Illusive Mind

The Unquestionable should be questioned

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Cyberpunk Future


Cyberpunk is an open idea. It is a term that has been in dispute since it’s inception with every work dedicated to it taking up the burden of attempting to explain it. I think as a genre it is a highly consensual term. That is, what is determined as being firmly cyberpunk or barely cyberpunk depends on the consensus of the people who use the term. This is what gives the word it’s open and complex nature.

However complexity & integrity are two different things. It is naïve of me or anyone else to think that any message that people want to hear won’t be appropriated by mainstream channels and fanatics bemoan the days when their music or whatever was ‘sold out’

I don’t even think it is sensible to talk of a genre ‘selling out’ because how can you control artists who choose that form to express themselves? I’m not sure there even ever was a time when Cyberpunk wasn’t in some sense sold-out with ambivalence not just to technology but the market machine that creates the technology.

Cyberpunk is complex because it has elements that can exist completely independent of one another. A film may be cyberpunk purely because of its aesthetics, another for its philosophy and another because of its political point of view.

Science Fiction in general is a neutral genre, its focus is on connections between the present on the future, usually technologically related. It is ripe with political oriented fiction because in analyzing the present to create the future authors have to decide on the eventualities of current political ideologies.

Cyberpunk as a sub genre of science fiction can hardly be described as politically neutral and I believe never should be. I think integrity is important because cyberpunk has its roots in focusing on the alienated and the disenfranchised, the people on the fringes of society and the dystopias created by imbalances in wealth & power. To have integrity then fiction that is described as having cyberpunk politics should be representing this point of view. I don’t think we should consent to the use of the term in describing fiction that abandon’s this view, regardless of whether a film has a giant add for Converse shoes in it or not (ala ‘I, Robot’.)

However, I could imagine that in order to accommodate the complexity of the term one might want to distinguish between say, cyberpunk politics, cyberpunk philosophy and cyberpunk aesthetics etc. So that a narrative that focus on the question of humanity through technological change is not denied the label just because it ignores aesthetics and politics. Though, this might just further confuse things.

Under this view cyberpunk is not too open but perhaps too specific. Requiring too many disparate elements. Why not retrospectively label George Orwell’s ‘1984’ as cyberpunk even though there is no internet, hackers, cyborgs or corporatocracies to speak of? Is it perhaps because of the specific commonalties of early cyberpunk (eg. similar depictions of the social fragmentation caused by the use of the internet/virtual reality etc.) that some regard the genre as outdated and irrelevant?

I think I was probably mistaken in asking how cyberpunk can regain it’s political rebelliousness as I’m not sure it’s ever had it (in terms of having more than ambivalence toward late capitalism). But I think it should have it, as I have my own political point of view and agenda of course but I regard it as one of the best genres to express this point of view.

‘Cyberpunk’ is an open term; it is complex however if we consent to its use on works of fiction too disparate, too thinly related it becomes so open that it is meaningless. Thus it depends on the integrity of its fans, authors and critics as to what they regard as the future of cyberpunk.



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