Paul McCann '10, English 65, The Cyborg Self, Brown University (Fall 2006)

The world may truly exist only as a physical construct, a great, floating sculpture of unfeeling substance in a colorless void, but its simple inhabitants tend to interpret it otherwise. Thinking of dice as simply random isn't terribly entertaining; conceiving that the vending machine that ate your money isn't consciously malevolent is even more difficult. Furthermore, objects in the physical world possess not just intelligence and personality, but also another set of traits - ownership.

The sidewalk doesn't belong to anyone. Well, the government owns it, but that doesn't work itself into ordinary consciousness if you're just trotting down to the corner store. The sidewalk is a feature of the landscape, like soda machines and large public buildings. But somebody must own them. Everything has an owner.

Except people. Well, they own themselves, which is the same as not being owned at all. Probably. Unless they're slaves. Or artificial.

This is a piece of property.

Wintermute and Neuromancer don't own themselves. In Blade Runner, at the start Rachel thinks herself to be an owner, a creator; that things are exactly otherwise is the fulcrum by which the film lifts the characters out of their world. In Bubblegum Crisis, Sylvie and the other Boomers are all very unambiguously property of GENOM; sometimes there just isn't enough freedom to go around. In Ghost in the Shell, the rogue AI seeks asylum from its owner/creators in a future metropolis city-state. Who owns who and who can be owned become very important questions.

Sometimes, people forget to pick up enough freedom at the corner grocery. Here, Nam reminds her friend Sylvie to get enough for all their buddies.

Because, after all, if you own yourself, there's sure to be someone out there who can pay more than Satan, and you'd be cheating yourself if you didn't look for the highest bidder.


  1. Do people own themselves or does nobody own them? Does it make a difference, or is it just fun with semantics?
  2. Are there certain classes of things which can or cannot be owned? Are there classes of things which should or should not be owned?
  3. What does ownership imply? What are the powers of an owner over his property? Are they absolute?


Bubblegum Crisis OVA series, 1987.

Blade Runner film, 1982.

Ghost in the Shell film, 1995.

Cyberspace OV Cyborg  Mona Lisa Overdrive

Last modified 31 October 2006