Currently reading : Mondo 2000 and the Cyberpunk
Mondo 2000 and the Cyberpunk
20 May 2014
Author : julia-silverman
A colleague recently introduced me to Mondo 2000, the San Francisco-based cyberpunk (or more specifically cypherpunk) magazine of the 1980s-90s, and since then, I’ve been obsessed. We’d been discussing body modification and, being about 15 years older than me, he’d been reminiscing about spending the ’90s in the East Village, getting piercings at Maria Tash and going to techno raves, recalling distinct visions of people in slick space-age-style costumes with their sharp black tribal tattoos peeking out from beneath short sleeves. It was just before the internet shot into the mainstream, and there seemed to be a palpable excitement about the new anonymity, the types of social disruption the internet would cause, and the intersection between hallucinogenic trips and virtual reality. And, as he discussed, the impending digitization of humanity, the notion of cyberspace as a psychedelic playground, paralleled a manufactured aesthetic: mirrored, seamless stainless steel body jewelry, slick black clothing paired with reflective sunglasses.
Mondo 2000 was a distinct force behind this subculture. Founded in 1984 by Ken Goffman (aka R.U. Sirus) as High Frontiers, and edited by “St. Jude” and “Queen Mu,” the magazine subsequently switched its name “to avoid detection” in 1988 to Reality Hackers, finally arriving at Mondo in 1989. The magazine, which was greatly informed by Timothy Leary and the writing of William Gibson and Robert Anton Wilson among others, combined an anti-authoritarian sensibility with a sense of play and a lot of drugs. In the words of a 1993 Time Magazine article about the Cyberpunk, “It’s a way of looking at the world that combines an infatuation with high tech tools and a disdain for conventional ways of using them.” The magazine’s content would oscillate between a prank interview between Negativland and U2 to articles on brain implants to an in depth exploration of LSD. As Timothy Leary said, “the PC the LSD of the 1990s.”
In July 2010, R.U. Sirius began a Kickstarter Campaign for “Mondo 2000: An Open Source History” to collect and compile musings, writing and memories about the magazine and its predecessors. There’s quite a bit of information about it already out there, but I’m distinctly curious about the ways in which this publication, which preceded the ubiquitous overtaking of the internet, has proceeded to use it via blogging, Kickstarter, open source archiving, etc. The anticipated anonymous utopia of the web has, of course, turned out to be a hotbed of surveillance. Innovative start-ups are in fact information traders. And, not surprisingly, it seems like the current iterations of Mondo 2000, such as R.U. Sirius’s blog 10 Zen Monkeys, have retained a Web 2.0 aesthetic, a seeming nostalgia for a time when the internet still evaded regulation. Gareth Branwyn, who wrote for Mondo in addition to Boing Boing and Wired said in an interview with Vice that sites like 4chan are the new fringe culture, places with their own languages and jokes, now that the internet-culture has become mainstream.
Right now, I am supremely curious about the aesthetics of all this, especially in the realm of fashion, jewelry, and body modification. I can’t help but compare New York’s current fascination with “maker” culture to the excitement with space-age technology and crisp, shiny manufactured-ness from the 90s. I’m too young to have any of this in my memory, but if any of you ex-cyborgs exist out there, feel free to shower me with your memories. What has this movement become?