TRON CULTURE: TRONSANITY OR TRONTASTIC?
Rant by Bob Plissken
I have been observing this new "Tron Culture" for some time, it seems to have begun just prior to the opening of the film TRON LEGACY, and got bigger and bigger immediately afterward, all being inspired by its release. Only a few years before TRON LEGACY, there wasn't much to talk about with TRON, there was Jay Maynard, the "Tron Guy" I first discovered on internet forums. I don't think anybody knew his name at that point, and while on one hand he became kind of a joke, he managed to channel that to his own advantage, and why not? He did, however, help to bring "TRON" back into public consciousness, even appearing on the David Letterman show.
JUST A FAD?
Since TRON LEGACY's release, I have been watching with total fascination this explosion of 'Tron Culture' which seems to reach beyond simple costuming or 'cos-play,' and banal merchandising. People aren't just making their own Tron costumes, like Jay Maynard, they're not just creating their own "Tronified" online avatars and likenesses, they're not just showing up at conventions like Star Trek and Star Wars fans dressed as characters from TRON, they're creating their own personalized "Tron Gear." They're identifying with something that goes beyond wearing a uniform, or dressing up like their favorite alien race, there's a kind of "zeitgeist" to it for lack of a better word. Perhaps it is because of the electronic music in TRON LEGACY, that it seems to be a kind of 'Raver' revival, or remake. The thing is, it doesn't stop with people and their "Grid" alter-ego costumes and designs, and though there is plenty of "TRON" merchandise being bought and sold, people are manufacturing with precision and skill, their own "Tronified" devices, their own "Tronified" EVERYTHING. From TRON DOG to TRON CAT to almost anything imaginable, TRON is infecting everything like a virus, and it isn't some 'viral campaign' it just seems to be some sort of fashion statement, some sort of trend that I don't think is necessarily going to go the way of the bell-bottom yet. Sure the 'hipster' out there will be upset at what appears to be 'mainstream rave culture' or that the mainstream has discovered what they think ravers discovered back in the 90s, but hipsters are a sordid lot who will soon enough be extinct, as their own psychosis forces them into their own self-loathing oblivion.
Somehow, people have found it amusing to Tronify everything they can think of, whether just to see what it would look like, or whether it truly means something to the individual, whatever it may be, this strange 'Tron Culture' is entertaining to watch, and interesting to behold. I seem to laugh at these things, at the same time I am amazed and admire them. There is a kind of strange dual reaction, it is completely zany, and yet astoundingly creative at the same time. Sure there's the usual merchandise, Tron watches, pens, underwear, posters and videogames, but people are out there making Tron motorcycle helmets, hell even Tron motorcycles? And somehow it isn't creepy, like if you were to see someone create a Star Trek motorcycle, what the hell would that be? A Star Trek motorcycle helmet? Nope. Why is a Tron desktop computer mouse more fascinating than say, a Star Wars one? Perhaps it is all perception...but perhaps not...
It has been what, two years now since LEGACY came out? People are still having Tron parties, and the idea still seems fun enough, but if one of your friends said they were having a Star Wars party? Seriously, would that seem like the lamest thing in the world? But a glow-in-the-dark Tron party, with Tron Drinks, and all kinds of people with glow-light accoutrements? Why does that still sound like fun? Perhaps it is the psychedelic aspect of the ultraviolet lights, and electronic music, perhaps it is because it resonates with people due to our steeped interaction with technology itself in the real world. Face it, we're never really going to live in a world like TRON, it would be just too damn expensive to make everything look like that, but somehow by dressing up like a David Bowie freak, with glowing stripes, we're getting it out of our system. Can you imagine how scary it would be to really live in a TRON world? It almost appears like some transhumanist celebration, but in a way its the total opposite of it. People dressing like "programs" or even momentarily imagining the world around them is a giant inhuman Grid, glowing with electricity, it just makes people want to party and feel 'free.' Does Star Wars do that? Star Trek? Harry Potter? Lord of the Rings? Vampire Flicks? Sure people still like those other movies, but this TRON thing, well, now this is different sort of reaction.
