Blade Runner, Altered Carbon, and the Relevancy of Cyberpunk

Blade Runner, Altered Carbon, and the Relevancy of Cyberpunk



in 1982 Ridley Scott's Blade Runner changed science-fiction launching the cyberpunk genre with a mesmerizing vision of a future run down by technology except this footage isn't from Blade Runner it's from the new Netflix series altered carbon which looks more like a sequel to Blade Runner than the actual sequel to Blade Runner does but I don't want to pick on altered carbon too much it's far from the only story that has yet to escape the influence of Blade Runner as a recent article in The Guardian pointed out in which I'll hopefully expand upon here flying cars giant ads on giant skyscrapers massive income inequality it's all here what I want to do is ask why cyberpunk has fixated so heavily on this aesthetic and does it still make sense to use that aesthetic 40 years after it was initially created and to do all that I've gone to talk about how cyberpunk came into being there are two seminal works of cyberpunk that are credited with kicking off the genre the Afra mentioned the Blade Runner in 1982 and two years later William Gibson's novel Neuromancer in an interview with Paris review William Gibson related how he had once ran into Ridley Scott and the two talked about the ingredients they had used to form their respective works and realized that they had basically been working from the same recipe that included French comic books which in the 1970s were publishing some of the most provocative science-fiction images anywhere and one glance at them is enough to see the influence on blade runner's Los Angeles or on Gibson's urban sprawl both works also owe a lot to Japanese urban planning since every cyberpunk city sort of looks like downtown Tokyo but to understand one of the most important influences on these worlds we're going to need a primer on the history of the detective genre in Altered carbon there is an AI character who takes the form of Edgar Allan Poe a nod to the fact that Poe is credited with inventing the detective genre with his 1814 story the murders in the Rue Morgue the story includes a brilliant detective a narrator who is the detectives friend an incompetent police force and a scene where the detective reveals the solution to the mystery through the application of logic if you're thinking that sounds a lot like Sherlock Holmes wealth you're right it is the inspiration for Sherlock Holmes but in the 1920s when American writers like Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett started writing detective stories they changed a lot of the core tropes of the genre and in the process they created the hard-boiled detective hard-boiled detective fiction relocated the genre to the mean streets of crime infested cities instead of a gentleman detective with a mostly academic interest in the mystery we got rough-around-the-edges anti-heroes who worked mostly for money but still had an inner sense of nobility it's a type of fiction that is inextricably linked to the time period in which it was created reflecting back at its audience the pains of the Prohibition and the depression now I've been playing clips here from film noir movies from the 40s and 50s and that's because many of the biggest hard-boiled hits were adapted into the most important films of film noir movies like The Big Sleep and The Maltese Falcon but it's important to bring up film noir here because of the way it depicted cities they are dark and mysterious places which feel gritty and dangerous and where the weather is never good all critical to the aesthetics of Blade Runner the main character Deckard is a hard-boiled detective through and through just like Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe and Takeshi the protagonist of ultra carbon hits every beat of this archetype as well the protagonists of William Gibson's Neuromancer a hacker named case is a bit different the influence of Raymond Chandler is still there the novel even ends on practically the same line as the big sleep like hard-boiled characters case is an outsider who is selfish and works for money but unlike them he's a criminal and doesn't have that in her sense of justice so instead he becomes the prototype of a character common in a lot of cyberpunk the rebellious hacker who uses their ability to rage against the machine but just like the prohibition and the depression loomed large over hard-boiled detective fiction the 80s loom large over a Neuromancer and Blade Runner so what was happening in the eighties again but I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States oh yeah I think it's hard to overstate the fact that cyberpunk is a product of Ronald Reagan's America or at least the fear of what Ronald Reagan's America could produce or at least American cyberpunk fiction is Japanese cyberpunk has a different cultural context even if it often arrives at a similar aesthetic but in America the common thread that runs through cyberpunk is the anxiety over the effects of unrestrained capitalism and how technology can make all of those effects even worse it's about how these great forces could erode our sense of civilization the individual the body and the mind the standard cyberpunk cityscape is a fitting representation of all of this as the lines between everything are blurred nothing stands out from the whole mirroring the protagonists struggles to maintain a sense of independence against forces greater than themselves today that anxiety isn't even really theoretical anymore but it is different than what it was in the 1980s here's an example advertisements are absolutely pervasive in cyberpunk worlds like giant holographic advertisements that take up the whole sides of buildings like this one in Blade Runner capitalism is literally wrapping itself around the city it is the city and it made sense in 1980 almost immediately Reagan was cutting taxes and slashing regulations basically taking the reins off of capitalism Reagan also peeled back the laws stopping companies from targeting their advertising to children which led to all of this thanks