What’s So Punk About Cyberpunk? [Opinion]

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The modern incarnation of Cyberpunk as we know it is a sub-genre of Sci-Fi, a handful of movies, a fashion statement, a collection of novels; but what’s so Punk about Cyberpunk?

“We stand and fight! Back to back, take no shit, stay tight! We stick together and we deal with it! We use our heads and not our fists unless we’re pushed, as one we fight and we win!”
– Underdog

Growing up in the early 90’s I was exposed to punk rock. I learned quickly that Cheech Marin’s exclamation from Up In Smoke, “You just gotta be a punk” wasn’t enough. It’s not about the look, what bands you listen to or who you know. We were mostly from working class families, we saw that our parents struggled so hard and got so little in return, we had more concerts than I can count broken up by cops, and not enough opportunities to match the ever growing deficit; there was no future. To sum it up we were fucking pissed off and we had the suspicion that we could make a difference. Instead of turning it into a class struggle we looked at societies problems: racism, inequality, sexism, gay bashing and the corruption we saw in our schools, the cops and our government, and we put our minds to work in an attempt to answer those problems. From that early age I became aware of the many issues plaguing society and like so many of the bands and folk heroes whose lifestyle and words influenced me, I wanted to live a life that made a difference.

The word Punk is a loaded one that comes with many definitions. There is no single political view, no single solution. There is a strong anti-authoritarian streak, a non conformist edge and a solid DIY ethic that binds the lifestyle strongly to those who consider themselves Cyberpunks.

“We steal our gas, from Exxon and Texaco, we pirate our software. Fill out your taxes anyway you like, as long as you don’t pay your share”
– ¡Tchkung!

Ever think about what the future will be like? Do you look at the politicians these days and wonder why nothing meaningful ever gets done in government? Has the thought ever crossed your mind that all this consumerism and mindless media is somehow diluting our human instincts? Cyberpunk is more than flying cars and artificial intelligence, it is in this writers humble opinion that Cyberpunk is about the relationship we as humans have with each other amidst the ever rising tide of corporate greed, government control, unjust wars and a populous that seems helpless to resist. Herein lies the essence of the part of us that peers into the future and sees a Blade Runner existence. A polluted world where the best hope for the future is to leave earth and hope to compete for a job against machines. This is a future where the individual is even less important, where a neo-feudal system dictates our every move. Cyberpunk is not just a lifestyle, it’s a chance at something better.

“We’ve got to look for methods
to undermine their power.
It’s time to change the tables,
the future must be ours”
– Crass

I look around and see a growing culture of disparate people with access to incredible technology. In the face of corporate and government control we have little time to make a difference. Why all the legislation for an otherwise free internet? They fear it, plain and simple. Those in power fear the fact that you, the individual, may have discovered that your voice is loud, it carries far, and your message is not sponsored, it is not corrupted, it is in fact free. The industries represented by you and I are many. We work in IT, games, news, software development, biotech, nano tech, medical science, fashion, music, art ad nauseam. We will make the future, more specifically the near future, in our image and it will be in our name.

“Tu fui ego eris”

Translation – “I was you; you will be me”

– Ancient Roman epitaph

As I’ve pointed out, we as individuals can make a difference in how the future is shaped. Our influence is now much greater than ever. We still have a voice and we know how to DO IT OURSELVES! We are living the future that was dreamed about 30 years ago. A future where small loosely connected organizations and individuals can topple nations and bring governments and corporations to their knees through the use of incredibly powerful technology. Case in point: I recently watched a documentary called The United States of Secrets, it’s a Frontline show about the rise if the surveillance state in America and the involvement of one Edward Snowden. The beginning of the show has Snowden using the alias Verax, which means “Truthful” in Latin, meeting Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras and Ewen MacAskill in a hotel in Hong Kong so he could give to them the now revelatory info on US spy agencies. The way they were to recognize him was that he would be carrying an unsolved Rubik’s Cube with him. This story, this real story, which we all know, that could affect us for generations, is Cyberpunk as fuck.

WANK

Let us not forget Julian Assange aka Mendax, ironically meaning “Untruthful” as opposed to the Snowden moniker, who is still rumored to have been partly responsible for the WANK (Worms Against Nuclear Killers) computer worm that infected DECnet and freaked out a bunch of NASA guys. The quote “You talk of times of peace for all, and then prepare for war.” As depicted in the message informing the users that their machines were infected, came from the song Blossom and Blood by Midnight Oil, a punk band.

“Is this a game, or is it real?”
“What’s the difference?”
– Wargames 1983

Do I mean to incite anyone reading this to go out and do what Verax, Mendax or Bradley Manning did? Absolutely not and if you value your life and relative freedom you should not do as they have done, but you could go out and gather some like minded individuals online and have a food drive for your local homeless, you could invent a better email encryption method, you could form an online news source that asks real questions and has real investigative reporters so guys like Snowden don’t have to work so hard to blow the whistle.

So I ask, whats so Punk about Cyberpunk? In a couple words, potentially everything, but it’s up to us to bring the last and often forgotten half of Cyberpunk back in to perspective.

“Be exactly who you want to be,
do what you want to do.
I am he and she is she but,
you’re the only you.”

-Steve Ignorant

4 Responses to “What’s So Punk About Cyberpunk? [Opinion]”

  1. Neon Snake

    Well said, and well put; this is a great explanation of the punk side of the equation.

    If I may add something, I would say that many of the ****-punk genres leave the more political side of “punk” to one side – and that’s ok, that’s a personal choice; and I wouldn’t suggest that everyone has to embrace that side of it just because they love cyberpunk.

    I would also suggest that one of the more important part of *cyber*-punk, is the DIY ethic, there’s a lot to explore in that side of it; using technology in ways that weren’t imagined by its creators – sometimes for yourself, but sometimes for the good of others – but in essence bending it and customising it to your own needs. There’s something in there, in that side of it, that makes one lean towards cyberpunk and not just a gadgetgeek – and with that technology, with the unexpected use of it, we find the ways around the political systems (tangible and in-tangible) that encroach on people.

    • Thanks for the comment NeonSnake! Your point about personal choice in the way one lives their life is an important one and also happens to be a key tenant in the minds of many punks. I whole heartedly agree with you there. In regard to DIY ethic you also have a great point and the fact that I hadn’t delved too deeply into that subject in the article is a good reason to look into that more in preparation for another. I appreciate your input and well thought out observations.
      Cheers

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