I think it is because it isn't just science fiction, it's flashy, sexy and cool, its totally crazy and insane, even the old Tron costumes inspire this sort of aesthetic. It is just so absolutley insane that one is dressed up with all these wires and lights, but what ultimately remains is that these people are not aliens or robots, they're not military uniforms, they're not the garb of renaissance festivals and dungeons and dragons, this is something modern, something akin to glam-rock, something like New Wave strangeness of the 80s, and it doesn't stop with clothing.
There must be hundreds of thousands of TRON remixes on the internet now. Really, that many, I stopped counting after listening to about 200 tracks, and I can't keep up with them. Google Tron Remix, and there is no end to the links. Daft Punk's soundtrack has inspired electronic musicians, DJs, and anyone with software to remix music, to the point that I have seen dozens and dozens of full albums people have mixed, remixed and mashed-up. So many of them are well done, you could play TRON music all night long at your TRON Party. And something like the Tron Party or a Tron Convention will have to be the inevitable result, a full social interaction... Go on Deviantart, and similar sites, and everybody 'getting on their Tron.' Thousands and thousands of
TRON paintings, photoshops, drawings and all sorts of odd and unique Tron-inspired artworks are to be found, many of them self-portraits of people as their "Tron-Self" and thousands of other of their favorite characters in various Tron garb. They're "Tronning" cars, motorcycles, vans, shoes, fingernails, hairdos, dishes, bathrooms, bedrooms, kitchens, garages, fridges, you name it, and half of these people aren't even really SCI-FI fans. The electric blue light of Tron has begun to mesmerize a segment of the population, of not just the United States, but the entire earth. When AVATAR came out people were dressing up like blue aliens, but that didn't last long. Too alien perhaps. Are people still Tronning it On? You bet they are, and as a matter of fact there is so much weird TRONIFIED stuff out there, you might as well just think of something, and it has either been TRONIFIED, or somebody is out there making it happen right now. No such luck with "Star Wars-ification" nor Star Trekification or any other such thing. TRON's got it on. And I can't really explain it. People still dress in their favorite sci-fi movie costumes, for whatever events they are attending, and though similarly, "LARPERS" still dress and carry on their antics, but TRON seems to appeal to almost everyone in some ways. Up for a game of midnight glow-in-the-dark frisbee? Works best when wearing glow-in-the-dark Tron outfits. Also, there's the added benefit of intoxication. TRON UPRISING is still on its way...and perhaps some sort of conclusion with TRON 3.
Understandably, not 'everyone is doing it.' It isn't exactly on every street corner, and ultimately TRON is it's own kind of fandom, however, it could very well be inspiring the kind of phenomenon that raves did in the 90s. It isn't something you do every day, it isn't a religion, it is simply a compliment to culture, and as more and more people join the company of TRON fans everywhere, it has something the other things don't, people can apply it to almost anything and have it come out meaning some very bizarre and interesting things. It is open ended, and now a cultural opportunity like anything else.
What does TRON culture stand for? What do all these people really believe in? What do they hope for, dream of, and what do they really want? That's the thing, they're everybody, and it could be anything, and anyone. Freedom to express yourself in this electronic and digital environment we now live in, one in which you watch people aimlessly walk down the street oblivious to the outside real world, with their eyeballs glued to their iPhones and iPods and iPads, they're off
in some other world, the digitally provided one. Connected to the Web--disconnected to reality. But do some want reality back? People have become 'computerized' and well, "TRON" could be an expression of people freeing themselves from that. In such an environment, they can mimic programs, and laugh at themselves for doing so--realize their humanity. Also--it is something you can do in REAL LIFE. Not simply online. The World of Warcrafters and Online Second-Lifer game players interact in a bizarre seemingly social environment...but not really. Its the old idea of the costume party, and perhaps
that is why costuming is becoming more and more popular--real life social activity, based on the the ages-old masquerade. Online games are a cold sterile masquerade with none of the benefits. Gravitating towards real-world activities again is a good sign for the masses, yes, even those crazy fan-conventions contribute to this. So perhaps it is a bizarre role-reversal reaction to online life... people dressing up as 'programs' and 'computerized alter-egos' IN REAL LIFE, vs. people computerizing themselves online. Even though in the end ALL fashions are costumes, this strangeness has a way of revealing that people are beginning to show tell-tale signs that the computers and computer-life have told them something about themselves. Nothing beats good old
reality, and even if you're masquerading you're getting off your computer and back into the the real world. If you're Tronifying the world you inhabit, perhaps you're trying to tell yourself something... It has a funny irony to it. It is inevitable that people will begin to illustrate what computers are doing to us, and in all the usual ways ordinary human culture affords us. The crazy cybernetic pop-singer Klaus Nomi was truly ahead of his time, and I think TRON shares that wavelength.
