Relevancy is not generally a problem for cyberpunk. While some aspects of it have aged and the undergrowth, when picked at, reveals notions rooted in old fears that have bruised ugly. Some of which, fans of the sub-genre tend to frame in static moments with the fugazi moment when it was decreed dead. The more relevant motifs aren’t to be contained, though.
Biopunk, for instance, resuscitates tired tropes in cyberpunk trappings and shows them in a new, more interesting light. Orphan Black ends up being, I’d argue, even more relevant than when it first aired, due to its expressly queer themes, characters, and politics. Right now, we believe human clones aren’t possible…but if they were…who would have the resources to create them, other than corporations?
In Orphan Black there are many, many clones dating back many, many years.
When Sarah witnesses a woman who looks exactly like her jump in front of a train, she assumes the identity of the dead woman. It’s an unconventional biopunk story. One that takes its time grounding itself before introducing the cyberpunk/biopunk tropes.
The megacorporation spying on them all to nefarious ends, seemingly with infinite resources being the biggest. In the shadow of this specter, the lives of Sarah and her clones are relevant because they parallel identity politic conversations today. With growing steam, the debate surrounding them is The issue right now. People are still trying to define what they even are and what the boundaries of the discussion are, compared to how people have thought voted in politics all along.
The clones struggle to survive despite the manipulations of those with more power than them, their bodies commodified in a world that doesn’t believe that their existence is possible. The show is fiercely punk. Each one of the clones’ original DNA is predetermined but their identities vary widely. Some are gay, some bisexual, some explicitly trans. The multitude of possibility is endless as the show progresses and feels subversive, transgressive, and creative. Often times in other visual media clones are depicted as the same people., used as a simulacra. Their likes and interests inextricably intertwined, unable to see where one ends and the other begins. While they tend to think like one another and look like one another. That notion is discarded, replaced with one far more inclusive and representative of intersectional lived experiences people have been voicing for some time.
As it progresses the plot gets a bit convoluted. But it never loses that fundamental aggressive rebelliousness and creativity around the expression of identity. Something the sub-genre has needed in order to feel like it is giving voice to the marginalized people who actually live in the fringes cyberpunk wants to be representative of. There is no sub-culture on display as a form of poverty tourism, for instance. Almost all of the characters are political statements in some way, and they resonate in a time when trans rights and social progress is being rolled back in the U.S.
The clones’ very existence as intersectional and varied identities are an act rebellion in of itself, bucking against many conservative notions around these identities. And this act of dissent is the most important to be facilitated in biopunk, and by extension cyberpunk, yet.