Cyberpunk in allegedly real propaganda, hype, and advertising (with a note on Omar Mateen)

The chans are dumb, and full of errors.

Some channers are trying to hype up the Omar Mateen case as cyberpunk.

This is beyond stupid, so I’ll post a screenshot.

noMateenIsNotGITSScreenshot from 2016-06-19 07-32-19

Guys, let’s do a quick check on the difference between “real life,” “propaganda,” “hype,” and “total fiction.”

The G4S company is “real life.”

The mass media cheerleading for bombs falling on Syria is “propaganda.”

Bruce Sterling’s Hacker Crackdown is “hype.”

Ghost in the Shell is “total fiction.”

Ghost in the Shell was total fiction. It wasn’t even fiction with a coherent idea, it just happened to be the right fan service in the right market, so it got very popular.

Why did such an incoherent story become popular?

The original short story “Cyberpunk” came out in 1980, and it didn’t glorify street criminals; it depicted them as horribly irresponsible and rather obnoxious. But the public wanted stories that glorified street crime, and a lot of 1980s cyberpunk protagonists had no government authorization for their excesses of violence and mayhem. Read Jeter’s Dr. Adder and Williams’ Hardwired to get a real feel for how much 1980s audiences loved outlaw heroes. The vibe was closer to Sid Vicious than Hunter S. Thompson, but the influence of both the drug subculture and the punk subculture were evident.

1980s cyberpunk glorified opportunity and individualistic defiance of laws. There was a sense that technology would give superpowers to everyone, even lower-class, uneducated street thugs, and that when those street thugs seized power, they would show more justice than the crooked cops ever did.

The Japanese definitely had some cyberpunk shows that glorified street criminality. In particular, the cops were totally evil, and the outlaws were totally sympathetic, in Megazone 23.

However, it’s hard to sell a show that features gritty street criminal heroes. Shows like Cyber City Oedo 808 featured criminals who were released from prison to fight the battles cops weren’t tough enough to fight. However, they were extremely competent, so they didn’t harm innocent civilians, and they had a chivalrous sense of ethics that didn’t exactly fit their ignoble modern surroundings. They were closer to Sir Lancelot than to Dirty Harry.

During the 1980s, the USA was dominating action movies and television. The USA was also waging a War on Some Drugs, so just about every bad guy on TV had to be connected with drug dealers somehow. At this stage, Japanese anime was not very good at doing War on Drugs stories, but they certainly tried. In particular, a guy named Shirow Masamune was trying to make something as good as a Hollywood War on Drugs show.


From 1989 to 1994, there was an excellent cyborg combat show called Angel Cop, released as an OVA.  Here are a few frames from Angel Cop:




One of the themes of Angel Cop was that there were some government spies behind the scenes who were Well-Intentioned Extremists, but essentially misguided nationalists who wanted what was best for their country. Those spies recruited truly good-hearted, heroic characters, who were put into horrible danger but never lost their ethics or their emotional connections with humanity.  Note that the cop shown above is sexy, but primarily she’s heroic.  Her sexiness is just icing on the cake of heroism.

Masamune Shirow was definitely not able to deliver a show like Angel Cop during the 1980s.  But Shirow tried hard to imitate it.  In fact, he ripped off that dialogue not just once, but multiple times, starting with Dominion and New Dominion Tank Police.

The following frames are Shirow’s attempt to rip off serious writing.





That spunky little redheaded fireball is what fiction writers call a “gamin.”  A gamin is a sexy young female character who superficially appears androgynous, but appears highly feminine upon closer inspection.

Shirow was trying to rip off USA action movies, and he really didn’t understand the anti-USA theme of Angel Cop.  If he understood any of its themes, then he must have disagreed with them.  At any rate, Shirow completely subverted the themes of Angel Cop with Dominion and New Dominion Tank Police.  Shirow’s heroines are physically sexy, emotionally immature, and socially harmful.  Shirow wants to glorify 1980s-style violence and destruction as an end in itself, and to that end, he needs to glorify sociopathic protagonists.  You can call them anti-heroes or Villain Protagonists, but Shirow doesn’t care; if he puts in enough sex and violence, he can make it sell, even when he’s calling for torture.

