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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Cheers to Gears

    Annie Marum / Arizona Daily Wildcat

The 1st annual Wild Wild West Steampunk Convention took place this weekend, where members of the Tucson community were able to come out and enjoy the traditions of the Wild Wild West.
    Annie Marum
    Annie Marum / Arizona Daily Wildcat The 1st annual Wild Wild West Steampunk Convention took place this weekend, where members of the Tucson community were able to come out and enjoy the traditions of the Wild Wild West.

    Imagine a world without electricity, where Ben Franklin never messed around with keys and kites and Albert Einstein never made it past his position as a patent clerk. Take Victorian sensibility, add mad-scientist speculation and then inject a bit of sci-fi. Welcome to a world run with gears and steam, where the fashionable travel in zeppelins and brass is the go-to metal. Welcome to the world that is steampunk.

    Steampunk is an artistic movement that spans art, fashion, film, literature and even technology. It combines the scientific romanticism of the Victorian era with our actual reality and imagined future. The movement has gained fame since the messy 1999 Will Smith joyride, “”Wild Wild West,”” and this weekend Steampunk stampeded into the real West.

    Enter Wild Wild West Con.

    From March 4 to March 6, Old Tucson Studios was converted into the Mecca for steampunk fans and vendors alike. On the first day, some 1,100 visitors streamed through the entrances, visiting the 40+ vendor booths, the handful of lectures and the amazing exhibits. My personal favorite: The League of STEAM — a 19th century steampunk zombie fighting posse.

    “”Some even came from as far as New Zealand,”” said Robert Levin, the vice president of Wild Wild West Steampunk Convention and Festival at Old Tucson Studios, as he wiped a handkerchief below his British pith helmet.

    What surprised me was the average age of the steampunkers. Here I thought the Con would be swarming with our generation, perhaps some emo kids. Wrong. Most of the men had long, flowing beards. The average age of the women appeared to be over 30. Grandmas that might otherwise have been home baking cookies strolled along in petticoats with lace parasols shading them from the Arizona sun. Bold were those who wore layers — oh my Lord, it was scorching.

    Pass slung around my neck, I plunged into the heart of the event, sweaty but pleased. On my head perched the oh-so-necessary goggles upon a top hat. I felt stifled in a excessively buttoned Victorian dress with a velvet bustle and a leather waist cincher. I have never felt so hot and I have never fit in so seamlessly with a crowd.

    And to think I used to laugh at Dungeons & Dragons zealots.

    Undoubtedly, the most striking element of steampunk is the elaborate costumes. It’s not just the period attire. Like any fashionista will tell you, it’s all about the accessories: monocles, brass armpieces and low-slung gun holsters. Gotta have it.

    Among the rough-and-tumble gunslinger punks were Andrew Fischer and Gacinda Johnston, both seniors at the UA. As a costume design major, Johnston was a resident expert on steampunk dress. She has been a fan of the movement for several years, starting back when it was more underground. In fact, she had created her steampunk dress in response to a class assignment. She spent many a night toiling over a sewing machine to create her outfit.

    According to Johnston, there are several things that differentiate mere Victorian apparel from its steampunk counterpart. “”Steampunk is kind of Victorian meets an industrial theme, but the industrial influence is purely by steam. We get everything we would see today, but with gears and steam.””

    Fischer, a computer science major, admires the technology side of steampunk. “”I started seeing people steampunk their laptop, desktops and mice. People even have Bluetooth devices that are steampunked. It’s really cool seeing modern technology almost being taken back.””

    With both apparel and gadgets cropping up all geared-out, it’s only natural that has jumped on the bandwagon. Most of the vendors at the Wild Wild West Convention sell their products on similar websites.

    “”It’s just something that showcases our talents,”” said Thomas Rudmore, one of the many individuals with a table laden with steampunk accessories. He too was decked out in long overcoat and waxed moustache, apparently a huge fan despite his 60-odd years. “”It’s more than crafting. It’s inventing.””

    Steampunk is generally assumed to have begun in the early 1990s. The amount of time that people at Wild Wild West Con have known about steampunk varied greatly, though. I asked Chris Perez, a 2010 UA graduate with a degree in linguistics, how long he has been a fan of steampunk.

    “”I suppose I’ve been a semi-stalwart supporter of the stylized sci-fi scene since before I was aware of its existence as a ‘movement,'”” Perez said. “”That is to say, as bad as that ‘Wild Wild West’ movie was, a youthful me immediately took a shine to the idea of old-timey, steam-driven science fiction.””

    Watch out ladies and gentlemen, because this movement is only gathering steam (pun intended). The most recent Sherlock Holmes, starring Robert Downey Jr., was heavily influenced by steampunk with its alternate technology. Panic! At the Disco’s most recent video for “”The Ballad of Mona Lisa”” is oozing with steampunk elements. There was even a “”Steampunk Palin”” comic released earlier this year. Just walking down Congress last week, I noticed birds made of gears painted onto the windows. There are novels, webisodes — Heaven forbid, even gear-jammed tattoos are getting popular.

    But why is steampunk important? It must be pretty interesting if it can motivate thousands of people to trudge over dusty Old Tucson Studios in elaborate getup in this heat.

    “”To me, steampunk is a creative outlet, to be used in moderation,”” Perez said. “”Except during WWWC. Then moderation is for the weak. It’s a chance to have fun in a unique costume, regardless of age. I’d say it’s important because, in an age of excessive TV and videogames, it is a creative and artistic movement driven by literature. Also steam, but mostly literature.””

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