Steampunk stilettos

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By John Pawlak


The dictionary defines “culture” as an anthropological manifestation of human intellectual achievement, which is collectively assigned value and meaning.

Wow, that’s impressive! Who knew that Boy George named his group “Culture Club” after an intellectual manifestation?

Our world is like a big vat of yogurt chock full of culture; curdled governments, fermented values, sour foreign relations, and sometimes a little granola-flavored tradition thrown in to add texture.

But that’s just the surface of human culture. Peel away the veneer of acceptable standards, and much like ripping the bark off a fallen rotting tree trunk, you’ll find a mass of insects busily living out their lives in another world.

That’s subculture. 

New Mexico is known for its UFO subculture. The “forensic evidence” of the 1947 Roswell spaceship crash by ET’s second cousin once-removed is proof positive to warp-driven space cadets that aliens have visited our planet (and were lousy pilots).

Within a generation, other alienation wannabes invaded the subcutaneous layers of society. A visit to a Comic Con (convention) reveals what otherwise-normal people do on their weekends.

You know, typical stuff like dressing up as Thor and wielding a menacing hammer, or donning a Vader helmet, gasping for air, and telling every passerby, “Luke, I am you father!”

Green faces, bobbing antennae, space weapons, robotic makeup — it’s all part of subcultures that outsiders can never understand. Competitions for  Princess Leia slave bikini lookalike awards. Zombies drooling blood and seeking brains for lunch. Dressing up as teenage mutant ninja turtles.  

Really, isn’t being a normal teenager mutant enough?

There’s Goths, Emos and Metalheads. Similar in looks, they live in totally different universes. Calling an Emo a Goth, or a Goth a Metalhead, is an unforgivable sub-sin.

But superheroes and brain eaters are mainstream subcultures. To appreciate just how “sub” cultures can get, you need to dig into that rotting tree trunk a little deeper.

Sweet Lolitas prance in childlike motifs, flesh-pink lipstick, frilly umbrellas, ribbons and bows. In sharp contrast are the Guro Lolitas, innocent little girls with a broken-doll look, usually adorned with bandages and fake blood.

Steampunk is a sci-fi genre envisioning a world of mechanical marvels powered by steam, seasoned with modern technology such as computers and laser weapons. 

For just $200, you can buy a nice pair of steampunk stilettos (but not steam-powered nor do you get a ray gun with them).

A very “sub” subculture is the Furry Fandoms, people who dress up as animals and participate in furry fashion shows. Cats, foxes and wolves are the more popular anthropomorphic incarnations, but occasionally you’ll see a purple Barney at the conventions.

Lest you think men aren’t attracted to furry frolicking, consider the Bronies, spawned from the “My Little Pony” cartoon. Men dress up like glittery ponies and trade little pony memorabilia.

Yeah, it’s weird out there. Dragonkins believe that they are reincarnated dragons. Faeids search for dimensional portals to allow fairies to enter our world. Devoted Amazonian followers of Xena the Warrior Princess meet each year in Burbank, donning skimpy leather outfits and weapons designed to decapitate foes.

Japan tops the list of bizarre subcultures, with Ganguro girls definitely standing outside the crowd. Dark fake tans, multicolored hair, stark white lips and eye shading, and clothing that makes them look like Spongebob in drag.

Competing in the “Go ahead and laugh at me” contest, Bagelheads definitely contend for the gold medal of weird. They inject saline into their forehead to form a bagle-shaped tumor.

When I first arrived in New Mexico, I marveled at the subculture of chile eaters, divided into two ardent factions of allegiance; red versus green. And others straddle the battlefront by promoting Christmas as a tasteful compromise.

As subcultures go, I suppose some do find it rather strange that people would purposely ingest a hydrophobic irritant simply to enjoy the sensation of having a conflagration in their mouth. 

Oh yeah, baby! It hurts so good!

As subcultures go, capsaicin gargling might be considered a fringe group, but it feels good to be a part of something. And besides, I really don’t look all that great in a Wolverine costume.