Understand the ugliness that happened here. The “street criminal” element was getting purged from cyberpunk, so there was no more loyalty to the lower class. The “chivalry” element had been purged, so it was no longer a genre of stories about honorable battle.




So in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Shirow was still refining his writing skills, trying to justify every kind of brutal human rights violation he could, because human rights violations make exciting adventure stories, so long as a sexy girl is the protagonist. However, Shirow wasn’t glorifying gangsters or private vigilantes; he was glorifying state-sponsored torture, done by sexy girls in government uniforms.

Shirow ended up ripping himself off. He repeated a garbled version of the Angel Cop dialogue as a justification for sociopathic government-sponsored torturers in Ghost in the Shell.

Meanwhile, in the USA, cyberpunk was running into the brick wall of real-world government.

In 1992, Bruce Sterling had decided that he didn’t want to glorify street crime, because he would rather hang out with cops and write stories that cops wouldn’t be ashamed to read in the police station cafeteria. However, Neal Stephenson still recognized that the reading public wanted to read urban crime thrillers glorifying criminal “gangster” mindsets. So Stephenson published Snow Crash in 1992, still glorifying crime while Sterling was trying to get respectable and weasel his way into the cop subculture.

Sterling wrote:

I determined to put science fiction aside until I had discovered what had happened and where this trouble had come from. It was time to enter the purportedly real world of electronic free expression and computer crime. Hence, this book. Hence, the world of the telcos; and the world of the digital underground; and next, the world of the police.

If you’re a local cop and you call in the FBI, the FBI (as is widely and slanderously rumored) will order you around like a coolie, take all the credit for your busts, and mop up every possible scrap of reflected glory. The Secret Service, on the other hand, doesn’t brag a lot. They’re the quiet types. VERY quiet. Very cool. Efficient. High-tech. Mirrorshades, icy stares, radio ear-plugs, an Uzi machine-pistol tucked somewhere in that well-cut jacket. American samurai, sworn to give their lives to protect our President. “The granite agents.” Trained in martial arts, absolutely fearless. Every single one of ’em has a top-secret security clearance. Something goes a little wrong, you’re not gonna hear any whining and moaning and political buck-passing out of these guys.

The facade of the granite agent is not, of course, the reality. Secret Service agents are human beings. And the real glory in Service work is not in battling computer crime—not yet, anyway—but in protecting the President.

Computer people talk. Hackers BRAG. Phone-phreaks talk PATHOLOGICALLY—why else are they stealing phone-codes, if not to natter for ten hours straight to their friends on an opposite seaboard? Computer-literate people do in fact possess an arsenal of nifty gadgets and techniques that would allow them to conceal all kinds of exotic skullduggery, and if they could only SHUT UP about it, they could probably get away with all manner of amazing information-crimes. But that’s just not how it works—or at least, that’s not how it’s worked SO FAR.

Most every phone-phreak ever busted has swiftly implicated his mentors, his disciples, and his friends. Most every white-collar computer-criminal, smugly convinced that his clever scheme is bulletproof, swiftly learns otherwise when, for the first time in his life, an actual no-kidding policeman leans over, grabs the front of his shirt, looks him right in the eye and says: “All right, ASSHOLE—you and me are going downtown!” All the hardware in the world will not insulate your nerves from these actual real-life sensations of terror and guilt.

Cops know ways to get from point A to point Z without thumbing through every letter in some smart-ass bad-guy’s alphabet. Cops know how to cut to the chase. Cops know a lot of things other people don’t know.

Hackers know a lot of things other people don’t know, too. Hackers know, for instance, how to sneak into your computer through the phone-lines. But cops can show up RIGHT ON YOUR DOORSTEP and carry off YOU and your computer in separate steel boxes. A cop interested in hackers can grab them and grill them. A hacker interested in cops has to depend on hearsay, underground legends, and what cops are willing to publicly reveal. And the Secret Service didn’t get named “the SECRET Service” because they blab a lot.

