The Degradation Ceremony

Lyla Fujiwara '10, English 65, The Cyborg Self, Brown University (Fall 2006)

In Gibson's dystopia, the human "meat puppet", as Case so eloquently described the body in Neuromancer, is infinitely malleable for anyone with a large enough pocketbook. Society has progressed so far that the realm of fashion extends into altering the entirety of one's body. During Mona Lisa Overdrive one of the main characters, Mona, awakes to find herself transformed:

Opened her eyes but there was only the ceiling, white squares of acoustic tile. Turned her head to the left. White plastic wall with one of those fake windows, hi-rez animation of a beach with palm trees and waves; watch the water long enough and you'd see the same waves rolling in, looped forever. Except the thing was broken or worn out, a kind of hesitation in the waves, and the red of the sunset pulsed like a bad fluorescent tube. Try right. Turning again, feeling the sweaty paper cover on the hard foam pillow against her neckÉ

And the face with bruised eyes looking at her from the other bed, nose braces with clear plastic and micropore tape, some kind of brown jelly stuff smeared back across the cheekbones . . .

Angie. It was Angie's face, framed by the reflected sunset stutter of the defective window. [Gibson, 143]

One of the most disturbing facts about Mona's surgery is that it was not elective. Her change is akin to a degradation ceremony. "Degradation Ceremony" is a sociological term describing the process of stripping individual's identity so that it may be replaced by one suitable for a new environment, such as prison. For example, one's head is shaved and clothes are replaced so that they may shed their old identities and assume the identity of "prisoner". The mere existence of this term attest to the fact that the body accounts for something. Gibson reflects on what exactly the body does account for when Mona takes a moment to ponder how her alterations have effected her sense of identity:

She looked in the mirror. Gerald said he could put it back the way it was someday, if she wanted him to, but then she wondered how he'd remember what she'd looked like. Maybe he'd taken a picture or something. Now that she thought about it, maybe there wasn't anybody who'd remember how she'd looked before. She guessed Michael's stim deck was probably the closest bet, but she didn't know his address or even his last name. It gave her a funny feeling, like who she'd been had wandered away down the street for a minute and never come back. But the she closed her eyes and knew she was Mona, always had been, and that nothing much has changed, anyway not behind her eyelids. [Gibson, 144]


1. In Neuromancer we are exposed to Case's mentality that the body is a nuisance. Yet in Count Zero, Herr Virek spends billions on a quest to gain a functioning body. All three books take place in a world that seems saturated with a disgusting level of narcissism in which building "up the nipples with vat-grown erectile tissue" (143) is completely acceptable. What do you think is Gibson's ultimate theory about the importance of the human body?

2. What are the differences in Gibson's sentence structure and tone from when Mona first wakes up in comparison to her later speculations? What is the purpose of these differences?

3. How does the malfunctioning animation of the beach relate to Mona's recent surgery?

4. Do you find that in Gibson's novels women seem to be more obsessed with extreme fashion than men? Is Gibson being sexist?

5. Gibson's mainstream society finds the appearance of infinite importance yet at the same time technological advances make it seem that the value of beauty is cheapened. In other words what is the point of looking like Tally Isham if everyone with enough money can duplicate that?


Gibson, William Neuromancer. New York: Ace Books, 1984.

Gibson, William. Mona Lisa Overdrive. New York: Ace Books, 1988.

Gibson, William Count Zero. New York: Ace Books, 1986.

Cyberspace OV Cyborg  Mona 
Lisa Overdrive

Last modified 4 October 2006