Without looking anything up, here's what I (think I) know about steampunks: They seem like people who liked Nine Inch Nails' "Closer" video about four million times more than I did (and I liked it okay except for the sad parts with the monkey, which I hated). They are into old-timey Victorian clothing but with an industrial-age/apocalyptic twist that displays in the form of huge metal goggles and magnifying glasses hanging off of waistcoats and shit. And, um, it's because... olde ways are better than new ways? I agree to an extent with that, and I have also known the joy of walking around in period costume en masse (hello renaissance fairs of my youth), but the weird old time science stuff kind of throws me off... all the cranks and gears. Something to do with having to revert to the olde ways when the apocalypse comes... or something? I admit, the exact nature of the pursuit eludes me...
Okay, I just looked it up. Turns out Wikipedia defines it as a genre of science fiction rather than historical recreation, one that heavily emphasizes steam-powered machinery and alternate reality… so I guess I don't know shit about it. Which, of course, is part of the fish-out-of-water W.N.E. experience, and why I marched my ignorant ass into the DoubleTree hotel near Lloyd Center yesterday, as requested by the voters of Blogtown.
It had been specified that I was to pay special attention to the "gentlemanly art" of Bartitsu, a mixed martial art (really) practiced in late 19th and early 20th century England, a la Sherlock Holmes. In it you use your walking cane and cloak as weapons, and learn different techniques for whether you are jacketed or un-jacketed. So, I began my journey into steampunkery at a Sunday afternoon Bartitsu symposium.
Here's the thing, Blogtownies: You did a pretty good job sending me to something I generally take no interest in (steampunk), but Bartitsu is probably the most interesting aspect of steampunk culture you could have possibly sent a former boxer to learn about. I love combat arts and righteous ass kickings, as well as history—like, real historical facts about things that probably actually happened, not just what might happen if the whole world got trapped in Smashing Pumpkins' "Tonight, Tonight" video—and Bartitsu is not even an entirely made up thing! So thank you for that. That said: there is a bunch of other crap I would have preferred doing (sun, river) rather than sit in an air conditioned hotel ballroom with a sparse crowd of people, 90% of whom were in full steampunk regalia (I considered trying to dress up, but nothing in my wardrobe even comes close).
Yes, it was funny to watch people do combat demos—Bartitsu is basically a hybrid of several disciplines including pugilism, jujitsu, and savate—in vests and slacks, which kind of looks like a brawl at the tail end of a wedding reception. And yes, some of the speakers' affectations made my eyes roll, like saying "causing most disagreeable sensation in his face" instead of punching and "belabour him as I see fit" instead of kick his fucking ass. But mainly it was a fairly informative, if a bit boring, technical display of various self-defense moves shared by people clearly serious and excited about an obscure niche of physical combat they'd discovered. Some of what they talked about honestly resonated with me, like the idea of being physically fit and able to fight as a cultural responsibility—especially in a London era during which police presence was quite low, and it was a societal obligation to respond when someone shouted "help" or "stop that man!" I physically applauded of my own volition when one of the demonstrators made the point that girls should be taught how to hit things from a very young age despite a society that almost never allows them to.
So... the time passed more or less pleasantly—so much so that the two hours were almost up when I decided I'd better see some of the rest of the convention. The whole thing had begun on Friday, so presumably things were winding down. Aside from a few smaller conference rooms with soft-spoken lecturers going on about knobs and wheels and such, there was a fine art gallery—containing exactly the styles of art you are imagining—and a boatload of vendors selling every aspect of steampunk appropriate costuming, from ladies' dresses to, yes, an entire table of those big metal goggle things. I window shopped a bit until it was way past the two-hour mark, and then escaped back into the still-sunny evening.
Piece of cake, you guys.