"Steampunk lives in the reincarnated past of shadows and the forgotten. We behold the mystery of possibility; we seek reminiscence about a more elegant Age of Adventure that never really was; we liberate the machine from technocracy and recreate her from Desire and Dreams."
This is my favorite quote about Steampunk. It's from The Gatehouse blog, http://www.ottens.co.uk/gatehouse/category/steampunk/.
"Steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction that typically features steam-powered machinery, especially in a setting inspired by industrialized Western civilization during the 19th century. [...] Steampunk perhaps most recognisably features anachronistic technologies or retro-futuristic inventions as people in the 19th century might have envisioned them, and is likewise rooted in the era's perspective on fashion, culture, architectural style, and art."
This is a very clear definition of steampunk from the all-powerful and glorious Wikipedia (and since we're in topic, did you donate?)
I have witnessed very inflamed discussions on a Facebook group, dealing with a gorgeous girl in a golden nylon bikini outfit and a few steampunk-inspired accessories. The main question was, of course, is this Steampunk? On one side, the verdict was NO. Although this has steampunk elements, it is not properly Steampunk. On the other side,YES. Nothing else matters, as long as she wears a pair of goggles.
Steampunk does have definite attributes and symbols. "Anachronistic technologies or retro-futuristic inventions as people in the 19th century might have envisioned them", surely refers to elaborated goggles and other visionary, hyper detailed accessories like boots, corsets, top hats. Airships, big guns and any of the goodies that characterized the turbulent Victorian times, are all welcome.
But another point is essential to Steampunk. Because the Industrial Revolution just took off, the sensibility and skilled experience of workers and designers -most of whom had been artisans until shortly before- is reflected in the beauty of detail and abundance of decorative elements -even in tough materials such as cast iron.
Characteristic Steampunk materials are easy to work by hand, supple and raw, like leather, wood, brass, copper, but also lace, silk and canvas. Especially in items of fashion, the manual care devoted to craft them is clearly visible.
A girl in a nylon bikini and steampunk-inspired accessories is missing this second, essential point: it can't be called Steampunk.
if Steampunk is Art, then it can and has to be reinterpreted and reinvented. Art is constantly evolving, it is the highest expression of culture, the collective vision on and understanding of the world around us. Therefore, this girl can be seen as something that Steampunk is becoming. Pop, in my opinion.
The Steampunk movement might have to draw some boundaries and give itself some (even more) definition. There is Steampunk, and that has to stay focused on symbols and ways, never loosing the handmade, artisan look and feel. Have you noticed how utterly hipster Steampunk fans are?
And then there's a pop version of Steampunk, which borrows steampunk attributes to popular culture, and creates hybrid figures, such as this girl's picure. Meant to be assimilated and processed fast while getting the most pleasure out of it. As Andy Warhol said,
"In the future, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes."