The Street Finds Its Own Ass With Both Hands
New York Review of Science-Fiction, October 1997
|The idea for this piece came while I was in a theatre, watching Batman and Robin. I wrote it on my Pilot, in my seat. I love ranting.|
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Egyptian peasantry steal the embalmers' secrets and use them to make wicked-spicy tomato preserves. Tommy Edison makes a system for broadcasting operas into the homes of the masses, and a smart libertine fresh off the boat from the Paris Commune sets up a sex line ten minutes later. Some smart bathhouse guy figures out that his aging father's heart medication makes an excellent recreational drug and poppers are born. A highpowered GOP think-tank conceives of a network for exchanging information after a nuclear holocaust, and some Bachelor of Commerce first-year sneaks into the lab and invents MAKE MONEY FAST.
Haitian voodoo houngans unleash AIs on the Matrix wearing Loa(tm) avatars. Basement hackers invent self-modifying robots that end up taking over the moon, out-breeding wet-DNA life and getting high on random numbers. Jackleg meteorologists jury-rig tornado-chasing gear and hunt the Big One. Cyborg dolphins bred to deliver bombs end up heroin addicts on display in the nitty-grit.
Jeff Goldblum shuts down an alien WAN with his PowerBook. Alicia Silverstone repositions several satellites with a couple of lines of HTML (including a blink tag) and thaws Gotham. Sailor Moon sends bulk email to the Sailor Scouts through her private MAJORDOMO. High-tech terrorists send ransom notes to Tom Cruise via videomail. Ensign Crusher destroys the dingo nanites by beating them repeatedly at tic-tac-toe.
The street finds its own use for things. Pop culture grabs the ass of every perky little meme that saunters by, leaving grubby fingerprints on the corporate world's white cotton panties.
I just did a panel at an sf con called "Cyberpunk, is it dead or what?" We bemoaned and decried the proliferation of deus-ex-machina Loas wandering through low-budg adaptations of Shatner novels. We tsked at packager warporn novels where dirty gun-toting commies have been replaced by dirty suit-wearing anti-hackers. We pissed and moaned over the Pepsi ads where the slacker boys crawl into their Netscape window and guzzle battery-acid cola.
What the fuck did we expect? The street finds its own use for things. Duh. Ad guys and novel packagers and sleazeball video producers are as far removed from the Unix weiners who invented the 'Net as the rest of us. Relative to the postmodern streetgangs and teeny-bopper trendies, they're about as alien as a bunch of middle-class sci-fi writers.
In short, they're at the same remove from Haitian voodoo priests as Gibson.
When appropriationists sloganeer with "The street finds its own use for things," and "Information wants to be free," it's just smart-guy code for "We're gonna rip off your memes and tough shit," and "Geeks are cheap, and Photoshop is expensive."
I've got an action-figure. It's Jeff Goldblum (but more ripped than Jeff's ever been), with a head-mounted display helmet, a laptop on an articulated arm attached to his shoulder-harness, and an inexplicable bazooka. Surprise!