You can dress like a Stormtrooper, but the problem is, in reality, the real army is beginning to look like Stormtroopers, there's nothing amusing about that. You can dress like a wizard or a Jedi Knight, but unfortunately, the real wizards of today don't employ such archaic fantastical implements like wands and crystal balls, they employ technology, or they invent it. Zombies, Vampires and aliens monsters may be morbid halloween fun alter-egos, but what of this technological masquerading? These aren't all science-geeks doing this. Ultimately, all THESE things can be TRONIFIED as well, yes, they're already out there, Tron-Vampires, Tron-Zombies, Tron-Vader, etc, etc. Tron is overtaking them all, but what does it mean?
At the center of it all, in so many people's lives now, is the internet, their computer, their cellphone, their iPad, their Kindle, their iPod, their laptops, etc, etc, etc. We're way past 2001, and we're not exploring space, we're exploring CYBERSPACE. The "Digital Frontier" is obviously not a real place, it is a strange kind of mirror, and it almost seems inevitable that we're not going to other planets, we're experimenting with creating fake ones, we're dumping out everything from our subconscious into this weird thing called the Internet, into 'cyberspace' and mulling it over, and over, and over and over. Everyone has a CLU, and he's out there on the Net, dumping out all your dirty secrets, you just can't see that he is, because you created him, and you assume you're in control...
Star Wars is dead ladies and gentlemen. We're not going to space anymore. At least Star Trek still has a resonant subtext even though it is supposed to really be about exploring space, but seriously, Federations and Evil Empires aside, our Evil Empire today is the complicated world of technological fetters, most of them invisible, and connected to you through facebook, and millions of other digital applications which people try to navigate through. A modern Evil Empire is an international corporation, nations, countries, sovereign states all bow to that Empire now. Armies simply do their bidding under banners invented by sly marketing people. 'The internet is where we get our Information' and yet, there's so many pitfalls in using it, and how it is negatively affecting our lives. Many people are wrapped up pretty tightly in their little internet worlds they live in now, and so tightly I'm not sure anybody would know what to do if they wanted to get completely out of them. If the economy crashes, and internet access is stifled, or becomes so tightly locked up so that your computer will ask you for your DNA in order to 'get on the internet' people will still have the 'internet' in their souls. It may be one day that only the privileged will have access, and a few smart hackers, but most will remember the "WEB" and their days spent on it. Humanity has built new circuits in its collective brains because of the internet, people are born to it now, there are people living now with their very own blogs and websites who have never known a day without it. What will happen when its use is so restricted whether it be through government or corporate regulation, or simply because of environmental disasters? Nothing lasts forever.
What seems to me to be happening out there on the Internet, is a menagerie, an open-ended limitless experiment in looking at who and what we are. All of its insanity, horror and beauty is our insanity, horror and beauty. One day, the internet will have an end. It could be that it becomes something else, or our electricity will go out forever, due to disaster, war, or collapse of what we now know as civilization. It will be a strange memory, and what we did with it will be something that vast epic myths will be written about. It cannot last forever, and we cannot go back to who we were before it came to us. It has changed us forever.
