Wednesday, April 13, 2011

I Hate the Future

I live in the world imagined by William Gibson in Neuromancer. I refer not to a computer mediated reality wherein individuals jack-in to cyberspace, so much as a world where the basic concepts of future space are largely defined by Gibson’s imagination. T.V. series and films such as Cowboy Bebop, Ghost in a Shell and Aeon Flux, The Matrix, Blade Runner and a litany of others all borrow heavily from Gibson’s cyberpunk, post-apocalyptic hellscape. What I find particularly striking is that these films all find the cyberpunk aesthetic interesting and convincing. What is it about the cyberpunk aesthetic that allows it to be such a pervasive cultural influence? And why, given the popular discourse around cybernetics, has the general public been reticent to embrace real scientific developments?

Neuromancer, and the creative works it inspired, highlight growing anxieties about the rapid proliferation of new technologies. Gibson pays particular attention to the constant change in the discussions between Case and the ‘Moderns’. The rambunctious group of teenage pranksters cum terrorists barely speak the same language as Case who is presumably only a few years their senior. Their differences are also manifest in their corporeal presentation. Older generations seem to alter their physical appearance to meet 20 century ideals of beauty; Armitage’s face is an amalgamation of news broadcasters; Molly’s body is thin and curvaceous. Yet the ‘Moderns’ are purposefully ugly; fanged teeth, stretched faces, pointy ears, pink hair and a small forest of silicon growing from behind their ears. Molly warns Case to not be afraid of the younger generation, although there seem to be very real differences in how the two groups perceive the world. The ‘Moderns’ come to signify the complete alienation of one generation – or subculture – from another. The rules, mores and aesthetics of the ‘Moderns’ stand in stark contrast to those of people only a few years their senior. Likewise, reticence of organ donation, cloning, genetically modified foods and a litany of other technologies seem to bring similar anxieties about what is natural, normal and taken for granted.

I think the hyperbolic change and the attenuating alienation stands in for present anxieties about shifting geopolitical structures and uncertainties about the size, structure, and sustainability of American empire. Neuromancer, set during a nuclear winter, seems a prophetic warning of what might happen if America loses its global dominance and Asian corporations vanquish their American foes. Themes of xenophobia, although poorly and incompletely articulated, seem to abound in Ninsei. These themes come off as somewhat unthreatening because the narrator is never grounded in a particular homeland aside from cyberspace – in which he is exile – and so the reader doesn’t know to whom they owe allegiance.


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