December 22, 2011

When Steampunk is too Fantastical...

Unlike my long but mild interest in Goth or my recent but great fascination with Lolita, Steampunk captured my fancy the Autumn of 2006 when I first picked up Neil Stephenson's The Diamond Age and became entranced with the Neo-Victorians. Read this book even if Steampunk is not your aesthetic for the superbly visioned future, nanotech wizardry and brilliant characters.

The Neo-Victorians were a phyle of individuals who had recreated the ethics and aesthetics of the Victorian Era in an age of Nanotech. Where the lower classes had The Feed create food, clothing, and shelter on the atomic level, the Neo-Victorians had their necessities handmade. Where the other Phyles spent a good deal of their time tapped into immersion video games or gang warfare, the Neo-Victorians embraced the disciplined, intellectual rigor of  the bygone era. They had the exquisite clothing, the perfect manners, the strong moral system and my complete admiration.

Subsequent searches for 'Neo-Victorian' necessarily led to the subculture of Steampunk, the wonderful Steampunk Magazine, various steampunk messageboards, forums, fashion sites, and more. My writing soon abounded with fantastical tales of airship captains, living automatons, brass goggles and dashing pirates. The margins of my school pages were rarely without some design of crudely drawn gears or poor sketches of my airship 'The Element.' (Long story for why such a brilliant ship has such a poor name.)

I still love Steampunk today. I'll happily devour the plethora of contemporary steampunk literature. My highschool friends still call each other by the titles and characters spewed out by the Steampunk Name Generator. I still sigh over the beautiful corsets, accessories, and dresses from online stories and steampunk meetings. Many of my day dreams include standing at the prow of my ship and feeling the wind whistle through my hair and nip at my nose. I love Steampunk.

But Steampunk isn't real. Thus my love will never move beyond a distant fascination. How can I love something that takes no part in this real world? One of the catch phrases for steampunk is 'a history that never was.' This image contains the core of the problem: Steampunk is a 'history that never was' not a 'future that might be.' We have moved past the age of steam two hundred years ago and won't go back unless an Apocalypse occurs. If such a calamity does come to pass, we won't invent air ships or automatons, because the struggle for life will be too great.

Steampunk is not life-applicable. Yes, it is possible to decorate one's home to look more industrial or Neo-Victorian or like the inside of an Airship. Yes, it is possible to dress as you think your character in a Steampunk world would dress. Yes, it is possible to modify your every modern device into an antique equivalent, but these are real.

The competnacy and capability that I admire so much in Steampunk are for items or situations which do not exist in this world. The adventures I read about or problems I see characters overcome are not adventures or problems I will face. Yes, Steampunk still glorifies the spectacular, the great, the wonderful and capable, but it offers me no insight into how I imbue the ordinary, non airship worthy aspects of my life with the same spirit.

One of the appeals of Steampunk is the ability to fix the machines with which we live. It seems everyone can throw open the back of their personal automaton, reveal the whirring, clicking gears and springs, bang a few with a wrench and fix the problem. That technique is impossible with today's technology. Open up the back of a computer or a phone and, unless you have a very specialized skill set, it is impossible to physically fix the problem. We can barely fix our cars any more with all the advanced technology.

I am not anti-technology. But Steampunk hearkens back to a simpler, more comprehensible world where the average man or woman could become a hero or create a marvelous new invention. This is no longer possible today but Steampunk does not encourage or embrace the aesthetic that would make us so capable in this world. It looks towards past accomplishments rather than future our of an understandable anxiety and confusion about the complexities we face today. But looking back to a history that never was will not help us succeed or overcome the present that is today.

This is why Steampunk will always be more costume than culture and why I call myself a Neo-Aristocrat rather than a Neo-Victorian.

(As always, I welcome questions, comments, or outright disagreement over the ideas presented. This post represents a slight break from the more rigorous, structural critiques of Goth or Lolita. Does it work? Do the Ideas make sense? Happy Solstice!)

December 14, 2011

When Lolita is Too Sweet II

Due to time constraints and length, I have decided to divide my critique of Lolita in two . My previous post praised Lolita; here is the critique.

However, a disclaimer is necessary. I have not, as of this moment, worn Lolita. My critique is based on the knowledge found in various blogs and message boards throughout the internet. Like my critique of Goth, I am not condemning the fashion as a whole, merely stating why I will not embrace this aesthetic fully.

Clothing tells the story of your life. The garments you chose, the seperates you match, the care and attention you pay to your hair and makeup, proclaim far more to a person than we would like to admit. But consider two people: one dressed in jeans and a baggy hoodie from some name brand store, the other wearing a well tailored skirt and blazer. Who would you invite back to a job interview? Look twice at in the street? Think was more successful? 

The question of the validity of this judging remains to be explored, but we are being naive if we think that people first judge by the qualities of we display rather than the clothing we wear. The right outfit can create an story about our lives that, I believe, our personality fills in to match.

But what is the story that Lolita clothing provides? What is the lifestyle of someone who has applied the aesthetics to Lolita to every aspect of their life?

I imagine her life would resemble that of a pampered cat.

