Nothing says “retro cyberpunk” like a few lines of Beginners’ All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code


Just feast your eyes on that.

That’s Beginners’ All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code, also known as BASIC. It was pretty high tech in 1982.

But it showed up in New Dominion Tank Police, which was made in 1993, quite a long time after 1982. But 1993, computer people were endlessly gabbling about object-oriented stuff. I don’t understand why Masamune Shirow hadn’t heard about it.

I have some very mixed feelings about cyberpunk in general, and about Masamune Shirow’s work in particular. Shirow was just another artist to me until the USA came out of the fascist closet after 2001. At that time, Shirow released Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex.

Stand Alone Complex is an incredibly beautiful work. It is also a hymn to totalitarian government. If Orwell was horrified by the prospect of a boot stamping on a human face forever, Masamune Shirow was elated by the same prospect.

I don’t think Shirow is a monster; I think he’s too easily influenced, as are many artists. He gives his producers whatever kind of art they think will sell, and (I suppose) he doesn’t have much of a moral compass. It’s not as though he’s a loyal totalitarian; in recent years, his latest iteration of the franchise seems to be backing off from overt totalitarian worship of the State-As-God.

I first encountered Shirow by watching his first Ghost in the Shell movie a few years after it came out, so I wasn’t acquainted with Appleseed or any of his other works. After seeing Ghost in the Shell, I can only interpret Appleseed and the Tank Police stories as re-workings of the same themes that show up in Ghost in the Shell.

The heroine of New Dominion Tank Police strikes me as a rough draft of Major Kusanagi. The 1980s-style alarmism about crime, drugs, and terrorism is sadly familiar; statists have been beating the drum about these same bogeymen for decades.

Shirow’s art tends to argue for just one kind of politics: Shirow’s art argues that the police must be ever more violent. (Some versions of Appleseed minimize politics and focus on the characters; I don’t know how much influence Shirow had over those versions.)

If Shirow takes his art’s political statements seriously, then Shirow is a mad totalitarian. I hope Shirow is just a sensation-monger who uses art as a spectacle. In any event, art has consequences. Stupid stories don’t set out to preach stupid ideas, but they end up teaching people stupid ideas all the same.

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