merely peers who tolerate her, and so she hides, hides, hides her apparently intolerable true self. She watches the vapid movies and she learns the vapid songs and she lets Tiffany turn on that vapid music channel and oh my God it’s that Justin idiot all the girls go nuts over have they never encountered Edward Rochester now there’s a real man and…
…dresses. The women in the video have beauti…
…automatons. Wondrous machines. Oh God.
Look at it all. Look at it all. Yes. That’s it. That’s everything. That’s everything she’s ever wanted and more, and it might be covered in cheap glitter and it might be accompanied by a cloying song but that doesn’t matter, it’s just Holy Freaking Truth hopping about on Tiffany’s father’s 62″ flatscreen TV, and no, no, don’t turn it off, I really love Justin Bieber, don’t you dare turn on iCarley if you idiot girls want to live.
I know there’s a girl currently out there thinking these precise things – because I did, a long time ago. When I wanted to fit in. When I sat silently by while those cold-comfort “friends” watched MTV, a station that then meant nothing to me, as I was raised on oldies and thought the majority of “new” music was crap (I’ve since learned the error of my ways). Until one day, a strange and wondrous video came on. A video from a music group that was named after a horribly antisocial act that I saw only “idiot jocks” participating in, so why the hell would you name a band after it…
Smashing Pumpkins. ‘Tonight, Tonight.’ Three minutes of heaven. Three minutes of everything every cell in my body craved and everything my tongue could not, at that point, articulate.
Elitism is an ugly thing. I hate it. I fight it in my own thought processes daily. Because elitism doesn’t consider what good may come of even the lowest form of entertainment. Elitism would tear down the very dream that some child has now been presented with – rip away an entire world to which she’s only just been exposed. Elitism doesn’t share.
So, this is my very long, melodramatic way of saying: Calm down. Think about things rationally. And if you truly love what we do over here, the things we wear and the music we make and the books we write and the way we live, then look forward to the day when that stringy-haired girl finds us and turns into a gorgeous corseted swan or the most brilliant Victoriana-inspired singer or a fantastic, witty steampunk author.
I’ll be here waiting for her, at any rate. We’ll have tea. It will be marvelous.