William Gibson’s “Burning Chrome” (1982)
Before getting into this pseudo-love story, let’s consider the time period and some of the themes in the text. An anthology with this short story claims, “Gibson’s language conveys a melancholy nostalgia for lost affections at the same moment it expresses awe at technological transformations of the human condition” (Evans et. al., p. 548). As you read, pay attention to what seems to be lost by considering what the characters might lament not having or what they long for. Also, think of the role of technology in their lives. Without cyberspace, they wouldn’t have a means of getting income. How might that be interpreted when considering technological literacy and the Labor Market?
By the way, as I mentioned at the bottom of June 2nd’s page regarding how much The Matrix borrows from Gibson’s work, Jack in “Burning Chrome” claims, “The matrix folds itself around me like an origami trick” (p. 200).
Consider the following passages from the text:
- 1980s early amateur IT separation of Hardware vs. Software people: “Bobby’s software and Jack’s hard; Bobby punches console and Jack runs down all the little things that can give you an edge” (p. 181).
- Here’s a link to a website that describes the distinction. Don’t waste time reading the entire page because it’s from 2010 and tries to predict (pretty well actually) the hardware-software markets of the 2010s. The historical point is just the first two paragraphs (and the bullet points in between).
- “[Chrome] was one of the boys…a member in good standing of the local Mob subsidiary” (p. 192).
- Simstim: “simulated stimuli” (p. 195).
- Jack tells himself a lie to try to create a reality: “I tried telling myself that it was a good idea to burn the House of Blue Lights because the place was a creep joint, but I just couldn’t buy it” (p. 198).
- The above quotation relates to what the above anthology editors claim that “Gibson’s influential early cyberpunk style” has characters that “are mildly antiheroic, with technical and street skills to manipulate the corrupt system, but lacking in higher ideals” (Evans et. al., p. 548).
- Jack doesn’t have any moral or ethical qualms with the cyber-brothel. He seems to just not want Rikki to work there.
- As for the name “House of Blue Lights,” I can’t give you a definitive answer. Many of you probably know what a Red Light District is, so, in the world of cyberspace, having virtual prostitutes in a blue light area parallels red lights.
- There is a song “The House of Blue Lights” that was recorded by many artists, and that house is a bar or club, which Gibson’s House of Blue Lights is, too.
By the way, I really wanted this story to be the inspiration for Google Chrome…but it isn’t.
This is a bit more of a “traditional” love story: boy meets girl, boy puts girl on pedestal, boy tries to win her, and boy’s friend tries to win her over, too. Bobby Quine is infatuated with Rikki, but it appears to be a surface infatuation–she’s just the current object of his desire. Jack is much more interested in her and seems to want to protect her. The term paternalism is important here because Jack tries to keep her out of harm’s way, but he does so from a position of benevolent male protector (think knight in shining armor…). Patriarchy and paternalism aren’t synonymous, but they go together: a paternalistic perspective is often from the point of view that an authority has the subordinate’s best interest in mind.
Consider the instances where Bobby and Jack use the ideal of Rikki to justify their actions:
- “Bobby read his future in women; his girls were omens, changes in the weather, and he’d sit all night in the Gentleman Loser, waiting for the season to lay a new face down in front of him like a card” (p. 185).
- “Rikki…something to aim for….a symbol for everything [Bobby] wanted and couldn’t have, everything he’d had and couldn’t keep” (p. 187).
- Jack was annoyed at hearing Bobby go on about Rikki and that he actually believed that he was in love with her (p. 187).
- “[Bobby] just kept telling me he loved her, where they were going to go together, how they’d spend the money” (p. 198).
- Jack sees something in the distance: “I see her far out on the edge of all this sprawl of night and cities, and then she waves good-bye” (p. 204–last line).
- Compare the above to his earlier image of Rikki: “I see her sometimes when I’m trying to sleep, I see her somewhere out on the edge of all this sprawl of cities and smoke, and it’s like she’s a hologram stuck behind my eyes….and I see her wave good-bye” (pp. 185-186).
- Perhaps Rikki is an ideal or illusion that both Jack and Bobby have created or exaggerated.
Why did Gibson make Chrome a woman hooked up with the Mob? Consider these book covers:
If you’re intrigued by these short stories, I (of course) encourage you to read Gibson’s novel Neuromancer. The main character, Case, sees the image of Neuromancer, Linda, and himself. What interpretation can we make about what we project into the world (our realities)?
Illusion of Love
Think about all those love songs and romantic comedies out there. It’s easy to sing about “love” for 3-4 minutes or watch a grotesque love story for 90-120 minutes. Songs, films, TV shows, etc. are just short pieces of relationships that can easily show love exists. However, they usually don’t get into the difficult parts or contradictory issues of love. In fact, love stories are often used as a psychological release and indulgence into a fantasy of a construct–both social and self–that readers or viewers enjoy. If the reader/viewer can’t have ideal love, they can, at least, have the fantasy to get them through.
Philosophy of Illusion
Two things make it difficult to accept (or, at least, consider) the argument I’m making about stories and myths: 1) we don’t want to think we’re being bamboozled, and 2) we don’t often scrutinize our core assumptions–they’re just givens.
The great philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche noted that people live under a “tissue of lies.” Members of a culture have to “buy into” the stories and myths circulating in society just like they buy into the value of currency, which is a representation of value. The texts we’re reading relate to this theme because they have characters entering alternate realities and questioning what’s real and what’s not. Cyberspace isn’t just a technology that acts as a setting for a text; it’s also a metaphor for our being immersed in Information Technologies we use everyday. Do those tools shape our realities?
To continue on the theme of love, what are the “tissues of lies” surrounding Bruce Springsteen’s “The River” (1980)? One stanza is particularly important:
Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true /
Or is it something worse
Whoa! Let’s listen to the song and try to understand it’s meaning and how it can complicate ideal(ized) illusions of love–especially young love.
Finally, in the words of Axl Rose (Guns and Roses “Locomotive”):
You can use your illusion /
Let it take you where it may.
That lyric means create your reality (your personal illusion of it) and go with it. After all, that’s what we do anyway.
Below are links to some interesting texts about 1980s-like virtual worlds.
- Tron (1982) Trailer
- Björk’s “All is Full of Love” (Well, this is contemporary and more about robots)
I hope to have feedback for you on Essay #1 by tomorrow (if not earlier). Your Essay #1 Final is due on Monday, June 8th by 11:00 pm. Don’t forget your Canvas post is due by 11:00 pm tomorrow (6/05).
Our next two shows (6/08 and 6/09) are available on Netflix: Black Mirror‘s “Fifteen Million Merits” (2011) and The Twilight Zone‘s “Eye of the Beholder” (1960). Enjoy!
Evans, Arthur, et. al. The Wesleyan Anthology of Science Fiction. Wesleyan UP, 2010.