Friday, July 10, 2015

Cyberpunk vs Ribofunk

Cyberpunk is a world of silicon chip implants, stainless steel, firtual reality, and grim computer hackers. It's fun to read about, but who wants to live that way?
Mark and Carla grab onto Paul Di Filippo's notion of Ribofunk, as coined for his collection of stories with the same name. As he said,
It's a neologism of my own inventing that I hope spreads like a memetic virus throughout the intellectual community. Ribo comes from the word ribosome, which I use as a shorthand for all biology, and funk indicates a stylistic component derived mostly from funk music... a hot, skittery style in contrast to the more laid back, cerebral style that you might find in some cyberpunk...
So what is ribofunk? Carla and Mark compared it to Cyberpunk as follows:

silicon carbon
computer hacking biohacking
designer drugs designer genes
control chaos
cyborg mutant
implants parasites
Neuromancer Blood Music
logic libido
Kraftwerk George Clinton
robotics artificial life
Chess Twister
How does this all look in reflection? Actually, quite contemporary. Biohacking is still a fringe topic, designer genes are far from main-stream and continue to evoke heated debates about the ethics and societal fairness of "designer babies." That debate has moved from theoretical potential of such actions and closer to reality as whole genome sequencing has significantly advanced in the past twenty years. In 1995, genome sequencing was just starting to pick up steam. Now the target is to cut the price to $1,000 USD for a complete human genome, which again comes with a range of technical, ethical and legal issues.

Artificial life and Blood Music are still future-tech, in terms of full-fledged realization, while George Clinton is still funky, and Twister is still kitschy.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

The Mr. Magoo Theory of Mutant Progress

When you think about it, Mr. Magoo's exploits are the perfect metaphor for mutant progress. Like this hapless cartoon geezer, we humans, in our nearsightedness, like to look down the path we've traveled and take credit for everything that's worked out, while conveniently ignoring (or blaming others for) all our screwups. in our arrogance, we can't see all the near disasters that chance has averted. Meanwhile, futurists try to develop forecasting methods to predict what's going to happen as we drive our fume-belching autos into the sunset -- forget about it! Life's more chaotic, complex, and strange than we could ever predict.
In Gareth Branwyn's short piece on the fortunate Mr. Magoo as the personification (or cartoonification?) of mutant progress, he doesn't get into the fact that the codger initially played second fiddle to a bear who had no lines, yet Magoo was popular enough to get a series of shorts and a few movies, kind of like humans who have stumbled into their current position, thinking they're the cat's pajamas instead of a series of happy accidents, in the face of all their (unwitting) efforts to undo their progress at every turn. But overall, still an apt stand-in for mutant progress (and if you have only seen this first short, don't worry - Mr. Magoo changes from an angry old music-hater to a jolly chap, more in keeping with the happy sort of mutants).

For your viewing pleasure, the first short featuring Mr. Magoo: The Ragtime Bear (1949)

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Normals, Unhappy Mutants and Happy Mutants

What is a happy mutant? Simply put, one who is fond of new ideas and high weirdness, with a DIY sensibility to make their own fun with the power of their brain; not to be confused with Normals and Unhappy Mutants:
Sea-Monkeys, a real man-modified miracle of nature!
(note: link includes embedded auto-playing video)
  • Normal (neophobic sixpackus), folks concerned about "fitting in" and stability. But give 'em a good shock and behold! Mutation!
  • Unhappy Mutant (neophilic pessimisticus), seek new experiences of a dark sort, miserable folks who reinforce their miserable attitudes. If they crash and burn, they might swing back and become 'born again normals'.
  • Happy Mutant (neophilic optimisticus), also seek out new experiences but of the opposite end of the spectrum, desiring novelty of the gleeful sort. But without sufficient infusions of new, their grey goo could turn dull and normal.
Further examples of these different classes of creatures:

Stuff They Like
Happy Mutant Normal Unhappy Mutant
Brazil Sleepless in Seattle Faces of Death
They Might be Giants Janet Jackson GG Allin
The Happy Mutant Handbook The Bridges of Madison County Apocalypse Culture
Silly Putty Golf balls Nunchakus
Basil Wolverton Leroy Neiman Joe Coleman
Church of the SubGenius Church of Elvis Church of Satan
Sea Monkey Irish Setter Scorpion
Twister Checkers Russian Roulette
Archie McPhee Lillian Vernon Amok
"Why Be Normal?" "I'm with Stupid" "Charlie Don't Surf"
Pranks White Collar Crime Scams

How have these examples of Happy Mutant hijinks aged? In 1996, when this review of the Happy Mutant Handbook was written, the review might have seemed like some zesty breadcrumbs on an exciting trail into a great unknown, with the Handbook itself serving as a collection of teaser trailers for the even larger mysteries of the wider, weirder world out there. But with the ever-expanding internet, as seen in the links above, more of this kooky kind of novelty is just a click away!

Some of this is still fresh, with Brazil retaining it's place as a cult classic, while some have ebbed and flowed, like the comeback of They Might Be Giants as a "nerd-rock institution." According to the current overview on Wikipedia, bOING bOING had a maximum circulation of 17,500 copies, then transitioned from zine to website in 1995, dropping the zine all together in 1996, and it has grown and changed since then. The Church of the SubGenius also lives on, like an endless supply of sea monkeys, which oddly aren't available from Archie McPhee, the thriving internet store of weird and wonderful items.