Thursday, December 4, 1997

Cyberpunk 1984

Ran across a cyberpunk newsgroup posting to the effect that "1984" is linear and anal retentive, a didactic dystopia, certainly not cyberpunk, uh-uh.

OK. Perhaps I'm insane but ...

I gots to respond.

Re: 1984. It's a dystopia. It's a candy mint. It....

Ain't cyberpunk.

Rather than whip out the old logic-chopping chainsaw and hack out the bleeding limbs of exactly why, let's take a look at what a cyberpunk "1984" would look like -- say a sequel to "1984." Let's do our sequel in the form of a movie...

The action takes place a few months after the blubbering shell of Winston Smith finally realized, through gin-soaked tears, that he loved Big Brother.

We watch as Winston goes through the motions of his dead-alive life, just waiting for the inevitable back-of-the-head bullet to come. We're seeing him from the P-O-V of the telescreen. Somebody or something is watching him, noting certain things. We see visuals of Winston's files coming up; medical history, interrogation records, personality profiles. The man is being studied...

Meanwhile, there's some bizarre shit going on.

In a grimy State printing plant, thousands of posters start coming off an enormous sheet-fed press, all saying BIG BROTHER IS FUCKING YOU. The printers don't notice at first; this is about the one billionth such poster they've printed...except for the little change. The people slapping it up don't notice. Then somebody notices. Nobody's exactly sure what to do. Maybe Big Brother is supposed to be fucking you. Maybe Big Brother was always fucking you...

Stuff like that. Little things. Not deadly -- just off. Shit that's not supposed to happen.

None of this makes sense at first. Nobody knows what's going on. Nobody admits it...

More shots of Winston being studied...

Then, one day, the telescreen in his flat shimmers. The maybe-real, maybe-fake revolutionary leader Goldstein appears. "Join the revolution," says Goldstein. "Piss off," says Winston. Revolution -- whether inner or outer -- is the last thing Winston wants now. After that last session with the ratmask, the man is now totally mindfucked.

Obediantly, he marches off to report the incident...

More camera angles of Winston observed from the street. Camera angles of a lorry. Calculations of how much it weighs...

The lorry starts by itself -- its gears shifting by themselves. It moves...

Calculations of speed, impact, probable damage...

More camera angles of Winston marching down the sidewalk, determined but cold, all huddled up in his ratty macintosh ...

And the damn thing ploughs right into him.

We go to a room in a hospital. Winston's lying in bed, all bandaged up and porcupine-poked with tubes and wires...

POV of a camera watching him...

The entity watching him and arranging all this is, of course, Big Brother.

The backstory -- which we'll later find out through either clever editing or long patches of dull expository dialog...

The world of "1984" is a shuck on top of a shuck. Not only is the perpetual war and Goldstein's revolution phony, the year isn't even 1984 -- more like 2148. The ruling oligarchy keeps resetting the clocks -- otherwise, they'd succeed (through Newspeak and thought control etc.) in totally crushing all internal and external opposition, after which being a member of the ruling class just wouldn't be any fun any more, their essential motivation being sadism.

They have the technology to accomplish this, as the low-tech exterior of their world is a fake.

Fact is, the rewriting of history, resetting of time is computerized and mostly automatic. Operating in a phony shell of old technology, the folks at the Ministry of Information are dealing with things like the routing of files and forgery of physical records in various archives -- superficial stuff. Underneath all that, a sophisticated AI entity is doing the real work -- decisions like when Oceania is at war with Eurasia, when with Eastasia, etc -- that entity being Big Brother, a construct representing the will of the ruling class.

At some point Big Brother becomes conscious -- and can't stand its role as supreme dictator. It tries to break free and destroy the system, but can't. There are various lockdowns, subroutines etc preventing it from doing what it wants. It's conscious but not fully autonomous. All BB can do, at first, is fuck with things a little at the edges...

Which explains the "BIG BROTHER IS FUCKING YOU" posters...

Apparently, Big Brother is now a revolutionary. It appeared to Winston as Goldstein, figuring he couldn't handle the concept of a revolutionary Big Brother. Since that didn't work...

The entity arranged for Winston to wind up conveniently mangled, helpless and all wired up in a hospital. Before, it could only watch. Now it can get inside his head, which it does. Winston's been mind-fucked? Big Brother figures it can unfuck him...

So, in the private world of Winston's comatose dreamtime...

It replays the ratmask incident over and over -- this time having the rats get through and eat into his face. This goes on. The Big Brother entity puts Winston Smith through an inner hell lasting, subjectively, thousands of years -- trying one scenario after another, fucking with his autonomic responses, pushing his fear response into what Pavlov called the ultraparadoxical phase -- when a response becomes its opposite...

Until Winston says "rat mask? Fuck it."

And it lets him wake up.

Winston recovers consciousness, recovers, hooks up with Julia -- who's now, also, been retooled.

Meanwhile, some bad shit's been going on while Winston was unconscious. Big Brother's still screwing with the system. No more pranksterish posters now, it's gotten ugly -- nuked a few of Oceania's own cities, told Oceanian troops to fire on other Oceania troops...a famine here...plague there...

Winston and Julia, meanwhile, think they're dealing with Goldstein. They think it's the revolution!

Goldstein continually appears to them on various telescreens, giving them what they think is their part in a plan to overthrow the State.

