Steampunk and historical mashups

I am trying to figure out why some historical mashups bother me less than others. Here’s an example of one that bothers me:
When I comment on the bad costuming (in this case, he’s in pseudo-19th century garb, and she’s in pseudo-18th century) I have a friend who says, “This is why no one will watch movies with you”.

But this kind of mashup doesn’t annoy me at all — in fact, I think it’s creative.


I’m thinking it’s particular to steam punk, like my joy in receiving this flash drive. Steampunk combines the contemporary with Victorian sensibilities particularly, or, as in Terry Gilliam’s piece, with Victorian technology, setting, and sensibility.

During the Victorian age, there was a tremendous interest in new technologies, and in a sense mashing things up by combining the symbols of modern progress with those of the traditional past. Take for example this Victorian room:

The Victorian middle class put new technologies (photographs, telephone, gaslight, electric light, phonograph) next to old technologies (paintings, fireplaces, clocks) and enjoyed both equally. So I suspect that the Victorian spirit is much more present in today’s mashup culture than that of any other era one might be stealing from. At least, that’s my theory.

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1 comment to Steampunk and historical mashups

  • Lindsey

    It may be that the reason the first example is so objectionable is that it has been calculated to evoke a specific response:

    -It’s set in a nebulous past time in order to affect us with a sense of nostalgia.
    -He wears a conservative semi-Victorian outfit in order that we get the impression that he is a gentleman.
    -She wears a less-conservative outfit reminiscent of the 18th century because it is more “sexy” than what Victorian women wore (exposed shoulders & collar) without undermining the sense of decorum they are attempting to create.

    In short, the former is engineered to manipulate the watcher’s feelings, while the latter is an honest expression of vision created to enhance and tell a story.