ACCELER8OR

May 20 2012

William Gibson On MONDO 2000 & 90s Cyberculture (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #16)

By Simone Lackerbauer & R.U. Sirius


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“Cyberpunk today is mainly like a Pantone chip in the Pantone culture-wheel. ‘Those pants are sort of cyberpunk.’ ‘That video has a sort of retro-cyberpunk feel.'”

We were honored that William Gibson agreed to talk to us for the upcoming MONDO 2000 History Project book about MONDO… and about the ‘90s cyberculture in general and how it looks today.  The interview was conducted by Simone Lackerbauer (with my kibitzing).  These are a few fragments.

Gibson was incorporated into the first “cyberpunk” edition of the magazine via a somewhat devious route, as discussed here.

 

ABOUT CYBERPUNK, MONDO & UNDERGROUND MAGAZINES

Underground magazines had been very important to me. I started with Mad and Cracked, which may not have been formally underground, but were, initially and in terms of context, decidedly off-center, and I remember buying the issue of The Realist with the pornographic faux-Disney centerfold. MONDO 2000 was clearly an underground magazine, and as such I was definitely glad it was there.

I had never thought that the “cyberpunk” label was particularly a good thing, but it obviously wasn’t going away too quickly, so I’d generally shrug and go along with it. I doubted the immortality hackers were going to live forever, the idea of smart drugs didn’t do anything for me, but the attitude was fun. Just the fact that the thing existed, and popped up on fairly normal magazine stands, was cheering.

I’d say it was arguably the representative underground magazine of its pre-Web day. It was completely outside what commercial magazines were assumed to be about, but there it was, beside the commercial magazines. Could that even happen, today?

Posterity, looking at this, should also consider MONDO 2000 as a focus of something that was happening, rather than  exclusively as a broadcast-point. It was a brave magazine, but it was also a magazine of its day. Stuff was happening all over, with no Internet to pass it instantly around.

 

MONDO & TIME

I wasn’t surprised by the rise of Mondo. Something was clearly afoot, memewise. I wondered about the thing’s durability. Winding up on the cover of Time – what does that do? How alternative is something that makes the cover of Time? Of course, that was when Time was still Time, sort of, but I also wondered, after that, how seriously one should take Time? It wasn’t as though I ever read it, ordinarily.

 

MONDO & WIRED

Wired never felt like Mondo, to me. It never felt like an underground magazine, but neither did it occur to me that it was MONDO 2000 tuned down for straight people. I’d assume the difference had more to do with the business model. They definitely had one.

 

90S CYBERCULTURE

I think that whole scene in the 90s  was in some ways the cultural equivalent of all the glorious hype of the Space Age. The iconic babe in the VR goggles and gloves! Iconics, heroics… The difference would be that the end result was somehow akin to the invention of habitable space!

 

TIMOTHY LEARY

We’d bump into one another on the VR rubber chicken circuit. Barcelona, Linz, Venice…  He was really great to have at your table. Kept the evening in flux. And people would come up to him and give him drugs, which he’d give to someone else, usually a perfect stranger, as soon as the gifter was gone. He said that this was a win-win proposition, as the first person could now say that he’d given drugs to Timothy Leary, and the second person that Timothy Leary had given him drugs. I never saw him look to see what was in the envelope.

 

THE VR & SMART DRUGS HYPE

Evidently we didn’t need either one, at least not as we (sub)culturally imagined them then. We do, in fact, now constantly inhabit a sort of blended VR, but we now assume that we don’t need the goggles as long as whatever’s on the screen is sufficiently engrossing. And the distinction between real and virtual continues to blur. The virtual is colonizing the real, but generally in ways we don’t notice. VR was predicated on a notion of  real/virtual that now seems very last-century. Our grandchildren won’t be able to readily imagine where we were at, with that one!

Smart drugs were something I read about. After my time. Had I ever encountered anyone who struck me as 20 IQ points up from where they ordinarily were, I’d have paid it very close attention. (It’s difficult to imagine what that would even look like.) But if it was just a sort of temporary cognitive fine tuning, I didn’t find it that intriguing.

 

ON WRITING THE NEW “CYBER” SF

Whatever I did emerged from the need to find a way to write SF that I could stand to write, that I could live with. That led me to replace outer space with cyberspace, and everything I’ve done since has grown out of that. But I had the advantage of almost accidentally having latched on to the most powerfully emergent technology of my day as a subject.

 

REGARDING THE ’90S UTOPIANISM

I never though that cyborgs and virtual worlds were particularly utopian, so I’ve never been disappointed. The world is always more interesting than some futurist’s vision. If you think it’s not, you’re not really looking.

 

THE SINGULARITY

The Singularity has always sounded to me like a secular version of the Rapture. It seems to fit very neatly into that same God-shaped hole. We’re been there before. I like us better when we aren’t.

 

NOT A FUTURIST

I don’t have thoughts about the future. I probably have fewer than the average person. I’m not a fortune-teller. I construct very large, highly inaccurate models in my head, built from memory and random junk, and run them. Sometimes they seem to have predicted things, in some very vague way, that happen later, but I don’t think of that as prediction. It’s closer to augury, and I can’t do it without, so to speak, pulling the entrails from a real bird. Otherwise, the last thing I am is someone who walks around knowing what the future’s going to be.

 

CYBERPUNK TODAY

Cyberpunk today is mainly like a Pantone chip in the Pantone culture-wheel. “Those pants are sort of cyberpunk.” “That video has a sort of retro-cyberpunk feel.” We know what that means. If someone says “her attitude is very cyberpunk”, I don’t think we’re as certain of what’s meant. I’m not sure what this means, but I do think it indicates something. In a cyberworld, there’s no need for the suffix, and ours is a cyberworld. In a cyberworld, cyberpunk is punk. But it’s not punk if you call it “cyberpunk”.

 

WHO WE ARE

Who we are is largely who we meet. Cities are machines that randomize contact. The Internet is a meta-city, meta-randomizing contact. I now “know” more people than I would ever have imagined possible, because of that. It changes who I am and what I can do.

 

Previous MONDO History Entries

Psychedelic Transpersonal Photography, High Frontiers & MONDO 2000: an Interview with Marc Franklin

Gibson & Leary Audio (MONDO 2000 History Project)

Pariahs Made Me Do It: The Leary-Wilson-Warhol-Dali Influence (Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #3)

Robert Anton Wilson Talks To Reality Hackers Forum (1988 — Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #4)

Smart Drugs & Nutrients In 1991 (Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #5)

LSD, The CIA, & The Counterculture Of The 1960s: Martin Lee (1986, Audio. Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #6)

William Burroughs For R.U. Sirius’ New World Disorder (1990, Mondo 2000 History Project Entry # 7)

New Edge & Mondo: A Personal Perspective – Part 1 (Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #8)

New Edge & Mondo: A Personal Perspective – Part 2 (Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #8)

The Glorious Cyberpunk Handbook Tour (Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #9)

Did The CIA Kill JFK Over LSD?, Reproduced Authentic, & Two Heads Talking: David Byrne In Conversation With Timothy Leary (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #10)

Memory & Identity In Relentlessly Fast Forward & Memetically Crowded Times (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #11)

The First Virtual War & Other Smart Bombshells (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #12)

Swashbuckling Around The World With Marvin Minsky In How To Mutate & Take Over The World (MONDO 2000 History Project #13)

FAIL! Debbie Does MONDO (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #14)

Paradise Is Santa Cruz: First Ecstasy (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #15)