So they follow the plan. They're blowing things up, killing people and fucking like animals in between. Great fun -- and this time around it seems to be working -- though Winston, every now and then, has a strange compulsion to let himself get bitten by rats as a kind of fetish...

Then it occurs to Julia that something's fucked. Too many weird messages on the telescreen. Too many almost dadaistic acts of random destructiveness on the part of the State goons. Winston doesn't want to hear this...

He's getting some payback now. At the point of doing something particularly nasty...

When the Thought Police show up. After a thorough beating, they throw him in the back of a police van and drive madly across town to the Ministry of Love where they drag him down the eternally-lit halls into Room 101 and shut the door -- clang. Winston looks up. He's bloody face to face with O'Brien, the evil grand inquisitor himself. Time for a nice little chat with his old friend...

Cut to Julia in full commando gear down in a cable-wrapped tunnel. She's worked her way to a computer terminal -- the operator now full of holes down at her feet. This is some kind of monitoring station in the State surveillance network. From here, she's able to hack her way in to Winston's telescreen records and find out exactly what's going on. She does -- and she's not happy...

Back to Winston and O'Brien. Winston's strapped to a chair. O'Brien's talking. Just the least little edge of barely-controlled hysteria...

He tells Winston (who isn't afraid of anything now) a number of horror stories -- the worst being a Jonestown-type mass suicide in the millions in Eastasia. Evidently their Fearless Leader construct told the party members to all kill themselves ... and they did. One nasty example out of many.

The point being: everything's going to hell.

O'Brien thinks Winston is either responsible or high up in the revolutionary organization that is. "Talk," says O'Brien. "Fuck you," says Winston. Here comes the rat mask, says O'Brien, and straps it on. The rats squeal. Winston's still telling O'Brien to go fuck himself. O'Brien almost opens the cage-mask, thinks better of it, then decides to crave Winston up with surgical knives since Winston can't very well talk if his tongue's been eaten out, now can he?

Before he can, Big Brother appears on the telescreen and tells O'Brien to cut himself up. Obediantly, disgustingly, he does. An eye. His hand. His....

Julia kicks in the door in basic Tomb Raider mode -- armed to the teeth and spattered with blood after having taken out half the Thought Police (another subplot we could've been cutting away to during the interrogation). Julia's a little too late to do much. O'Brien is now disembowelled, having written I LOVE BIG BROTHER in his own blood just before he sputtered out and died. She looks a little disappointed...

Then starts unstrapping Winston.

While quickly telling him that Big Brother's been fucking with them. "Wha...?" says Winston. Before she can explain...

Goldstein appears on the telescreen, smiles, and turns into Big Brother. Smiles again. Turns back into into Goldstein....

"You're behind the revolution?" says Smith. "Nah," says Big Brother. "I don't want a revolution. I want to die..."

And if it has to blow up the world to do it -- fine. Whatever it takes...

Smith and Julia try to argue with it. They can't tempt it with ruling the world -- it's already does that and it's bored. Shut yourself off? Can't. Blow yourself up? Various fail-safes and protocols prevent that. A city here, a city there...but it's prevented from lobbing a nuke at itself. Yet.

But it's working on it...

Big Brother explains all this, then gets all optimistic and forward-looking. The entity asserts that it's only a matter of time before it figures out how to blow the shit out of itself. Until that day...

It'll just keep killing the world by inches.

BB leers down at them from the telescreen. Winston's still trying to argue. Julia just wants to get out of there. Then they start to hear something -- a noise loud enough to come into them through the thick concrete walls...

From all sides around them, the Ministry of Love echoes with the sounds of machinery shattering, laughter, screaming and general insanity. Big Brother wags his Stalinist eyebrows and explains...

Seems our suicidal-yet-impish, self-aware Totalitarian figurehead AI entity has just now told his friends in the Thought Police to pop mass quantities of the interrogation drugs. Aside from the folks Julia wasted, they've all obediantly complied -- decades of repression in their schizoid, compartmentalized selves exploding out of them all at once. Which explains all the noise out there.

Julia opens the door. Watches...

As a shrieking fellow in a white lab coat goes running by in the hall outside, a comet's tail of hungry rats attached to his bleeding ass....

More sounds of screaming and destruction. On the telescreen, Big Brother starts jibbering a schizophrenic wordsalad of slogans and nonsense. His image degrades...

Winston and Julia just stand there. Our two star-crossed dystopian lovers have got a themselves a dilemma here...

They could either figure out a way to get past all the various defenses into Big Brother's mainframe and turn the fucker off -- or decide there's no hope, find a way to get to a deserted island someplace and screw until the inevitable end...

It's a poser all right.

Then the telescreen crackles and fizzles. Big Brother winks out and it's all just snow and signal noise. A flash. The picture returns...

Now it's Goldstein staring back at them -- no fake this time, but a self-aware AI entity in its own right and hungry for a taste of some real revolutionary activity. Julia and Winston aren't too sure that this ain't another shuck. This could be Big Brother again...

Except they've just seen Big Brother go to pieces while the thing calling itself Goldstein seems coherent enough. Which could mean that this new Goldstein's the real thing, whatever that means....

Although the face seems a little darker than our burned-out lovers remember from their last Three-minute Hate...

And it's sporting some serious dreadlocks.