The term steampunk has been around since 1987, reportedly coined by science fiction author K.W. Jeter. It is a genre involving steam-based technology and alternative histories focused on the 19th century Queen Victoria era and the American West of the same period.
Steampunk has its roots set in a much earlier time than 1987 when Jeter attempted to categorize the work he and his friends were writing. It made its entrance as early as authors Jules Verne (hailed as godfather of the movement) and H.G. Wells published their pages in sci-fi fantasy and time travel in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The style broadened into motion picture media in 1927 with the dieselpunk film “Metropolis.” In 1954 there was “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” and in 1960 “The Time Machine.” Then came the 1965 television series “The Wild Wild West” and 1968’s “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.” Although only one out of this list of old notables was produced by Walt Disney Pictures, (20,000 Leagues) steampunks would say that Disney has made a significant contribution to the genre, the most recent film being “Hugo” (2011).
Since its inception, an aesthetic gelled around the literary foundation and has grown to include varied categories in culture, even outside of the natural path that film was, such as fashion, art and architecture. Visual clues emphasize clockwork mechanisms and steam-powered everything, all the way from machine gun prosthetic arms, cogs and wheels, goggles, airships and time machines to whole islands operated on steam. The look can also be as subtle as this season’s Prada or King Baby Studio. Basically, you’ve seen it and heard it, and you’ve probably been attracted to it, you may just not have known it. Furthermore, you probably don’t live it everyday.
Enter Doc Phineas Kastle in a glorious and debonair embodiment of steampunk. He has admittedly donned many a character, but his latest incarnation of self-expression has proven to be, he says, the climax of a lifelong journey. Having travelled extensively throughout Europe and lived in India for 10 years, he has accumulated collections of antiques and artifacts quintessential in the archetypal 19th century British world traveller. Finding steampunk was, to him, like coming home to a place he didn’t know existed; it’s the one outward expression of his identity he says he’s most comfortable ever having used, as one will see from visiting his home, he doesn’t do anything halfway.
Aside from creating an impressive living environment true to the steampunk wonderworld, Dr. Phineas Kastle has amassed an impressive wardrobe. Doc’s refined style is made up of half true-to-period (authentic 19th century) items and half modern clothing. He can often be spotted riding his punked-out bicycle wearing Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, Kenneth Cole and Alexander McQueen. His top hat may be from the 1880s, his walking stick from the 1930s, and his dueling teacup holster only a few years old (hand made for him by a close friend). To Doc, putting together the day’s outfit is the spice of life. He recounts his grandfather:
“I was raised by Victorian grandparents. A lot of my walking sticks are his walking sticks. I asked him, ‘Grandfather, what gives you joy?’ every day when he woke up, and he said, ‘I try to decide what hat I will wear, what pocket watch to put in my vest, and what walking stick I will use.’ And that inspired me that he was so elegant … in a world that has gotten so lazy and grungy,”
Doc concluded, musing that his students come to school in pajamas, “We have actually lost that kind of elegance and self esteem. I think that’s one thing about steampunk. We have a professional way to present ourselves. Education, professionalism, respect for my ancestors. That’s what motivated me to go there.”
In contrast to previous subcultures that became a way to dress, think and act, like the rap-associated “guns and drugs” or Goth genre which is on the darker side, the influence steampunk has is happy and focused on education, exploration, a reverence and nostalgia for the past, inventiveness and hope. Doc pointed out, “The past has become the future. It’s amazing that this science fiction that came out of the 1800s has become relevant in 2014. That’s a big part of how we view the future: that openness to learn and that inventive mentality. In many ways it’s made me a better man.”
Steampunks are “people who are bold enough to say ‘I don’t want to be like everybody else. I want to express myself.’”
And for those who say that steampunks are just Goths who found the color brown, it goes deeper than that. Doc explained, “I think that there might be a little bit of a movement today to disrespect adults, your grandparents and parents. And it was there for our generation too. Now there is a kind of looking back at the past with some reverence, particularly for our grandparents. They lived so naturally. They were recycling everything. I grew up with compost heaps. Everything they had they had to take and reconfigure. ‘Waste not, want not.’ My grandmother made her own soap. The backyard was full of peach trees, apple trees, a cow to milk … chickens for fresh eggs. They were ecological. They were healthy.
I think young people are looking back at that in an idealistic way. That maybe we need to go back and get out of this horrible mess we’re in with these piles of waste we can’t get rid of … find a way to have a better future. I think this generation is remarkably really looking at the problems. Instead of being overwhelmed and doing drugs they say, ‘I’d rather be an inventor and think my way out of this.’”
And of course, our stigma as Las Vegans follows us around even in subculture circles.
Doc claimed, “People can see it everywhere else but not in Vegas. We are going there, and if you’re downtown Las Vegas its really forward. I discovered the Main Street Station. There are places we can go and hang out in our garb and people don’t laugh at us or make jokes about us. They think we’re cool.”
For how stunning Doc is all dressed in his garb, there can be some who go straight to negativity. About this he commented, “I am not going to say it’s been without criticism. A lot of people get very challenged by me because maybe I’m just so free and so happy. It kind of brings the hate out. You straighten your back and let it roll off your shoulders. I have no ulterior motives. If I can be out front, I’m going to take it for a while. It’s what I do for my community. Some people are going to like you and some people are going to hate you. What can you do but have fun?”
Doc Phineas Kastle is hosting Steamathon at Main Street Station February 6-8. For details contact email@example.com. He is also the president of Steampunk Guild International, currently the antiquities expert on the international hit History Channel television show “Pawn Stars” and starring in the movie “The Q File” from Amarcord Pictures.