Reagan but there's a bit of a contradiction implicit to the use of advertising as the aesthetic of choice in cyberpunk today the presence of advertising is supposed to feel oppressive soul-crushing but for us having lived with cyberpunk for nearly 40 years there part of the appeal there what give the city its alluring neon glow this shot in altered carbon isn't about the horror of advertising dominating the skyline but about how cool the city looks placed at the end of the first episode as it is the shot is a promise to the viewer it's a hook inviting us to explore the city in the rest of the series of course today we're still terrified about the growing prominence of advertising but if the worst types of ads were the neon signs on buildings we consider it a blessing at this point the ads we really fear today are the inescapable ones which track our behavior and collect data about us or fake news spread on social media that is used for political purposes and I'd love to see cyberpunk explore that side of capitalism another example of how things have changed here's a graph of the murder rate in America from 1950 until today you'll notice that it spikes at nineteen eighty so it made sense that the writers of that time would be concerned about the rising crime rate and create worlds where crime was everywhere it doesn't make quite as much sense today where violent crime has been declining for years a cyberpunk world is almost by definition a world that is on the brink of collapse but it doesn't have to be on the brink of collapse because of crime it can be because of climate change mass migration terrorism nationalism fascism for writers there's really an embarrassment of riches out there when it comes to you know potentially world-ending crises that are happening right now yeah and in fairness there are pieces of fiction out there that are tackling these topics but all of these things are the reasons a show like altered carbon feels outdated to me in its defense it has an intriguing sci-fi premise which it uses as an income inequality allegory but the show is suffocated by an over-reliance on cyberpunk tropes tropes that are rooted in a time that is no longer our own this is why Blade Runner 2049 feels fresher on this point even though it's sort of obligated to recreate the dystopian version of Los Angeles from the original movie the other settings in the film feel inspired by our present the dustbowl version of Vegas is inspired by Sydney Australia during a sandstorm another part of the story takes place in a junkyard and both feel like they exist because of present-day concerns about climate change topicality is also one of the reasons I think mr. robot is so brilliant oh yeah mr. robot its cyberpunk – but how can it be cyberpunk there aren't even Punk's with leather jackets and purple hair in it and I guess that's really what I've been trying to say here genre isn't just about appearances it's about the substance of the story and what drives the conflict while it doesn't look like cyberpunk you've still got the giant multinational corporation as the main enemy a group of hackers rebelling against the established order and themes of isolation and mental health like so much of cyberpunk the story focuses on how technology is pushing us apart and while there isn't any science fictional technology in the story at least not yet it does explore the trope of mind invasion that occupies so much of cyberpunk fiction much of the show is about Elliot's battles to gain control over his own mind and of course as a hacker Elliot Alderson is another descendant of case from Neuromancer but while cyberpunk traditionally takes place at some time in the future mr. robot takes place in our present instead of cribbing from the visual language of film noir it's developed its own style of cinematography to emphasize the isolation the characters feel often tucking characters into the corners of the frame and I think the show may even surpass the goals of the cyberpunk that has come before it mr. robot is genuinely revolutionary with its characters focused on actually changing the established capitalist order most cyberpunk operates as a critique of certain power structures but they rarely offer a solution case in Neuromancer for instance never challenges the system that is controlling him so mr. robot is revolutionizing both the arena that cyberpunk can take place in and taking many of the genres core ideas further than they've ever been taken before towards the end of the most recent season the world has started to look a lot more like a traditional cyberpunk universe with all of its political posters everywhere and government forces driving through the streets it's almost like a cyberpunk or story and so by setting the story in the present mr. robots mere existence is chilling as it suggests that the dystopian world we fear may already be right around the corner cyberpunk is a truly global genre it has global concerns and global influences ranging from American hard-boiled detective fiction to French adult comic books to Japanese well everything the possibilities for fresh takes on the genre are endless so long as new writers are willing to shake up the ingredients they use to construct their fictional settings cyberpunk is always warning us about the negative side effects of Technology but one of the things the Internet is pretty great at is helping you learn new skills and one of the best places to do that is skill chair skill share has over 20,000 classes in writing motion graphics video editing and a whole bunch of other stuff that helps me make these videos so if you're interested in making videos but have an edit of anything before check out Benjamin Hall souls crash course on how to edit using Final Cut go to this link in the description to sign up the first 500 people to click that link will also get two whole months for free so give it a try and learn a new skill thanks for 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40 Comments

  1. Some clarifications:

    — Murders in the Rue Morgue was published in 1841, not 1814. My apologies!

