The “punk” in Cyberpunk

I’ll be the first to admit that re-posting comments I’ve made on other people’s blog post is a cheap thing to do. Yet that’s exactly what I’m going to do here.

Over at the internet crashed, there was a post asking to discuss the “punk” aspects of cyberpunk; but the question was phrased loosely enough that I ran on a rampage babbling about “punk”, and ignoring the “cyber” part completely.

Seeing that I know a number of (ex-)punks and members of similar-ish subcultures, I’ve always had a fascination with how people fit into culture or fit culture around them.

Anyway… it’s a bit stream-of-consciousness, but that’s what you get in a comment:

Punk was prominent when I grew up, and I’m sure by osmosis I’ve absorbed quite a bit of punk ideals. And I’m really not the sort of person who happily conforms to stuff just because, so it’d be easy to find something in punk ideologies to connect with. Also, I know a lot of (ex-)punks or people living in more or less similar subcultures.

But when I was growing up, my image of punks was mostly that these people, for unfathomable reasons, seemed hell-bent on destroying their own futures. That hasn’t made me very sympathetic to them, on the whole, even if I now understand their motivations.

The whole “fuck you” attitude ultimately seems to lead to middle-aged people who either conform better to society’s norms than the people they used to hate, or to bitter, “stuck” people who can really only exist reasonably well within the subculture they grew up in, and that tends to shrink as most everyone else leaves it behind.

Many of those actively romanticize their existence, probably to bolster their ego. But whether deliberately or not, that also has the effect of drawing in others who succumb to that romantic image, more or less effectively. It’s not uncommon for that to vindicate the loner’s existence in their own eyes, and to give them a modicum of joy. I’ve seen it happen reasonably often that people “wake up” from that dream, and then there’s a lot of grief and accusations: the original loner claims the newbies don’t “get” their life, and the newbies claim they’ve been misled.

Sidetracking quite a bit here… but it’s still somewhat on topic.

Where cyberpunk is about the cultural aspects, the emotional states of the protagonists are often quite close to one or more of the things I’ve described above. That’s in part why I find Neal Stephenson’s “The Diamond Age” is highly fascinating to me, because – technobabble aside – it primarily deals with how people shape cultures, and to what purpose, and how other people fit into those cultures once they’re set up. I’m not sure what Stephenson’s own ideals are in that matter; I find the book quite opaque in that regard. Which is good, as far as I am concerned.

Other cyberpunk works in my opinion don’t nearly go as far in analyzing the “punk” aspects of culture, and instead stick to a semi-romanticized version of the life as a lone console cowboy riding their deck into the sunset… with many a nod to how it’s not all that great, and people put on facades in order to deal with that, granted.

But they tend to treat culture as a more or less immovable object, something to be dealt with by avoiding the parts you don’t like, something to rebel against, rather than shape. In that sense, maybe “The Diamond Age” isn’t punk at all, cyber or not.

I’d head over to the original post for context.