Let me try to paint the picture:

The Lolita wakes as the sun paints golden paths along the pink and white walls of her room. She yawns, rubs her eyes, smiles and clambers out of her canopy bed to begin her day. Her ruffled and lace-frilled night gown is carefully stored in her matching cabinet and the Lolita skips over to her overflowing closet to choose what she will wear today. Naturally, her closet is full of only the best and most beautiful of brand dresses, shoes, socks, blouses, petticoats, skirts, belts, bolero's, head peices, rings, necklaces- the list goes on. After all, Lolita is fashion before philosophy and the clothing is the most important part of her day. 

After dressing, the Lolita descends to the dining room looking over the gardens. Breakfast is already laid with tea, scones, butters and jams prettily arranged on fine china. The Lolita finishes her meal and retires to the garden for a turn among the flowers. After enjoying the beauties of Nature perhaps she meets up with her fellow Lolita's for afternoon tea or a day of shopping and photography in the city. Perhaps she goes on another walk for the afternoon. Perhaps she spends her time embroidering or crafting some pretty new design for a dress or head piece. It doesn't matter; the day is hers.

After a light dinner, the Lolita perhaps reads a novel or finishes her crafting. Perhaps she visits more friends or plays with her pets. Whatever she does, the Lolita returns to her bed happy and content at the hours of her day.

This is not a bad life. Indeed, I would quite willingly spend a month or more spending my days in such a fashion. At first, I would glory in late mornings and days with nothing to do but engage my mind in the most feminine of things. But eventually, I know I would grow restless. After all, what was I doing?

Lolita fashion is fantastically impractical; it is part of the charm. But if I had spent the better part of two hours preparing my outfit, I would think twice about doing anything that might ruin my hard work. 

That 'anything' encompasses most of what is valuable in life: running, dancing, exploring new areas of the woods or parks, lounging, art projects, eating strange and potentially messy food- all the spontaneous adventures that can arise. I would be hesitant to engage fully in any of those because somewhere, in the back of my mind, I would be worried about ruining my clothing.

The activities suited for the Lolita are small and domestic: petting cats, taking pictures, baking cookies and cakes, small crafts. The aesthetic contains no passion or Greatness within itself. If I saw that the best woman general or inventor or politician or writer wore Lolita, I would think they had achieved greatness inspite of rather than because of their fashion.

Perhaps there is no fashion, yet, that can inspire greatness. This is part of my goal in exploring the Neo-Aristocratic philosophy and aesthetic. But if I do find such a fashion, I don't think it will be Lolita with the impracticality, the excessive sweetness, and delicacy of the garments and look. 

There is not enough passion in Lolita, not enough Greatness. The fashion hearkens back to a time when small crafts and activities were the focus of a woman's thoughts not world or life changing ones.

Now, such focus on the smaller sphere of life is necessary at times, but it must be tempered by times for Greatness. Lolita offers the former, but no chance for the latter and a proper, applicable aesthetic should offer both.

Again, I am more than happy to discuss any of my ideas if they raised questions or concerns. If there is some place where my argument was weak or confusing, please let me know. 

December 13, 2011

Why Fashion Doesn't Matter...

(I am taking a break from my series of Inspirational Aesthetics as my final inspiration, objectivism, needs more consideration before I can coherently say why it is not for me. Please enjoy this interlude.)

As I browse through the online catalogs of beautiful and extravagant alternative fashion, I would willingly admit to admiring the outfits. But would I ever wear them? The answer, whispered from some hidden nook of my soul, is no.

No, those fashions are for the models.

No, those fashions are for the brave, the dramatic.

No, I may love those fashions, but I am a modest person whose clothing will brush against the edges of whimsy but daren't cross.

Why? I ask myself. Why wouldn't I wear what I love?

Because of the people, the small voice whispers back. Because of the stares, the glances, the mocking amusement lifting the brows of those who see you. What would they think of you? What would they whisper to their friends after you pass by?

It is when confronted by a swarm of doubts and insecurities as these that I turn to another one of my passions: Astronomy.

America is a large country, impossible to see every part of it. It is, however, only a fraction of the size of the earth. The earth itself is very small compared to the other planets in the solar system; more than a 130 can fit inside Jupiter. More than a 900 Jupiters can fit inside our sun.

I've had this for ages on my computer...
Yet our sun is a very small sun compared to others.

Found on Wikipedia

The entire solar system is located on the far edge of Milky Way, our beloved galaxy.

Yet even how unimaginably vast our galaxy is to us, it is but a speck in the cosmic scale. This is a one minute clip of the wonderful documentary series "How the Universe Works" showing far better than any picture could just how large our universe is:

Yet, even this entire, enormous galaxy is nothing compared to the other wonders of the universe. Because this will be one of the few times I will allow myself to indulge in my Astrophilia, here is one final picture:

From "How the Universe Works"
All the points of light in that beautiful image are galaxies. This is a possible description of the universe" webs of dark energy where Galaxy clusters are studded like jewels. The entire Universe could actually look like this.

Humans are very, very small and our lifespans are very, very short.

Why in the Universe am I letting fear of what someone whispers keep me from doing what I love?