    Also, I feel like this is a good time to explain how I'm handling sponsorships on this channel, since this video has some critiques about advertising, but then it ends with an ad for a sponsor, Skillshare. So what gives? Well, here are the rules I follow when putting ads on my videos:

    1) It has to be something I like and which I think is useful for my audience.
    2) The sponsor doesn't have control over the content of the video.
    3) For the past few months, I've turned Adsense off for videos with sponsors attached (for at least the first 30 days after publishing). This means that, instead of seeing an unrelated ad before the video, you get something I've chosen at the end. I think this is a good trade-off. It also means my salary isn't as connected to how many people are watching the videos, which lets me take more risks in the kinds of content I'm making.

    My other source of revenue is crowdfunding on Patreon. If you'd like to help me out, consider pledging here: https://www.patreon.com/justwrite

    I'll be happy to answer any questions anyone has about all this on here, or on Twitter 🙂

    Thanks for watching (and reading) everyone!

  2. Call me shallow but the main reason i love cyberpunk is the aesthetics. It's too visually pleasant to miss out on.

  3. Altered Carbon is a book…from 2002. if you want to "not"bash the tv series…Do the book if you want to… but then.. you have to read the book.. what you prob didnt..

  4. Altered Carbon is a book…from 2002. if you want to "not"bash the tv series…Do the book if you want to… but then.. you have to read the book.. what you prob didnt..

  5. Hey kids, Just an FYI when he says "french comic books" he mostly means art by Jean Giraud AKA Moebius. Check it out.

  6. terrorists
    Shows international terrorist group instead of domestic terrorist group like antifa.

    fascism
    Shows someone on the screen furthest from any form of fascism.

    God you americans are such spoiled brats, you have not a single clue about what fascism looks like.

  7. Gibson's own "Johnny Mnemonic (published in Omni Magazine in 1981)" comes from well before Neuromancer, and John Brunner's "The Shockwave Rider (1975)" came before that. And the actual source of Bladerunner is 1968's Philip K. Dick story "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep." So, while I don't agree with your positioning of Cyberpunk as a response to Reagan's America – maybe more post WWII / McCarthy / Cold War anxieties – I agree it has roots in current societal fears (then and now).

  8. Good video up until you decided to generalize nationalism, and call Trump a fascist, because a guy who literally made a statement recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of *ahem*.. The Jewish State of ISRAEL is definitely a fascist… Here’s a tip, from a rando on the Internet, try not to put generalizing statements in your videos that make you sound like an ideologue instead of sounding like an intelligent person. Thank you and goodnight.

  9. While movie/TV cyberpunk might stick to this conventional aesthetic, video game cyberpunk – especially in smaller indie games – is much more bolder, diverse and unique in their approaches, with a much wider array of expressions and takes on the genre.
    So I recommend carefully looking at indie cyberpunk games if you're looking for interesting takes on the genre.

    I mean, original 2000 Deus Ex instead of crime, focused on terrorism and surveillance state, and even predicted 9/11 attacks. I guess it fits that the new digital medium would the best fit for cyberpunk.

  10. The type of cyberpunk Mr Robot exemplifies actually has a name – cyberpunk set in a modern setting is a rapidly growing subgenre called "nowpunk", as seen in Bruce Sterling's book Zenith Angle, the Blue Ant book trilogy by William Gibson, videogame series Watch_Dogs, or the webcomic Fisheye Placebo. But to be fair, Mr Robot is definitely the first work in said genre to gain widespread recognition and acclaim.

  11. Blade Runner 2049 did update the cyberpunk genre with things like we are becoming more and more dependant on technology to create meaning in our lives and form relationships. The main character's love interest is literally and hologram designed to form relationships. Not to mention, it's set at a time when Earth is facing complete environmental collapse.

  12. Thank you for pointing out altered carbon sucks and is outdate macho excuse to show tits. Oh and that mr robot is gold

  13. Who is this Ridley Scott copycat you're on about? Whoever he is, I bet he's just another Gibson wannabe and I bet his movies are overrated garbage. 30 seconds into the video and you've already gone full retard. Unsub, my homey, unsub

  14. My personal recommendation as far as underrated/overlooked cyberpunk media:
    Texhnolyze & Ergo Proxy. Both really dark and dystopian anime series. A tough watch in both cases but ultimately very rewarding one, at least in my experience.

  15. you dont have a very good grasp on what Altered Carbon is. Go look at the original book and Eclipse Phase which was based off it.

