As technologies advance in the worlds of cyberpunk science fiction authors, it becomes increasingly possible to replace the human body and mind with improved versions thereof. Yet this progress in science is not cheap; the often prohibitive cost of physical augmentation or replacement ensures that only the wealthy corporations are able to wield this technology, and an economy of privilege gives rise to the old idea of slavery. A concept once defeated by the ideals of the nineteenth-century world revives in a twisted and greedy reversal of the prospect of restoring life.

Although the abuses of this technological slavery do not equal those of the plantation workers of America's past, those with this power are still not afraid to wield it at will. They use the power to reverse the natural order to take away people's will, even beyond death. Even though Turner's body was almost entirely obliterated by an explosion in New Delhi in Gibson's Count Zero, a great deal of wealth, Dutch expertise, and science restored his self to a new, functioning body only to be forced into a job. He may have his physical capability back, but he owes those who restored him, and has little choice but to comply with his given task. Similarly, the warriors of Section 9 in the movie Ghost in the Shell are tools for political purposes. Their bodies are given to them by their employers, and they must work for Section 9 while they exist as they are, under contract. They are not given to the freedom to just retire; if Kusanagi or Bateau decided to stop working, they would have to hand over their bodies first. Their physical selves are slaves to the chief; the persons Kusanagi or Bateau are no longer owners of their own selves, insomuch as they no longer identify with their own bodies. At this point, bodies become merchandise, a commodity to be traded, owned, and rented, and the physical being is subject to the legal owner.

As the influence of technology, media and culture, and wealthy corporations become more potent, the revival of slavery goes beyond that of physical ownership and into mental capture. The technology of television, for example, becomes capable of enrapturing any human with specific, subliminal symbols in the Max Headroom episode "Whacketts," wherein the most boring game show ever becomes the most popular thing on TV thanks to its narcotic effects. In the future world depicted in another TV series, R.O.D The TV, wealthy corporations utilize advanced machinery to force a famous author into writing a great book. Both the movie Bladerunner and the series R.O.D. similarly involve a slavery to the hi-tech implantation of memories. Both the wealth Dokusensha corporation and the secret British Library are capable of forging a phony relationship and past by implanting memories into the three Paper Sisters in R.O.D, while the replicant Rachel is slave to Tyrell's influences through the implanted past in her own mind. In R.O.D., the British Library is able to influence the Paper Sisters into doing its dirty work with these memories, proving the potency of technologically placed memories in the minds of the masterful. In the end, nobody knows who is working for whom, and those with the wealth are able to afford the fantasies of the future upon which so many rely.

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Course Website cyborg Body & Self Literature

Last modified 19 April 2005