Simulacra and Sense/Net: Media Terrorism in Neuromancer

Marcello Sachs '10, English 65, The Cyborg Self, Brown University (Fall 2006)

In his essay "The Precession of Simulacra," Jean Baudrillard challenges the reader to try to simulate a bank robbery in order to demonstrate his point that simulations are no longer mere imitations of the real, but the very essence of reality itself. In his own words:

Organize a fake holdup. Verify that your weapons are harmless, and take the most trustworthy hostage, so that no human life will be in danger (or one lapses into the criminal.) Demand a ransom, and make it so that the operation creates as much commotion as possible — in short, remain close to the "truth," in order to test the reaction of the apparatus to a perfect simulacrum. You won't be able to do it: the network of artificial signs will become inextricably mixed up with real elements (a policeman really will fire on sight; a client of the bank will faint and die of a heart attack; one will actually pay you the phony ransom). [p. 20]

In William Gibson's Neuromancer a terrorist sect called The Panther Moderns takes advantage of the fuzzy boundary between the simulacra and the real to create chaos at the Sense/Net Corporation:

Nine Moderns, scattered along two hundred miles of the Sprawl, had simultaneously dialed MAX EMERG from pay phones….Nine different police departments and public security agencies were absorbing the information that an obscure subsect of militant Christian fundamentalists had just taken credit for having introduced clinical levels of an outlawed psychoactive agent known as Blue Nine into the ventilation system of the Sense/Net Pyramid. Blue Nine…had been shown to produce acute paranoia and homicidal psychosis in eight-five percent of experimental subjects.

The Moderns also show video footage inside Sense/Net that triggers seizures in a certain percentage of employees and introduces images of contamination while playing the audio of a news segment dealing with a dangerous human growth hormone. By creating panic among the Sense/Net employees, The Panther Moderns simulate the effects of introducing Blue Nine into the ventilation system to the security forces; at the same time, the presence of the security forces reaffirms the employees' belief that there are biological agents in the ventilation system. And it only required nine phone calls and five minutes of video feed.

Questions

What are the similarities and differences between Baudrillard's simulated bank robbery and the attack on Sense/Net in Neuromancer?

What other situations in Neuromancer create a situation in which the characters fail to distinguish reality from simulation?

Are the Panther Moderns' guilty of terrorism or are the employees and security forces to blame? Could the attack have been prevented?

Does the growth and increased portability of networked information technology increase the risk of media terrorism?

When the media reports terrorist actions, does it become a tool of the terrorists? Or conversely, do the terrorists become a tool of the media?

Sources

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

Baudrillard, Jean. "The Precession of Simulacra" in Simulacra and Simulations tr. Sheila Faria Glaser. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1994.


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Last modified 17 September 2006