America’s computer police are an interesting group. As a social phenomenon they are far more interesting, and far more important, than teenage phone phreaks and computer hackers. First, they’re older and wiser; not dizzy hobbyists with leaky morals, but seasoned adult professionals with all the responsibilities of public service. And, unlike hackers, they possess not merely TECHNICAL power alone, but heavy-duty legal and social authority.

The above passage is pro-cop hype. It’s not false, exactly. It’s just spinning the truth to stroke the egotism of cops who might buy Sterling’s books.

The whole book is full of this pro-totalitarian, civil-liberty-destroying propaganda. Sterling was trying to become a pro-cop propagandist. Sterling was not entirely lying; he was spinning the facts and hyping up his advertising message.

So the USA cyberpunks decided that the whole lower-class-criminal vibe that had defined cyberpunk from 1984 to 1992 had to go. Sterling wrote Hacker Crackdown to renounce any ties to crime and to suck up to cops.

To make matters worse, in 1995, Neal Stephenson stopped writing readable stories like Snow Crash and started writing horrible dreck like Diamond Age, and he kicked off Diamond Age with a little vignette symbolizing that lower-class-criminal cyberpunk had been renounced.

Around 1995, the USA cyberpunks were whining that cyberpunk was dead. As far as Sterling and Stephenson were concerned, they wanted cyberpunk to be dead. They wanted to be respectable upper-class strivers who had good connections with the corporations and governments.

But the people who actually consume sci-fi still wanted urban cyborg gunfights on the shady side of the law, so they ignored the USA writers and spent money on fiction like Ghost in the Shell and computer games like Syndicate and (in 1997) Syndicate Wars.

The 1995 version of Ghost in the Shell wasn’t rabidly pro-totalitarian. But Stand Alone Complex included a lot of incoherent and poorly-structured ideas, including several propaganda pieces in favor of totalitarian government. Major Kusanagi served as another pro-war, anti-civil-liberty gamin, just like the redhead shown above. (This doesn’t imply that Kusanagi will always be pro-torture and pro-totalitarianism. Shirow is not a consistent writer, and he feels free to contradict himself.)

And in the process of throwing out a lot of disconnected ideas with varying degrees of connection to reality, Shirow threw out some real ideas with relevance to modern violence, such as “leaderless resistance,” “false flag operations,” “mercenaries working with both governments and private corporations,” etc.

Now, in 2016, idiotic channers are excited about Omar Mateen because Mateen resembles some of the “leaderless resistance” or “false flag” themes shown in Ghost in the Shell. This does not mean Shirow had a deep insight into politics or violence or human nature. It just means that channers are uneducated and largely ignorant.

Recall the promise of cyberpunk:

1980s cyberpunk glorified opportunity and individualistic defiance of laws. There was a sense that technology would give superpowers to everyone, even lower-class, uneducated street thugs, and that when those street thugs seized power, they would show more justice than the crooked cops ever did.

In fact, the street thugs don’t have real power. At most they can steal credit cards and perhaps loot a few sneaker stores. The chivalrous guys, like Binney and Drake, usually get killed or disgraced. Nobody in the lower class has much opportunity; technology is a ticket to a short-term job, not a career. And the real-world cops have shredded civil liberties and taken violence to great extremes. Even the apparent lone-wolf rebels, like Omar Mateen, turn out to be corporate mercenaries directly employed by G4S and working for government-sponsored ends – until they run off the rails.


One comment

  1. postgygaxian · June 19, 2016

    When I talk about cyberpunk in this context, I’m primarily thinking of 1980s printed fiction cyberpunk.

    Thesis: Early cyberpunk fiction was addressed to people without steady jobs, who enjoyed drugs. These readers wanted a future that promised drug-fueled hedonism and a reasonable amount of economic opportunity, including a chance to buy hedonistic consumer goods.

    In the 1960s and 1970s, sci-fi readers were aware of drugs as controversial. The emerging drug culture that endorsed psychedelics and street drugs was clearly not pleasing to LBJ and Nixon. Sci-fi stories sometimes depicted utopian futures in which psychedelics and hedonism were legal. Writers including Delaney, Dick, Leiber, Moorcock, influenced many sci-fi readers to try illegal drugs. At this point, drug testing was virtually unknown; drug users could go to work while high and no one would arrest them.

