Academic journal article Science Fiction Film and Television

William Gibson's 'Cyberpunk' X-Files

Academic journal article Science Fiction Film and Television

William Gibson's 'Cyberpunk' X-Files

Article excerpt

Over its nine seasons, The X-Files' (US 1993-2002) core writing team remained remarkably stable; creator Chris Carter with Vince Gilligan and Frank Spotnitz account for the majority of the scripts. The few 'guest' writers often attracted attention simply because their venture into television writing was a departure from their usual fields (e.g. Stephen King, David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson). This was the case with the two episodes written by William Gibson (with Tom Maddox), although these certainly merit attention in their own right.1 Gibson described his episode 'Kill Switch' (15 February 1998) as 'probably the first ... cyberpunk X-Files' (Green interview) and, with 'First-Person Shooter' (27 February 2000), he continued that use of cyberpunk tropes and themes within the television series' established narrative space. These episodes could be dismissed as playful incursions into the X-Files storylines, 'monster of the week' episodes that simply slot into the episode sequence of the respective seasons, and are as easily removed. However, far from being isolated segments that have little to do with the television series as a whole, these two 'cyberpunk X-Files' resonate with the show's themes and preoccupations.

Amongst the general media interest in advance of the first broadcast of 'Kill Switch' Gibson gave one interview that signalled his intentions and gave a helpful gloss on key elements of both his X-Files episodes. Gibson noted that he includes 'pokes and prods at ... academic cyberculture' and that he takes inspiration from the 'dark visions of ... [David] Cronenberg'; he also noted the inclusion of 'Phil Dickian is-it-real? stuff' (Silberman interview). Thus, Gibson points beyond his script to the variety of influences on cyberpunk fiction from inside and outside sf, and to the extensive critical and theoretical debate around both cyberpunk fiction and real-world developments in digital futures and information technology. The reference to Cronenberg, for example, encompasses works that predate 'classic' cyberpunk's emergence in the mid-1980s, such as Videodrome (Canada 1983) and those which draw upon it, such as the videogame-based eXistenZ (Canada/UK 1999).

Gibson's work is well established as a key influence in the development of cyberpunk fiction as a distinctive sf subgenre, but in his X-Files episodes Gibson draws on themes and tropes from cyberpunk fiction as a whole, including elements from his own work and that of other writers such as Bruce Sterling and Pat Cadigan. Cyberpunk fiction shares with other sf themes such as the breakdown of boundaries between the organic and the technological, though what distinguishes cyberpunk is its focus on technology that is embedded in the human body and on virtuality as a distinct space. In addition to themes of ubiquitous technology (whether as information networks or cyborg prosthetics), cyberpunk fiction also features the breakdown of society and dominance by multinational corporations in place of elected governments; its antiheroes are the outsider hackers (or 'punks') who have the ability to manipulate technology, and a feature of the subgenre is the clash of street life with 'high tech' (Sterling ix). With his nod to 'academic cyberculture' Gibson also points to such debates as theories of the post-human (some of which posit a future in which humanity evolves into a state of pure information), the place of gender in a technologically augmented or potentially disembodied future and the corresponding examination of cyborg embodiment and virtual reality. While it is impossible to summarise so many contesting and intersecting theories, the debates that are most relevant here are those relating to gender (including cyborg embodiment) and virtuality (including the post-human).

Anxiety about the body in virtuality is an enduring trope of cyberpunk fiction which can be seen, for example, in Gibson's own work when his hacker character Case views his body as 'the prison of his own flesh' (Neuromancer 12), but the experiences of negotiating virtual worlds are also central themes and the lack of distinction between the material and the virtual is often emphasised. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.