Friday, September 12, 2008

The Cyberpunk Culture

As I continue to open my mind to new forms of art, music, and writing, I've decided to delve into the "cyberpunk". If you've watched The Matrix, you probably have a bit of an idea about what I'm talking about. Cyberpunk is a technology-focused subculture interested in a future, and believing (accepting?) that the future is going to be a dystopian mix of technocracy, anarchy, and scientific advancement.

By using "dystopian" I might be too harsh, but a "dark" future is definitely expected. Bladerunner is a great example of this, where Los Angeles is a grim and polluted place.

There are numerous cyberpunk books, with Neuromancer seen as the novel that started this sci-fi genre. A world where hackers are glorified and artificial intelligence exists, with the main character starting off in a dark and dangerous city in Japan. The book reminds me of Haruki Murakami's Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, also written in the mid-1980s. In this case, the "hacker" is a government agent whose subconscious is used as a key in an encryption algorithm for data. Cyberpunk anime also exists, and includes Akira, The Animatrix, and Cowboy Bebop.

As with "regular" punk, much of the subculture focuses on music as well... The Opera House (in Toronto) recently hosted a rave, Tokyo Cybermonster (some photos), that featured costumes, bands, and dancing. Some of the music played is available on MySpace.

Of course, defining anything as "cyberpunk" is difficult... But those interested can visit The Cyberpunk Project, a Russian site devoted to cataloging cyberpunk culture, and what it means.

What is most fascinating about cyberpunk is its focus on the future of society. Like the broader punk movement, which has roots in politics and social discontent, cyberpunk tries to make a statement about the future of social norms, ethics, politics, and even economics. What I find striking is that while punk music often rebels against the status quo and present political conditions, cyberpunk works sometimes glorify the seemingly unavoidable technological dystopia. Think about Bladerunner -- while the plot and scenery are both dark, the viewer is still drawn to a future of humanoid robots, flying cars, space colonies, and advertisements.

Finally, this whole "cyberpunk dystopia" is not as far-off and incredible as one may initially think. While true artificial intelligence may never be achieved, the Internet connects the entire world, cyberwars and infowars take place, and our actions are being logged continuously. Maybe the cyberpunks are just one step ahead?

Note: click photos for credits.


vanessa said...

Nope, the post cyberpunks are one step ahead. You should read something by Ian MacDonald. He's an amazing writer. I suggest Brasyl or even better, River of Gods.

Wojciech said...

Woo! River of Gods is already on my reading list, but now so is Brasyl. Thank you. :)

And coming soon (in a few months), a post on post-cyberpunk.

Yaacov said...

Wojciech, the cyberpunk view of the future is going to run into the peak oil reality, unfortunately. Much of our technological progress over the last 150 years has ony been possible because of abundant, cheap energy furnished by fossil fuels.

Wojciech said...

Hi Yaacov,

I think you bring up a good point. The future rarely occurs as predicted. :) At the same time, though, I'd argue that the cyberpunk "future" might take place long before we hit peak oil. I'm sure some people see the Internet, Web 2.0, virtual worlds, and infowar as cyberpunk "here and now".

I wish I knew more about energy politics and production to have more to say on this topic. :)



A great quote on the topic: "It's hard to make predictions - especially about the future."

Not sure who to credit, as it seems a few people have said this.