domingo, 1 de janeiro de 2012

On Andrew Holden’s "Cyberpunk Educator"


Andrew Holden’s Cyberpunk Educator purports to define the “politics, monsters, and saviours” in cyberpunk film. It is a didactic collage of Google image searches set to techno and narrated by a synthesized female called Eve 2.0 which has the feel of an undergrad semiotics term project assembled by a dedicated, geeky student. There’s even a final quiz at the end of the film (which seems to underestimate the intelligence of the audience, in keeping with the dedicated, geeky student theory).

While the pace is uneven and the narration difficult to understand at times, The Cyberpunk Educator is entertaining. Given an audience familiar enough with the films Holden intends to analyze, it can even be fun, the bud of many nerdy arguments.

And here are a few of them.



The choice of films is a bit strange. Few would argue with including Blade Runner, Akira, RoboCop, or Terminator. But Aliens and not Alien? The entire Mad Max trilogy (more punk-looking westerns than cyberpunk)? What about Brazil, Videodrome, Johnny Mnemonic, or Strange Days?

These oversights are further compounded by the fact that six of the nine films Holden examines were written and directed by the same people.

The similarities between Aliens and the Terminator series are due more to the lack of variety in Cameron’s writing than cross-generic commonality; ditto George Miller’s Mad Max. Holden’s analyses may hold for the handful of movies he chose, but they are not a very representative group of films to generalize from.



Holden often resorts to illustrating his points with pieces of other, indisputably non-cyberpunk sources. While these are refreshing to watch (Cheers dubbed over in German), they cast some doubt on the applicability of his theories to cyberpunk film. You see much more of what he talks about in bits from Labyrinth, The Princess Bride, and old NES games than from clips of Aliens.



This could be due to the level and type of analysis that Holden decides to execute. While I’ve nothing against Northrop Frye’s theory of myths—indeed, from what I know, they appear to be very widely applicable and informative—they better serve higher-level conclusions. They classify a work according to repeating structures and themes from Christian (and pre-Christian) mythology.

Holden applies these large, medieval structures (the great chain of being, the seven deadly sins, etc.), and the aptness and specificity of his conclusions are just as abstract and general. What Holden says of cyberpunk films could be said as well of many other films, and likely not of many films considered to be cyberpunk.



Nothing Holden presents is wrong, really: it’s broad. It doesn’t get at the roots of cyberpunk. You would argue for a more Marxist approach. Much closer to the causes of what makes cyberpunk distinct from other (sub)genres of film are the socio-political, historical, economic forces at the time of their creation.



Although Holden never really justifies his decision to consider films from the 1980′s, by doing so (consciously or not) he has limited himself to the short period in which cyberpunk could have been thought culturally relevant. Science-fiction had moved away from the shiny space-age of the 50′s and 60′s, and the desolate post-apocalyptic imaginations of the 70′s, bringing the technological future together with desperation and sadness and into the city.

The social anxieties of that time are reflected clearly in cyberpunk works: the oil scare of the seventies, the transparently two-faced reign of Reagan, fear of the Japanese, microcomputers, larger corporations, pollution, punks, and phreaks.



By the time Hollywood released Strange Days and Demolition Man cyberpunk lost cultural and political currency; it was more of an aesthetic, set dressing. The world was different by the early 1990′s, with its push for optimistic multiculturalism, awareness of truly covert and cooptive methods of marketing, and the accessibility of personal computers. The most obvious sign of this shift in mindset is the late 90′s dot-com bubble: a time full of (entrepreneurial) optimism and hopeful futurism, when money flowed as quickly and voluminously as rhetoric. Technology was thought to be liberating, democratizing, a way of establishing a new and open way of things. In some ways The Matrix demonstrated this change: beginning with what seems a straight conflict between man and machine, but ending in a very blended world where technology and flesh live together, rather than struggle. This wasn’t a rainy tragedy, it was a collectivist dream of self-sufficiency, peace, and no ethnic (even biological) social divisions.

Now, in 2007, the mid-80′s harshness of technology and corporate rule is much less pronounced, as are the glowing benefits of the internet many were keen on in the 90′s. Technology in post-cyberpunk work is not alienating, feared, imposed, an entirely separate world.

It is symbiotic and ubiquitous, full of web 2.0 rounded edges: iPhones, not eyephones. Anxieties over corporate and government power continue, but the clear sense of good and bad has been diffused. Gibson himself seems eager to turn the myth of cyberspace “inside out.” His two latest novels concern characters much less certain of where they stand, working with an insubstantial but powerful, moneyed corporation that lacks a guarded dark tower headquarters.

The dangers of technology and capitalism are amorphous and enabling, not evil and enslaving.




The Cyberpunk Educator does skip across the surface of this more situational interpretation, dropping lines such as “the main purpose of minorities in 1980′s film is to be shot.” Indeed, in its incidental discussion of punk and irony, it comes closer to describing the cyberpunk mindset than with its talk of seasonal myths.

Yet it’s limited by its self-imposed constraints to the rather dull conclusion that cyberpunk films are “tragedies with strong ironic content.” Holden’s is a fun documentary, especially for aficionados of sci-fi film, but it does a far better job of describing the framework of Frye’s interpretations than it does cyberpunk. It can be enjoyed it for what it is, but “Cyberpunk Educator” is a bit of a misnomer.
by Lucas Rizoli





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