I’m slow on the uptake, I know, but I’ve only really just clicked that my teenagers don’t live in my world.
It’s not simply that they don’t get adult complexity – their lives are mercifully sparred the taxman, politicians, divorce and mortgages – but they actually live in a parallel world. Entrance into that world is by invitation only, so I felt incredibly privileged that my teens obliged their old journo Mum with an interview. The following series of posts follow my investigations into the weird, but wonderful teenage world of the 21st century.
It’s got to be said that it is a complex world – far larger than the following five things – but I thought these five things were a great intro into the world of steampunk, memes, alternative history, and fan fiction. Not to mention deviantart, and Youtube superstardom!
First up, Steampunk…
1/Steampunk – It’s not punk as it used to be.
Remember the guy at uni who wore a safety pin through his nose and dyed his mohawk a different colour dependent on his mood? Yeah, the ‘punk’ in steampunk isn’t like that at all.
“So what is it?” I asked my 16 year old daughter, as she begged to be allowed to attend an upcoming steampunk convention in London.
She fired up the laptop to explain.
Steampunk is apparently a type of alternative world where the industrial revolution meets the apocalypse. It’s like a Time Tunnel gone wonky, where everything is powered by steam, women wear corsetry a la 1800s yet top it off with a post-feminist utility belt. This is a world where the girls wear petticoats, bustles and gowns.
This is a world where no one has ever burnt their bra!
They may have added steam-driven uplift enhancers though.
I wondered what that meant for feminism as a whole… do our daughters really want to go back to the old symbols for patriarchical oppression – boned corsets and starched petticoats? And how does that attire limit their lives? Just how easy is it getting into the family airship with a full gown on?
I can’t even get into a taxi with an evening gown on, let alone an airship.
According to Wikipedia, steampunk is influenced by the works of HG Wells, Mary Shelley, Jules Verne, and more recently Philip Pullman. It’s an anachronistic vision of the 1800s from the perspective of the 21st century. It’s as if the world took off in an alternative direction at the divergent point of the 1800s, off into a dark, yet strangely romantic, world where everything is driven by steam, and everyone flies an airship. That’s not to say that technology is absent, there’s mobile phones and computers galore, in this new world. It’s just that these machines are somehow modded to look like Victorian objects.
Steampunk has recently forged ahead in popularity amongst a certain group of teenagers and the upcoming London Expo reminded me of the punk festivals of the early 1980s. Yet somehow different, more finessed for a generation that grew up on a diet of Dr Who and the tardis, and The League of Extraordinary Gentleman. There’s a lack of nihilism too, replaced with an undercurrent of survival against the odds.
“But Mum you must realise that it’s not just steampunk. There’s cyberpunk too and it’s all part of the gaming world,” she patiently explained.
“Mums and Dads know about gaming! WE were there when it started!”
Though I quietly conceded to myself, that this was gaming way beyond the spacies machines at the fish and chip shop. Far, far removed from Pacman and the splendiferous Pong.
Dark Princess informed me that she needed a corset for her steampunk costume, along with aviator goggles and a utility belt. I couldn’t help with the goggles or the utility belt, but the corset, yes ma’am that I could do. Grateful for some small connection with my daughter’s world, I whisked her upstairs to the privacy of my bedroom and confessed all.
“I have a couple of corsets that might do the trick,” I said shyly.
Her eyes widened.
“Really? I didn’t know you wore corsets!”
She was excited to discover that her old Mum wasn’t as boring as she’d expected, and I quietly basked in the surprise as I carefully pulled out a couple of my boudoir specials. The black lace one wasn’t right. Too lacey! The white one was too bridal. I pulled out my favourite (expensive) panelled basque.
“This might do the trick. It’s got the fabric panels,” I said as I gently fingered the old gold material covered with delicate lace.
She wrinkled her nose.
“Oh no Mum, that’s not right. It’s too nice!”
Er right. There’s a conversation I didn’t expect to have with my daughter.
And too nice?
What was she expecting? Bondage leather with nipple clamps and a couple of chains?
Chastened, I headed downstairs with her to read up more on her world. As I did she reminded me of the other elements of her costume. Back in my element again I enthusiastically piped up;
“I’ve got suspenders!”
“Eeeeew! No Mum I mean proper suspenders.”
Of course, the over the shoulder ones, not the up-the-thigh suspenders. I should have known. What else would any self-respecting steampunk chick wear, but men’s braces over her Victorian corset?
Will this poor old Mum ever get it?