January 22, 2014
I picked yesterday to get my working life set up on a brand new computer, which may not have been the smartest thing to do after recovering from a trip, but it was definitely necessary. It’s kind of like the dentist trip, better to get it over with and it’s usually not as bad as you expect. In fact, I had the thing mostly up and running and was getting some work done within about 2 hours — this included transferring over my Word files and photos and music and whatnot. Excellent! I hit a couple of glitches that will take some time to smooth out, but I can work. I actually look forward to playing around with the new system and seeing what bells and whistles I can use.
So, I have a lot of commentary I could spout off about cyberpunk tropes in general, which ones have made it into the movies, and the ways in which cyberpunk has evolved — and in some ways, died out. In grad school I took an upper-level seminar on the topic of. . .come to think of it, I’m not even sure what the topic ultimately was, I think the professor may have just been mining us for her own paper topics. But we read Snow Crash. This was the second seminar in which I had read Snow Crash, because the novel has passed over the barrier and become “okay” for academia. As the only SF geek in the department, I got to then go up to the professors teaching it and ask if they’d read Neuromancer. In one case, yes, “Because Frederic Jameson made it okay to read science fiction,” to which I thought, “What the actual holy hell are you talking about?” The other said, “No, because I’ve heard it’s very problematic in its treatment of women.” And I said, “Well, yeah, probably, but if you haven’t read it you’re missing a big chunk of Snow Crash. Seriously.” (Like Snow Crash is all that better in its treatment of women than Neuromancer, sheesh…)
There’s a reason I didn’t go on for a PhD.
Anyway, I’ll never forget this seminar because in the middle of the discussion of Snow Crash, one of the other students, clearly baffled, said, “The story here is really kind of conservative. I thought cyberpunk was supposed to be all radical and subversive, but I don’t see that at all.” To which I, the only person in the room who had any experience with cyberpunk beyond Snow Crash, said, “Um no — this entire sub-genre exists to make nerdy computer guys feel better about themselves.”
Cyberpunk is heroic, conservative, and messianic. It’s about a powerful elite — the computer programers who know the code, who know how to manipulate the system — being the center of attention, the objects of desire and admiration.
I think one of the reasons cyberpunk kind of died out as anything other than a set of adventure tropes is that once the Internet opened up to a wider audience, it turns out you don’t need a hacker elite — anyone with a smart phone can surf the web. And it turns out we don’t really care about the code underneath. (Although even I can do basic HTML, right?)
This doesn’t mean cyberpunk isn’t still fun. It’s just not the literature of the future people thought it was in 1985. Anyway, here’s my list of movies I was thinking of as cyberpunk movies, which I’m throwing open to discussion. In rough order importance — or maybe it’s in rough order of my own preference:
Tron/Tron Legacy (let’s just mash them up, even though they’re thematically quite different)
The Matrix (I have a confession: I don’t think this holds up all that well. It’s stylized and kind of overwrought, and that scene where Neo and Trinity walk into the building and blast away absolutely everyone — and everyone they shoot is wearing a law-enforcement uniform — was kind of deeply upsetting the last time I watched the movie a few months ago. The post 9/11, post public shooting epidemic world has changed how this movie goes over.)
Electric Dreams (Anyone else remember this? It’s a big reason I haven’t gone to see Her yet, because I saw the previews for Her and thought, wait, isn’t this like Electric Dreams?)
Ghost in the Shell
There are a couple of movies that I either haven’t watched or don’t remember well enough to comment on — someone want to help me out on Hackers and Swordfish?
Then there are a bunch of movies that are definitely cyberpunk, but just aren’t very good: The Matrix sequels, Johnny Mnemonic, Elysium, Lawnmower Man, Nirvana.
Wikipedia has a much longer list of cyberpunk movies, but I don’t know that I’d class all these as cyberpunk. They seem to be lumping a lot of post-apocalyptic in with cyberpunk, as well as anything with robots and cyborgs, but I’d say there needs to be a significant computer hacking element to really be cyberpunk. Like Blade Runner — it has every cyberpunk trope but computer hacking, so how do you classify that? Is it the AI that makes it cyberpunk, not the robots? Then is 2001 also cyberpunk? Isn’t genre fun?