  16. You forgot to mention the spam calls that plague everyone now. That is the side of capitalism I hate the most.

  17. An interesting thing that was not mentioned in the video, almost all the cyberpunk societies were post-nation state, governments and national cultures we're either weak or irrelevant in the face of the corporate culture. The individual eroded, isolated, and disenfranchised by the atomization of society. The individual can step out the door and not be able to connect with neighbors who cannot even speak the same language. Case and point, Blade Runner came out during the Japanese bubble economy and there was a paranoia at the time similar to how people are paranoid of China today. I think Blade Runner used the aspects of Japanese culture in its aesthetic to play to that fear. Using that to subtly send the message that in this future, patriotism and national identity is meaningless, the only thing that matters is the corporation.

  18. Almost liked and subscribed but you had to throw your 2cents about Reagan and Trump. Omegalul no one gives two fucks if you think trump is a fascist…

  19. Altered Carbon feels outdated because it portrays a future that is no longer imaginable. It presents a Lost Future. A way we used to imagine how the future could be, but never came to fruition. Look for Mark Fisher's concept of "lost future"

  20. Cyberpunk as genre fiction feels like it functions like old westerns: like a postwar America looking back on the simpler days of an open frontier, 80's-styled cyberpunk is treated as a retrospective fantasy; a simpler time when all it took to fight the power was rebelliousness, spunk, and an Ono-Sendai.

    Old cyberpunk came from a time when there was still some hope that this nightmare future could be resisted. Today, "it is easier to imagine an end to the world than an end to capitalism."

  21. I would argue that the "technological hive" is a Jungian archetype with a dream-like focus; a city so advanced you can lose yourself in it, become anonymous in it and determine your own actions.

  22. So if a baby bad guy like Reagan can make Cyberpunk, god knows what the titan of corruption and lies Trump will result in.

  23. I LOVED this vid, it was very well made. That said, your research is lacking, if only a little.

    Loved the part about how Gibson met Riddley Scott (something that stands to reason, but that I didnt know…);

    That said, I seriously disagree with you on Cyber Punk being a response to Ronald Reagan, or anything he did– in fact, it was quite the opposite. *It's dystopian tone (at least regarding Blade Runner) probably owes more to the fact that Scott's brother – with whom he was very, very close – had just passed away & Scott, then, found himself dealing with issues of his own mortality…

    As for Gibson, he was a product of the 60s & 70s where avantgard negativity in entertainment seemed to be the order of the day.

    I lived through the 80s, and was there to see the movies Blade Runner (one of my favorites) & John Carpenter's "The Thing" utterly fail at the box office, (before going on to "cult film" status on video…)– in favor of "feel good" movies like "Empire Strikes Back" & "E.T."

    Why did they fail? Because the country was sick of all the negativity coming out of 1970s Hollywood; but more so from all the negativity & depression that came from President Jimmy Carter's horrible economy & his often idiodic ways of dealing with our "cold war" enemies…

    That's why Reagan got elected (by a landslide), Blade Runner had to wait for POST box office success, and the 80's were marked by LOTS of people trying to make LOTS of money in their Pursuit of Happiness— something that people commonly, if a bit simplistically, associate with "corporate greed" these days…

    Btw, I think it's only fair to mention that BOTH Gibson and Scott [literally] owe their careers to CORPORATIONS who provided the million$ it took to produce their work– in fact, I'm pretty sure theyre incorporated, temselves. 'Cause stuff just don't happen for free…

    If you disagree, then by all means, the next time you go to work, refuse to clock in & tell your boss 'Im not here for the money.' Lol

    Or, if your the guy making these videos, refuse to take any money, at all, from the advertisers (who are no doubt incorporated), who are only impeding your 'video aesthetic' anyway…

    Fyi, for some excellent examples of "corporate greed," you might check out what Disney is doing with the Star Wars & MCU franchises, these days…

    *As for, "Altered Carbon," THAT is an excellent series. I absolutely binge-watched it, the first time I saw it, because It (regreshingly) avoids leaning too heavily on furthering any kind of political agenda.

    Instead, it just tells a GREAT story, and adheres (faithfully) to the 'film noir aesthetic'–which is inarguably one of the foundation stones of Cyberpunk…

  24. Holy Shit. What a fantastic, clear, well constructed, intelligent, in-depth, eye-opening, brilliant analysis. This is so good in so many ways. Wow. Fantastic. Just fantastic.

  25. One of the best works of cyberpunk is the graphic novel Transmetropolitan by Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson.

  26. I really dislike how the lackluster Altered Carbon tv show is taking away awareness from the fantastically awesome books it's based on. The first book is a stone cold hard boiled detective story with oceans of depths more than the superficial show. Also, the book came out in 2002 so it's less distant to the era that spawned cyberpunk.

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