Is “cyberpunk” a worldview or an aesthetic?

A large number of players gathered in front of the “Cyberpunk 2077” exhibition area at the Gamescom game conference in Cologne, Germany, in August 2019. The game’s character design, background world view, and storyline all run through the related concepts of “cyberpunk”, and it can be regarded as a veritable game work.

The sun sets in the west and the night rises in the east. Several skyscrapers that outline the skyline can’t wait to light up the logos of their respective companies on the facades. There are high-rise buildings at their feet, but they are much shorter here. These buildings are narrowly spaced, with their chests against their backs, and the buildings are cluttered with air conditioners and antennas. Compared with those magnificent skyscrapers, it is as shabby and destitute as a short beggar. The inside of the building is even more dilapidated, and each room is divided into several small spaces for the poor to live in.

The street downstairs does not see the sun all year round, and in the long rainy season, it is humid and cold. People hurried past the puddles, the reflections of neon lights in the puddles were rendering the road with tacky colors, and the big screen at the corner was playing advertisements of the rich companies, grabbing every profit from the poor. The poor will never resist, because their minds are already interconnected with the “matrix” controlled by the rich. If there is any resentment in their hearts, they may be killed by a car that “just happens” and fails to brake in time. The poor have become the slaves of the rich in their souls.

In the mansion by the mountains and the sea, on the top floor of the skyscrapers, another group of people pointed the rivers and mountains, chatting and laughing. They are the major shareholders of those giant corporations and the mastermind behind the scenes of the city. More importantly, they are their own masters, and their thinking is not constrained by the “matrix”. They are sitting on huge wealth and can exchange anything they want, including poor people’s bodies and even time. Only a very small number of hackers broke free from the control of the “Matrix”, wandered between reality and virtuality, and fought desperately with the rich…

In this city with a strong sense of collapse and highly developed technology, most people live in such a humble way, which can be summed up in six words as “high-tech, low-life”. This is the future that emerged from the cyberpunk sci-fi works of the last century. Today we are not unfamiliar with it, and may feel deja vu. Accurately foreseeing and profoundly criticizing, this is one of the reasons why cyberpunk sci-fi is enduring.

Cyberpunk: Concept
The concept of cyberpunk comes from the short story “Cyberpunk” published by Bruce Besk in 1983. Cyber ​​is Cybernetics: computer network or cybernetics; Punk: a subculture of non-mainstream rebellion. We can literally translate cyberpunk as a rebel in a cyber-controlled society.

Further setting the tone for the cyberpunk style is the 1984 novel Neuromancer, published by William Gibson, in which the protagonist Keyes is a master hacker who traverses the Internet and reality, earning a lot of gray income.

Works such as “Ghost in the Shell”, “The Matrix” and “Time Planning Bureau” that have appeared since then are all continuations of the cyberpunk style. Cyberpunk has created a new frontier of science fiction. It no longer looks up at the stars, but focuses on the earth, so that some people think that this style of work is narrow and introverted, but it marks the dangers on the road of social development in a fantasy way. It is more realistic and its value lies.

Cyberpunk originates from human concerns and worries about the double-edged sword of technology, from people’s doubts and denials of the oligarchic enterprises bred under the liberal economic system, and even the system itself. In the 1760s, human beings stepped into the door of the industrial revolution, and the rapid changes made people rejoice. However, human beings soon saw the terrible power of weapons endowed by industrialization on the battlefield. After the 1980s, peace and development became the mainstream of the world, and the danger of large-scale wars gradually faded away. However, with the advent of the information age, information technology, artificial intelligence, and gene editing and other technologies have advanced by leaps and bounds, and more hidden dangers seem to be bred. .

Not only that, every discovery of scientific laws and the invention of new technologies will bring about a shuffling effect of wealth, and one after another unicorn companies emerge as the times require. When they gradually grow into giants, if there is no strict supervision and Control, the unicorn will surely evolve into a bloodthirsty oligarchic monster, occupying the top of the food chain of wealth. In the face of wealth and responsibility, they will devour wealth without hesitation, and at the same time do not forget to put on the gorgeous coat of social responsibility in front of the limelight.

More worryingly, having wealth means it’s easier to occupy the next technological high ground and gain more wealth from it. Capital will not mind any side effects of new technologies, whether it is the huge challenge to mankind caused by the arrival of artificial intelligence singularity, or the loss of control of genetic engineering to the dignity of human beings. These are negligible compared to wealth, and capital control scholars are moving toward these dangerous fields of study, in the name of science.

Writers of dystopia, with a worried mood, use the brushstrokes of nightmares and the color of science fiction to tell us that the future is not necessarily bright sunshine, dazzling technology, peaceful and prosperous life, but also may be under the surface prosperity. Miserable life. As the famous American science fiction writer Bruce Stirling once summed up: “Treat people like mice, all measures against mice can be equally applied to people. Closing your eyes and refusing to think will not make this terrible picture disappear. It’s cyberpunk.”

Cyberpunk: Visual Sense
On November 10, 2019, Lawrence Paul, the art director of the movie “Blade Runner” who created the cyberpunk visual template, died of a heart attack at the age of 81. It is a sad coincidence that in this film made in 1982, the future story also takes place in 2019, and the place is the virtual Los Angeles – the city that never sleeps in the rain that he created. The dim world, artificial lights, continuous rain, neon dazzling, advanced technology, and living crowd, these elements have since become the highly recognizable visual style of cyberpunk, and subsequent film and television works and games have inherited this style. .

