The Two Cyberpunks
My first encounter with the cyberpunk genre was Ghost in the Shell. Or, rather, that’s when I first realized I was watching cyberpunk. I had seen The Matrix, and I had seen some cartoons parody the dark and gritty style. Never before, however, was I aware of cyberpunk as a genre, nor had I heard of William Gibson or Neal Stephenson. Nope, it was Ghost in the Shell that first entranced me. I used to watch Ghost in the Shell all the time in middle school. I watched it so often that, in a weird way, I came too close to it to see its depth. I overlooked things that most casual viewers would notice, in favor of the small intricate details that casual viewers overlooked.
Of course, I needed more.
So I began to digest cyberpunk into high school, and, naturally, to this very day. I love the genre, but, after inhaling enough of it, I notice a key difference, one that kind of intrigues me.
There are two genres of cyberpunk.
I do not mean this in that there is cyberpunk and post-cyberpunk, as TVTropes details. No, I mean within cyberpunk itself, there is a distinct difference between two disciplines of cyberpunk that I need to talk about, or else I might explode from the confusion.
Cyberpunk typically either focuses on defining humanity or defiling humanity.
There are cyberpunk stories like Ghost in the Shell or The Matrix. Each film discusses what it means to be human, the definitions of reality, etc. Underneath the steel exterior, there is soul and spirituality. By the end of each story, there is a sense of catharsis that, despite how close we come to a technological singularity, we are, in the end, important.
Then there’s cyberpunk like Genocyber. Genocyber has been fascinating me lately, as have other anime like it, the kind where people are just seconds away from being reduced to cancerous piles of soulless flesh, where life means nothing. The stories where people are as useful as data drives, and dismissed just as quickly as an obsolete iPhone. The world that Johnny Mnemonic occupies, the world of Blade Runner, the world of–
See where I’m going with this?
The cyberpunk that first made me a fan, this world of philosophy and discussion–it’s all just one variety. On one hand, you have your Ghost in the Shells. The other? Tetsuo the Iron Man. Life means nothing. Schlock and horror with our fears of advancing tech put to good use. Low budget films and pulpy novels.
And I fucking love it.
No, really, I love stories where people are twisted into disgusting wrecks, where nightmarish dissections take place, with tubes and gears shoved under the skin to improve a person’s potential. I love it, not because it’s how I envision the future, but rather because I see things I would never see anywhere else.
So my surprise is understandable when I realized that people hate cyberpunk. For some, cyberpunk goes too deep. Not to say that the philosophies are too deep, no. It just tries too hard to be deep. The original Ghost in the Shell achieves depth with a silent montage of almost random, yet not particularly unusual, images. It achieves deep with ease. Its sequel, Innocence, is not so lucky. Truth be told, it disappointed me. It left me wanting something more substantial, not that cotton candy brand of depth that is so commonly confused for the real thing. Same thing with Ergo Proxy. Same thing with countless nameless cyberpunk novels that try to cash in on existential and Buddhist philosophies that lend themselves so well to cyberpunk.
On the other hand, others loathe terrifying cyberpunk. They hate feeling as though their life lacks meaning. They don’t want to feel powerless. Genocyber–keeps coming back to that anime, doesn’t it?–seems to receive tons of hate, despite the fact that it isn’t really all that bad. It’s by no means good, certainly, but bad? Not really. At least, not the first story. I am not a huge fan of the subsequent entries in the story, but the first? It’s pretty solid.
Say nothing of people who don’t like Blade Runner! Blade Runner isn’t necessarily a holy grail in science fiction. It can be criticized. I understand if you have genuine things against it, sure. But still–it’s such a marvelous story, based on an equally powerful short story. It’s not that some people don’t like it. I understand if people who aren’t fond of cyberpunk dismiss it. Still–whatever. Those who can appreciate Blade Runner are inspired by it in the same way I am. Same with Philip K. Dick’s original short story–though since I was introduced to the film first, it holds a slightly larger place in my heart.
I think I can conclude that there is something about cyberpunk that speaks to certain people, but not to others. Some can adore it, while others–not so much. I don’t know what that something may be, but it must be pretty big. I am simply too narrow minded to see it, I fear.
Diving into cyberpunk, I am reminded of the xenobites of Hellraiser. The scene in particular that comes to mind is the part where Pinhead says he and his partners are “Demons to some. Angels to others.” The things one encounters in cyberpunk will either be too disturbing to experience, or a unique sort of pleasure that defies true explanation. It’s almost spiritual, and you really don’t know which one you’ll get until you finish it.
I will talk more about this in detail as I contemplate this thought further. However, for now, I am going to delve into this rusty hellhole, and see what I can mine from it.