    Jeter wrote *Dr. Adder* back in the 1970s, before the devastation of Reaganomics was apparent. Economic suffering drives the lower-class viewpoint character, but the title character is economically rather well-off – he is basically a black-market gangster. Jeter has some very early-1970s attitudes about how rich middle-aged people are disgusting, but he also presents a teenaged entrepreneur as a minor character. Economic striving is presented in a favorable light. Drug-fuelled hedonism is implicitly accepted.

    Gibson spent time on the street dumpster-diving before he wrote *Neuromancer.* The lower-class characters in Gibson’s work are probably shaped by Gibson’s own experiences of poverty. Most of Gibson’s poor characters seem to be presented as objects for the reader’s pity; however, Gibson’s stories seem to be driven by hope for a more humanistic future. Considering that Gibson has said that he intended *Neuromancer* to be a “middle finger” lifted against Reagan, it seems safe to say that Gibson was not endorsing 1980s Reagan-style consumeristic “yuppie” attitudes. Gibson might be pro-consumerism; he clearly seems to have regard for consumers’ rights.

    The protagonist in Walter Jon Williams’ *Voice of the Whirlwind* started out as a lower-class streetfighter – as for his economic prospects, well, I won’t spoil the ending for you, but it’s very interesting to look at his attitude toward money and how to spend it as he progresses through the book. Williams’ cyberpunk work presents entrepreneurs and consumeristic hedonism in a mostly favorable light.

    Based on my non-comprehensive reading, the fiction of the 1980s seemed to embody a lot of hope for lower-class cyberpunk characters.

    As far as I can tell, all of this changed when cops became the dominant cyberpunk heroes. (Of course, Deckard was an ex-cop of some kind, but he was more like Sam Spade than Dirty Harry.) This roughly coincided with the real-world use of drug tests to disqualify job applicants. At some point during the 1980s, street drug users were being urine-tested, and those who were caught with traces of drugs in their urine were excluded from jobs and economic opportunities.

    Suddenly, a lot of the sci-fi readers who had been looking forward to both drug use and economic opportunity were informed that they would not get either. They, and many other people, dropped out of the middle class and became lower-class.

    Unquestionably, the suffering of lower-class city-dwellers is a big part of most cyberpunk. The contrast between rich, consumeristic hedonists (who profit from corporations) and poor city-dwellers who depend on corporate products for a low standard of living is a standard theme.

    When I look at early cyberpunk, I consider it as mostly glorifying a Hunter S. Thompson approach to law-breaking. The sympathetic characters are usually rebels and criminals and marginalized drug users. Special mention should be made of *Islands in the Net*, which can be interpreted as a pro-drug manifesto for throwing away the War on Drugs and replacing it with enlightened hedonism.

    The Hunter S. Thompson element of cyberpunk does not fit well with cyberpunk stories in which the hero is a cop. A corporate mercenary might be able to be a drug-addled hedonist, but an actual cop with government authority is not likely to be able to enjoy drug-fueled hedonism (see, for example, both the print and the film versions of *A Scanner Darkly*).

    Since the 1990s, I have seen very little cyberpunk fiction that has celebrated street drugs and street counterculture. I have seen a lot of cyborg cop heroes.

    So far as I can tell, once the Hunter S. Thompson types were no longer the heroes, cyberpunk stories were no longer about the hopes of the lower class. At most the lower class reader could fantasize about becoming a cop or a soldier and doing the work of a government, obeying the government’s restrictions.

    I can find any number of big-name publishers who want to sell me sci-fi stories about weird sexual hedonism, but I haven’t seen any sci-fi writers recently who are willing to glorify illegal drug use.

    In my opinion, this silencing of pro-illegal-drug opinion was very useful to the most powerful factions of society. They did not want the lower class to have both illegal drugs and economic opportunities. Illegal drug use continues – and those who are caught with drugs are excluded from the middle class. Upper class drug users can buy lawyers, rehab, and privacy.

    The world of 2016 has more technology than the world of 1986. But it also has less opportunity for lower-class people.


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