Is cyberpunk dead?

Blade Runner. Altered Carbon. The Fifth Element. There are plenty of movies and TV shows that use the “cyberpunk” aesthetic. Even if you’re not a sci-fi junkie, you recognize the elements of cyberpunk. I’m talking about the dark, grimy sci-fi world, the neon, the mix of cultural icons. There are a lot of sci-fi writers who think the future is going to look like an electrified version of a private-eye novel from the 1940s. But is this really the way it all should go? After almost 40 years, isn’t it all getting a little stale?

This video makes a pretty compelling argument that cyberpunk is essentially played out. It’s a vision of the future that’s really based on the past and doesn’t truly embrace anything that’s happened since 1980.

Where cyberpunk dropped the ball

In the largely unnecessary (and unwatched) Blade Runner:2049, the folks who brought you the original cyberpunk classic tried to update it for a new audience. Since we all have smartphones and photoshop now, it makes sense to at least acknowledge that something similar exists 30 years from now. However, the new technology doesn’t quite fit into the Blade Runner universe, which admittedly diverges from ours sometime in the 1990s.

When you look at a cyberpunk-styled movie or TV show today, it often looks like a triumph of (dated) style over substance. I didn’t terribly care for Altered Carbon, although I liked it more than Buckler did. My big problem with it was that it was a fairly traditional cop/mystery story with a light dressing of sci-fi. Without the tech touches it would have been quite at home in an Agatha Christie or Raymond Chandler anthology, depending on how it was presented. Taking such a snoozey plot and covering it with cyberpunk actually made the end result worse.  I’m agreeing with the video above, it even made cyberpunk just seem more tired.

It’s time for a new Minority Report

Minority Report is 15 years old now and yet for a long time it was seen as a blueprint for how the near-term future would work. It was filled with large displays with full interactivity, virtual reality, and self-driving cars. In many ways it not only predicted but created the world of 2018.

This was not by accident. Steven Spielberg wasn’t interested in creating another cookie-cutter action movie with a light mystery thrown in, or another dystopian yet hacky version of a Philip K. Dick story. He consulted with futurists of the day to talk about how the world of 2054 would work. The result was not only compelling but really, really plausible. Yes he got some things wrong. Tom Cruise uses some sort of fingertip controls to work with his large screens; we don’t need that today. He also relied on a ton of physical media which we would never use today. His characters also seem to talk a lot more on the phone than anyone in 2018 does.

So, it’s time to see a new version of the future based on today’s trends. Sometimes it’s hard to know where we’re going in the next 20 or 30 years. I get that. It’s even harder, I think, not to just fall into the Mad Max idiom of saying that civilization with simply crumble. There is a future ahead and maybe it actually could be better than any we’ve seen portrayed in the past. Someone just needs to dream it up. Any takers?