The film is based on the novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” by Philip Dick, created in 1968. In this novel, bounty hunter Rick Deckard hunts down a group of androids who try to escape by disguising themselves as humans. After a lapse of 35 years, the sequel “Blade Runner 2049” was released, which shows that the cyberpunk style is enduring, has strong vitality, and has a unique visual aesthetic.

The cyberpunk visual style uses a lot of artificial light sources and rarely sees natural light in the works. The first sentence of the opening line of “Neuromancer” is “The sky over the port is like a blank TV screen.” Maybe the future energy crisis has been completely resolved, or maybe the pollution has obscured the sky, in short, the sky has no place for the sun, moon and stars. Instead, there are various lights. This implies that in the future society, it is no longer Zhaozhao Qingtian and Lang Lang Qiankun who represent fairness and justice, but the people behind the artificial lights, those monopolists who have mastered the resources.

The atmosphere created by this style has a sense of freshness that is different from daily life, and at the same time makes people feel the oppression of the end of the world. Dazzling sci-fi feel. Green hues, for example, are often seen in The Matrix, as early computer screens were green most often. There will also be warm-toned scenes in the film, mostly to show the feasting side, the doomsday carnival that is staged every day in degenerate cities.

The world of cyberpunk is often accompanied by rain and snow. Under the neon night sky, the wet road becomes a reflective light source, setting off the deformed prosperity of the city. A series of contradictions and conflicts around the theme of the work, if it is carried out outdoors, then the people in the play need to stand up to the wind and rain, which makes readers or audiences who appreciate the work spontaneously feel a sense of warmth and happiness outside of it.

When the story takes place indoors, such as “Blade Runner 2049” where Officer K and his virtual girlfriend interact warmly in the room, the wind and snow outside the window and the hostile neighbors outside the door make the audience feel a kind of short-lived and rare soothing and sweet.

Rainy and snowy weather brings a sense of security. Humans’ nostalgia for rainy and snowy weather may come from the experience of writing genes in ancient times. Such weather beasts generally do not come out for food, and people can sleep safely in rainy and snowy days. During the farming period, rain often means a good harvest, because there is nothing to do in the field, and you can stay at home and enjoy the slack of farming with peace of mind. The famous writer Lu Yao wrote in “Morning Starts at Noon” that “in rainy days and snowy days, there is often an inexplicable sense of happiness”, which comes from this.

The light of cyberpunk can block the sun and the moon, but it cannot block the rain and snow. Perhaps we can understand that in the post-information age and the age of artificial intelligence, what the people in the play strive for and strive for is still the desire for safety , The nostalgia for pastoral songs. This is indeed the case. Compared with the agricultural era, our average life expectancy has increased, we have a car to travel in and out, and we have seen many beautiful scenery in various places, but our happiness must be stronger than that in the agricultural era? What’s more, what about the humble people living in cyberpunk works? If the level of happiness does not increase, what will the development of technology mean to them? That wanton drifting rain and snow is the silent questioning.

Cyberpunk: A Sense of Technology
“All our discoveries and progress seem to result in material power having rational life, while human life is turned into dull material power” Marx’s words travel through time and space, which is the most powerful support for the cyberpunk scientific concept. Einstein also exclaimed, “The mechanization and dehumanization of life is a catastrophic by-product of the development of scientific and technological thought. It is a sin! I can’t find any way to deal with this catastrophic malady.” Two god-like celebrities, who have a love-hate relationship with technology, made such a sigh.

Cyberpunk’s works have a dystopian color. Technology is often an accomplice of capital, but sometimes it is also a weapon for the protagonist to fight back. So cyberpunk works are not simply against science, but reflect on science. Science is both good and evil in his works, just like a person with a three-dimensional and rich personality, full of “human” charm. After all, the development of science has brought endless possibilities. Whether this double-edged sword is outward or inward depends entirely on whether we can tame the giant beast of capital in the future, whether we can effectively manage and control new technologies, and ultimately control The power rests in the hands of intelligent human beings. Beauty is a characteristic of certain things, which leaves room for imagination or aftertaste for people’s expectations and pursuits. This is the beauty of technology.

Cyberpunk scene concept image. Perhaps the strange thing about the concept of cyberpunk is that every reader has a certain sense of rejection, but a delicate balance that is acceptable.

The future has come. The earliest batch of cyberpunk works were created in the last century, and the future of that era is the present we live in. “Neuromancer,” a work created in the 1980s, foresees the details of our modern technology: the Internet, neural networks, genetic modification, and chip implantation. Advertisement screens that take up the entire building in Blade Runner are becoming standard in many buildings. When you look down on the city from a high-rise building on a rainy night, the high-rise buildings with thousands of lights, huge advertising screens, illuminated by street lights, dotted with neon streets, are almost the true reproduction of cyberpunk.

Predictions of social development are more challenging and thought-provoking than predictions of technological development. You may not be unfamiliar with the virtual city at the beginning of this article. Of course, we don’t see ant nest-like slums on the mainland. If you look beyond the mainland and examine those cities with huge gaps between the rich and the poor, you will be surprised to find that the writers of the last century not only accurately predicted the development of technology details, and unfortunately, the development trajectory of certain countries and regions.

Cyberpunk is not concerned with the grand narrative of cosmic exploration, but a serious reflection on the prospects of human development based on the earth. In order to better impress readers, it reconciles the boundaries between seriousness and beauty, just like those excellent villains in literary works, who are both good and evil, no one is born bloodthirsty, but in this world view, technology is uncontrolled because of its uncontrolled The power of capital makes the evil and barbarism in human nature grow. Cyberpunk’s criticism and rebellion against them are full of profound thinking about the meaning of human existence and the ultimate questioning of the meaning of scientific existence.