My term project will be a piece of creative non-fiction exploring the question (roughly) of how we got from ‘punk’ to ‘cyberpunk’ and beyond. I wrote my term paper for Marxism and Cultural Studies last semester about punk rock and punk culture in the 1970s, so I see this project as a way to build on my research while bringing the subject a little closer to the 21st century.

Science fiction author Bruce Bethke coined the term “Cyberpunk” in 1983 as the title for a short story of the same name. Cyberpunk (a portmanteau of “cybernetics” and “punk”)  became a sci-fi genre in its own right, popularized by the work of authors like William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, as well as retroactively applied to earlier work by J.G. Ballard, Phillip K. Dick, Thomas Pynchon, and even William Burroughs. According to the Wikipedia entry on cyberpunk, the cyberpunk narrative is characterized by “advanced science, such as information technology and cybernetics, coupled with a degree of breakdown or radical change in the social order.”

I’ve always been intrigued by the various ways “punk” has become a catch-all term for an anarchic, dystopian aesthetic, and particularly in the ways this sensibility manifests itself on the Internet, arguably the space in which many of today’s major upsets in the social order are orchestrated. Cyberpunk hit its peak of cultural vogue in the early 90s and mercifully faded from the pop-cultural radar (until the Matrix trilogy came out and blew teenage minds worldwide, anyway) but traces of the sensibility linger tantalizingly in many aspects of digital culture today.

I’m still figuring out what form the project will take, but it will definitely include multimedia, fragmentary thought processes, some web code craziness, and otherwise depart interestingly from the standard academic essay format.

As a starting point, here’s a charming article entitled “Cyberpunk R.I.P.” by Paul Saffo, from the Sep/Oct 1993 issue of Wired.

Various other points of interest…

Cyberpunk in pop culture

  • Hollywood tries to make computers look exciting, hilarity ensues (eventually, the Matrix)
  • Cyberpunk in comics and anime. The future of cartooning, cartooning the future
  • In music, the subject of several concept albums, including Billy Idol’s universally-panned 1993 album Cyberpunk and David Bowie’s better-recieved 1. Outside
  • …and, more broadly, the futuristic aesthetic manifested in various post-punk musical genres including noise, industrial, and electronic music

Cyberpunk and cyberculture

  • The romanticization of the hacker as postmodern outlaw
  • Sci-fi goes postmodern, postmodernity goes sci-fi
  • Wired magazine and (post)cyberpunk ideology
  • Punk/DIY culture in the ’90s and its relationship (if any) to hacker/”maker” culture in the late ’90s and ’00s

4 responses to “cyberprojectproposal

  1. Wow, Rachel I like your project. It sounds like you have a very focused and fascinating subject to work with (as you did last semester). I can’t wait to hear more about it. It reminds me of the way that new multicultural aspects have been intertwined in the subculture of punk, like you mentioned anime. In Mexico, for example, it is fascinating to see the whole subculture of punk rockers and their “mexicanization” of some of their themes. Incorporating the “cyberg” portion makes it very interesting and relevant. I’ll keep my eyes open for any resources.

  2. Rachel, this is an awesome idea. You can go so many directions with the topic and there is so much room for creativity. It would be interesting to incorporate forms of cyberpunk online, in movies, as well as in print form. I am looking forward to seeing how you will digitally represent your ideas. One of my topics that I will discuss is visions on internet (pre-internet) in science fiction, so if you find specific references, maybe we can help each other out in the bibliography department.

  3. Very cool project. You’ll want to take a look at Larry McCaffery’s Storming the Reality Studio, as well as Scott Bukatman’s Terminal Identity. You’ll also need to keep the shape of the project in mind as you get into this research, and I suspect you may want to look pretty carefully at Talan Memmott’s Lexia to Perplexia when we get to it; it’s probably overkill for what you want to do, but it might give you some ideas about the interpenetration of code and theory. I very much look forward to seeing where this takes you!

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