The Accursed Sovereign

Tron: Wikileaks – A Legacy of Fear

Posted in Criticism, Film, The Awesome by bradishn on December 21, 2010

WARNING: SPOILERS!

Around two-thirds of the way through Tron: Legacy, the strangest thing popped into my mind: Wikileaks.  Is it only coincidence that these two should occur within such a close window of time?  Perhaps these are condensation points for views regarding the control of information flows in today’s society.  The Wikileaks incident shows how a lack of control regarding information (arguably) threatens political legitimacy (especially as regards Julian Assange’s work previous to the recently-leaked State Department cables), yet there is a strange democratizing element to it.  By making government transparent, it might be argued that it renders it more logical, and thus more easily understood by average citizens.  Conversely, Tron shows us a world where information is coalesced and controlled by the government, but only individual subversion helps humanity.  Tron‘s depiction of government’s goal, however, is a noble one, and assigns a humility to the Grand Human Project.  There will be no perfect society, regardless of how information is structured.  That these two events crystalize nigh-simultaneously cannot be other than the crystalization of new political battlelines in the age of information politics.  Regardless of the simultaneity of events, I think we can definitely examine the world-views of information politics in very different ways using these two examples. 

What of data’s value?  Tron presents a world made up of data, some of which is critical in cases of life and death.  Data both sustains, as the meal that Flynn and his son enjoy after finally meeting.  Data also kills, a la the data disks that each individual is equipped with in the Tron world. 

 Tron shows us this vital nature of data, but also data that possesses a maleability.  Flynn, as the creator of the Tron world, possesses the ability to hack parts of the world.  He cannot completely unmake or remake it with the limited time he has, but he can work on it and adjust it to his needs.

In contrast, the Wikileaks cables are firm; once released, they are set in stone.  They cannot be altered.  They are as Hannah Arendt’s notion of politics; they cannot be unmade, and what they will do in the world is uncertain.  It is that uncertainty that makes the released cables dangerous; where data in Tron can immediately kill someone, the data released by Wikileaks threatens something unknown.  If Wikileaks is what actually happens, and Tron is what we fear will happen, then we as a society are much more scared than we probably should be.

Wikileaks data might jeapordize particular human lives, but it is not as immediately vital as data in the world of Tron.  But what if we believe that data, information always possesses the same vitality, the same life-or-death determination as in Tron?  Perhaps we as a society have mystified what exactly information is and have invested data with an agency it does not possess. 

Ultimately, we must understand these events as related.  Though the Wikileaks cables show us something about information flows and what kinds of control there are, or could be, on information, Tron: Legacy gives us a glimpse into our own psyche as a culture.  If we are truly as frightened as pop culture makes us out to be, we need to stop letting a politics of fear control us.  The Wikileaks cable release has been described as reckless, dangerous, etc.  Do they really throw into question the legitimacy of the state?  Does a lack of control of information threaten us with some great, unknown catastrophic event?  Or are we unnecessarily scared.

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