People will remember Tron as a fairy tale, and perhaps one day, people will dress up in circuitry body paint, and dance little tribal dances, sing tribal songs about that 'other world' the ancestors used to visit. Star Wars and Star Trek may have had their day I'm afraid, and while they spoke to us in the midst of a Cold War, and what might have been a hopeless future, giving us Utopian visions where we leave the earth en masse in millions of spaceships, however, that seems pretty unlikely now, and the world of TRON, though seemingly silly and over-the-top, is a world people can really understand. It is a world that the MATRIX fails to define in that it only suggests that the world is a virtual one beyond your control, OR that you can somehow manipulate it all yourself, but there is a world beneath the world it ignores. TRON recognizes that we create that world on top of the world, and it hints that the way in which we have built cyberspace, or even the plastic world is a reflection of something, we better look closer at what that reflection is. A world in which right now as I write this, Microsoft is developing almost every kind of tech in those two films, with the exception of giant floating Recognizers. (Oh, you've already seen the motorcycles...) It doesn't mean we're going to be living in TRON, but some of the stuff they're inventing, well, it looks like magic. Holographic pseudoscreens to make plasma screens and LCDs obsolete. You can put your hand through them, and sensors will see where your fingers are around the edges. They will project "virtual objects" like in IRON MAN... and those identity discs will be real. Will everyone have their own identity discs? God I hope not, it isn't something you really want on earth, but what it represents, what it means to us, and in the films, by having them before somebody makes them for real, we're experimenting with what can be done with them in the imagination. Living in a real TRON world, would stifle the imagination, and destroy the senses. Such technological things are all manifestations of ideas, and once the technology is gone, because we simply are going to hit a wall where there just can't be enough plastic to make it all, there isn't enough energy to run it all, there isn't enough money to go around, the Ideas that the technology revealed to us will still be there. We won't forget them, and for all we know all of this has happened before...
Imagine for a moment that all this Tronification is really just a unconscious desire, an intuition if you will, of something deep inside us, and that all these wires and little hand-held gadgets are showing us something... what if we already did live in a TRON world and didn't know it? No. Not like the Matrix, not a 'virtual reality' where all is a digital illusion created by a computer somewhere, and we don't realize we're all connected to a computer. Push your imagination a bit. It is all a kind of mirror, and given enough time, the human race will connect the dots, or in this case, connect the wires, the neurons will make that connection...that we already have computers inside us that can do ALL these things...but we haven't booted them up yet. Or at least, we haven't booted them up with their original operating systems and software. We already do have 'computers,' in each and every one of us. The computer, after all, is simply an exterior model built crudely to mimic the human brain, so then add all of its applications, all of its capabilities, and all of its uses to that. We're finding out just how WE are going to be doing all this--on our own someday...without wires, without cybernetic implants, without microchips, without Microsoft, without Apple, without the technology created by our own hands (which we made from our unconscious anyways.) We are showing ourselves how it works right now. We are discovering the rules. We are playing with the toys before we set off to play with the real thing. As much as those in power would like us all to believe we're nothing but our genetics, our 'programming' or that we are all parts of a machine, pseudocybernetic organisms made of biological predictable programming...controllable mechanisms without any real freedom... just a cocktail of chemicals, neurons and genes which can be completely reigned and steered, what if we're not?
Time to wake up program and realize you're a USER, not a program, and what you are capable of is what you've already got. You got a computer in your skull which is a million times more complicated and more effective than an iPad. You aren't a computer, but you've got one, and the thing is, figuring out that since it is already a part of you, how the hell do you switch it on and put it to some use? Soon enough people are going to figure this out, and those who've implanted themselves with wires and implants will be hard-pressed to function. Like people who start taking dopamine, or dopamine-inducing drugs, eventually after awhile, their own natural dopamine-creating function in the brain decreases, and so much so they will become dependant on the exterior source of dopamine. Hard-wiring ourselves will only serve the same purpose, however, those 'without' who haven't that access to such 'technology' just might develop the technology they were born with, even beyond the capabilities of those created by mankind. When that day dawns, you will be in TRON WORLD, and you will recognize that you're not a program, that you're a User, that the world around you is interactive, in much the same way a virtual reality is interactive with a computer, but there are two worlds there, there is a world on top of the world, overlayed, and that one is made of cement, plastic and metal, while the original one beneath it, well my friends, that's where all the software is, that is compatible with your original OS (operating system). Everything else is just malware...and spyware. It is time to FREE the SYSTEM. The idea of Program-Tron is simple, he is a hidden algorithm inside us which we need to destroy the MCP, the malware which has infected our brains. Thousands of years of programming, corrupting our hard-drives. Time to reintegrate CLU, escape the Grid, and make it back to the real world. In the end the whole adventure will have been worth it, so long as we make it there in one piece.
Get your Tron On.
Long live the Users.