Steampunk is set in the era of machine replacing man, but that’ doesn’t mean the genre is in favor of that. Quite the opposite in fact. Thus, the current wave of AI generated art being posted in groups such as Steampunk Tendencies, has me concerned. The folks running the prompts to get the images are quite proud of themselves. And some of it looks good. But is that the point of steampunk, to simply look good?
What does Steampunk mean?
Strictly speaking, steampunk is a style, and or setting for faux science fiction or fantasy that appears to align with 1850s to 1910 era. Whether the year actually aligns to that or or not doesn’t matter. It just feels that way. Old timey. But also more than the original era. Ofttimes it is technological ideas that came later, but implemented with technology (or pseudo technology) and style of that time period.
From there, it could be fiction, clothes, music, pictures, video, or more.
And that’s just my basic definition to get the ball rolling.
What does Steampunk mean to you?
Other folks have different takes on it. While I tried to make my definition broad enough to cover most things other folks call steampunk, the reality goes beyond that.
Some folks just like to look at the pictures or read the stories, and so on. I’m reluctant to call them consumers, as I’d like to save that word for later use. The people who make things, ultimately do it for people who like to have those things. There’s nothing wrong with that in and of itself.
The other side of that is the folks who make all that stuff. Steampunk invigorated crafting. From learning the old ways, to making stuff look old with new tools. You can do a lot with power tools and a hot glue gun.
Activists also find meaning in steampunk, with the emphasis on punk. The rejection of the mainstream and resistance to oppression and standing up for peoples is a common theme in the fiction. There’s never a Steampunk story where the good guy is a captain of industry who’s final victory is the elimination of jobs by automation. Because those are the bad guys.
Consumer or Discerning Appreciator
Remember how I wanted to save the word Consumer? It’s an ugly word that economists use for all of us with regard to how businesses need us to consume. Buy. Spend money. Without regard for our humanity.
AI will one day be good enough to make things that take very little work or skill to produce. And consumers will eat it up without really stopping to savor the craftsmanship or honor the one making the meal. Because no one of import made it.
Whereas, we have the opportunity to think about the things we buy, materials and labor sourced, and respect the craftsmanship put into it. That’s going to cost more. It always has. But then, that has also always been a factor of steampunk. The amount of hours of labor into making the finest steampunk art stands out. The good stuff comes from people who put in the time to learn, and the time to execute. And up until now, you could tell. When you paid attention and really looked.
Missing the Point
Which brings us back to the concern. The invention of the camera led to much worry about the elimination of drawing and painting. Which didn’t actually happen. Additionally, one could tell the difference between a photo and a painting. Nobody was trying to sell one as the other.
A major component of steampunk is the making of things. Learning, developing skill, and being recognized for the quality of that work. AI generated art bypasses the work, for easy credit in a way that no other advancement has. People who didn’t earn the skill, may supplant those who did.
That doesn’t sound very steampunk to me.