Steampunk. The first example of it that I knew it under that name was The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling. Not really an awesome book. It needed more editing so the prose would flow. But it led somewhere and the genre took off with the energy applied, particularly when Neal Stephenson did his own take on it, Diamond Age in particular. I suspect that in 20 years the Edwardian/Victorian clothing from Steampunk might be the dominant high culture in America and Europe. We're definitely tired of Teeshirts and bluejeans and sneakers. There's appeal to wearing clothes that FIT and are of proper quality. This said while I myself am wearing track pants and a teeshirt. Go, hypocrisy!
It is worth pointing out that there's been plenty of pseudo-steam in the various riffs off 19th Century scifi, like Jules Verne. Ripoff shows like Wild Wild West was a sort of western-scifi steampunk setting, with gadgets out of time, etc. Make has been awesome about building ornate housings for technology, and mass produced plastic covers for iPhones in the shape of a cassette tape is a bit less retro but a similar idea. Steampunk is all brass, soot, vacuum tubes, steam power, coal, fragile and complex mechanical structures, girders, black iron, lightning bolts, and a surge of anticipation towards a tomorrow that didn't come the way they expected. Yesterday's Tomorrows is a legitimate field of study in modern culture and history.
The Star Trek series mutated to match viewers tastes so the moral choices matched the mores of the times it was on TV. Polyester stretch pants, spandex singlets, the character's clothes are just as artificial and plastic as their acting often was. Blame the director and writers for that. Scifi since 1900 has been a strange series of Modernist Romantic, where science conquers superstition and make the world Utopian. Then the 1960's happened and we saw the flower children beaten and shot during protests that turned into riots and tragedy. The flower children turned into deadly murdering cultists and the whole innocent vibe disappeared. The Baby Boomers turned greedy, got divorces, snorted cocaine, went psychotic, voted for nuclear armegeddon, raised children badly, and we saw the end of the Cold War, aka World War 3. It is important to note that that WAS WW3. It just happened that WW3 was mostly fought via proxies and posturing, in places like Vietnam, Ethiopia, Eastern Europe, Afghanistan, the Middle East, and countless skirmishes in the air and at sea. 40 years minutes away from MAD. And then it was over.
The debris of the end of WW3 was all that bestial architecture, built ugly to withstand nukes and weather, mostly abandoned. There's nothing ornate since the Art Deco period. Just ugliness. Steampunk is a return to Ornate and that means craftsmanship and the value of labor, of pride in workmanship. For the last 80 years we've been tearing down what doesn't suit us, and we've lost all sense of art and respect for each other. I think this is a big part of why Steampunk appeals to modern people. It's a rejection of pure function, and a demand for pleasing appearance. The Paramount theater in Oakland CA is a fine example of Art Deco, complete with sculptures and rugs. It is a palace of craftsmanship pride. If all theaters were like that they probably wouldn't tear them down every 10 years.
The current incarnation of TV broadcast steampunk is Warehouse 13, which is repeated variations of Clarke's Law operated by the warehouse from the original Raiders of the Lost Arc "a very safe place". The characters are cliches, but that's what people want in TV. It has many props built with the steampunk approach, brass, vacuum tubes, ornate designs. Metal, wood, no plastics. Its pretty. Warehouse 13 is about the pretty props for the show. The characters are largely post-modern nihilists, seeking self destruction rather than building a better future, but that's the structure of the show. After WW3, we entered WW4 almost immediately with the first Gulf War, a post soviet resource war arguing for local control vs global demand. Inevitably, if Lithium remains valuable, we'll see a similar war in Bolivia, and later in Venezuela over the oil fields near the Colombian border. The collapse of cheap oil and the rise of expensive oil has resulted in a global shift in power, and WW4 will shift from the WW3 combatants to the newly reformed BRIC nations, all of which have been through major economic turmoil and reset themselves to a new brutality that the Old World (the West) isn't ready for yet. The West is still sliding through Cultural Inertia, still trying to retain its 1950's outlook of endless wealth, peace, and talking things over. The world isn't like that anymore. The real world is more like a Bayonet, a stabby thing you use on a person to kill them because you're either out of ammunition or they aren't worth a bullet. Wars today are fought with money through economics and ownership and trade. It's a lot like the Robber Barons of the 1880's. Wage slavery, brutal working conditions, carefully limited economic development, union busting, bribery, coercion, the gamut of unethical behavior because today there are no consequences for unethical behavior, other than losing if you have any. We have become Hobbesian.
We are heading into a future without the Flying Cars most scifi fans wanted, and the unlimited energy and teleportation of Star Trek, yet something other than Road Warrior, a place in between. We're heading to a sort of 1910 with laptops and solar panels and cell phones, we may find ourselves living very strange lives. Most of us will be riding bicycles when we need to go somewhere, but its a fraction as expensive in energy to use the internet for conversations. We will likely see the side roads and back streets reverting to gravel and overgrown if not frequently traveled. We will probably see people in the midwest with sufficient pasture going back to horse and buggy travel, since it is less work than a bicycle and far less expensive than an electric car, thanks to the batteries coming from ever decreasing supplies of lithium, an element rare on the surface of the Earth. We will watch our lifestyles decline, consistently, and go hungry from time to time. We'll see our health challenged and people will die that used to just get some meds and take a couple days off. We're going to become so poor we'll finally understand what the 3rd world was whining about all this time.