Good evening! Earlier during the year, I asked my fellow steampunk fans if they wanted me to include any specific blog topics for 2018. One of my colleagues had a series of interesting questions. Why can't steampunk break into the mainstream like cyberpunk did? Or has it? Does steampunk even want to be mainstream anymore? I don't think there's a right or wrong answer to these questions, but there might be some general trends and observations. Here are my thoughts about these questions.
Regarding cyberpunk, I would say it has mixed reception in mainstream entertainment. We're definitely seeing a lot of cyberpunk mangas, films, novels, and television series. For example, Battle Angel: Alita is a popular manga that's being adapted into a motion picture. Altered Carbon is a cyberpunk television show on Netflix and hardcore fans of the genre still enjoy reading the works of Philip K. Dick. There's a lot of cyberpunk representation in mainstream pop culture, but that doesn't mean audiences are being particularly receptive. I certainly don't see a lot of cyberpunk books in major bookstores like Barnes & Noble. Quite a few cyberpunk works flopped, including the Ghost in the Shell film. Mainstream audiences usually find cyberpunk melancholy, weird, and depressing. Cyberpunk has a niche following, much like steampunk. However, general audiences are still struggling to embrace the technological dystopia. How can cyberpunk have more success in the mainstream market? I suppose it needs to be a little more hopeful with a bigger emphasis on popular character tropes, action or adventure, and blockbuster style visual effects. Basically, the genre needs to sell out or it will never become popular in mainstream pop culture. That might not be fair or authentic, but I don't believe current trends will help cyberpunk in the long run.
Does this mean steampunk is less popular than cyberpunk in mainstream entertainment? It's almost a different situation. Most people know very little information if anything regarding steampunk. The genre is developing more of a following or basic recognition, but it's not popular in the same caliber as superheroes, Medieval fantasy, space operas, post-apocalypse, etc. Actually, I think mainstream audiences will naturally appreciate certain steampunk elements, including Victorian fantasy, supernatural creatures, rebellious themes, and more. In terms of films and television shows, they'll enjoy the elaborate costumes, production designs, prop weapons, and visual effects. I just believe people are afraid to try new things. Steampunk is different than other popular genres and audiences stick with familiarity. That's why Marvel, Lord of the Rings, and Star Wars will be popular until the end of time. I've also met several individuals who find steampunk confusing. Steampunk has a lot of stylistic elements, but mainstream audiences don't recognize it by sight. In a nutshell, steampunk is usually a Victorian setting with a lot of sci-fi or fantasy elements. At the very least, it's going to have a lot of steam power. It's usually a more futuristic version of the Victorian era or American Wild West. I believe mainstream audiences will become more open minded to steampunk when they become tired of our current entertainment. They might even appreciate it now if film makers and popular authors will give it a shot. Some people might already have a favorite steampunk book series without knowing it. The Parasol Protectorate, Leviathan, Boneshaker, the Golden Compass, and the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences are a few examples. I'm curious to see what happens when The Mortal Engines hits the big screen in December of this year. Supposedly, it's going to be available in 3D and IMAX formats. Steampunk might become more popular if the film is successful. I wouldn't say steampunk is totally mainstream yet, but it's taking some decent steps forward.
Does steampunk want to be mainstream at all? Some steampunk fans definitely want it to remain a niche genre. They don't want steampunk to sell out and become a vessel for capitalism. For some fans, it's a matter of authenticity. Other steampunk fans would love to see the genre hit the mainstream. That means we'll get to see more steampunk books, movies, and video games. Hurray! It will be easier to find resources for costumes and steampunk festivals as well. Personally, I don't believe that part would be a bad thing. I just want steampunk to retain its stylistic elements. Otherwise, mainstream audiences will become even more confused. Don't randomly throw around gears, corsets, or goggles and call it steampunk.
I do believe it's harder for steampunk to maintain longevity in mainstream pop culture. Unless you're interested in Victorian fantasy, steampunk probably won't seem interesting. Steampunk films are also very expensive to make because they require a lot elaborate visual elements. Most likely, steampunk will remain a niche genre with occasional peaks in mainstream entertainment. The outcome will become more clear several years down the road.
That's all for now. Leave a comment if you want to participate in the discussion. I'm sure many steampunk fans will have their own theories. Happy Mother's Day and watch out for next week's post.
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