Unpacking the Steampunk Fanny Pack

May 28, 2015

A friend was quoted as saying that holsters are Steampunk’s Fanny Pack. I agree, but I think there is something to examine here. Nothing super serious or concerning or Tumblr-rage worthy, but interesting in regards to the genre.

I think this is an echo of violence being seen as a key part of the genre and style. One of the most common props is a weapon of some sort – usually a nerf blaster but most commonly a gun. Steampunk seems to heavily utilize the legend of the gun.

Part of that may just be the culture I is embedded in. American culture especially has a strong affection for the gun. We have them in nearly every action movie, show, or comic book. They are in our games and our photoshoots. The gun is, to western culture, an icon of power and self-possession.

This has been in no small part due to its utility in western expansionism and the romanticization of such.  The importance of guns (not specific items, but the type of weapon) as indispensable but also interchangable means by which to enforce one’a vision upon the world is central to much of western fiction and lore.

Not surprising, then, that it permeates the steampunk subculture as well. And the trappings of that follow suit, too. The thigh holster pouch, the hip holster placement for props, the holder holster either to hold belongings or often for aesthetics. These are echos of the gun.

This only becomes worrisome in some representations and when historic perspective is added. The gun and violence of many kinds was part an parcel to western imperialism and expansionism. What was romanticized as high adventure and exploration in fiction had its real life counter part in the cultural pillaging of the antiquarian Victorians and the spearheads of economic and political imperialism which would dominate much of the world.

So, remarkably, the villainous pith-helmet wearing, gun-toting character being pulled out just for laughs is less than funny for some as that imagery, minus the steampunk, was a real threat not long ago. But I would suggest that the tactical leather pouches that replace holsters have a shadow of this. The adventurer exploring some newly discovered relics is harking to those who pillages artifacts from cultures as old or older, often while enslaving, killing, or socially unbalancing local populations.

I’m not saying “no more steampunk”. I enjoy the aesthetic. But it is important to at least be aware that this is representative of a time in which the western cultures were violent and dangerous and we are playing in that image. By all means keep painting nerf blasters and wearing brown and copper, but imagine who you are depicting and what impact they had on their world. That holster may hold your wallet and not be shaped to hold a gun at all – but it is called a holster because it brings these images to mind. 

Just my random thoughts on the idea.

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