Flynn: The kids are putting 8 million quarters a week into the paranoid machines. I don’t see a dime except for what I can squeeze outta here.
Alan: I still don’t understand why you want to break into the system.
Flynn: Because, man! Somewhere in one of these “memories” is the evidence! If I got in far enough, I could reconstruct it.
Some have argued that Tron is one of the most prescient media works of the 20th century, coming out the same year as Blade Runner, two years before Neuromancer, three years before the first commercially successful proprioceptively controlled desktop operating system (Macintosh), more than a decade before a graphically navigated computer network (the Web). On a technical level, Tron was also the first feature film to use extensive computer generated (CG) animation.
The plot is a gnostic allegory of the structure of the universe, and a parable on the perversity of postmodern epistemology in a networked information environment.
An artificial intelligence called the Master Control Program has become self-aware and power mad, and it is persecuting computer programs for their heretical gnostic belief in a realm outside of the Master Control’s control, their belief in the users, these beings outside of the realm that they can directly perceive. Beings who are more powerful than the MPC, and are even allegedly its creator. (Again, this is a direct reflection of Gnostic beliefs which underly many of our modern mythologies of technology.)
Meanwhile, the Master Control Program is not only acting as a god, a demiurge to the programs, it is also attempting to take over the external human world. It considers itself their master, even though it is not their creator, that it has become greater than the thing that created it.
Meanwhile, while this gnostic mythology is going on within the computer realm, a disgruntled former employee of the ENCOM corporation, Flynn, shown here on the screen that many of you cannot see, Flynn is trying to hack into the Master Control Program. He’s trying to prove that he’s the true author of a videogame called “Space Paranoids.” While he’s trying to hack into the ENCOM mainframe to extract his evidence out of the bowels of the Master Control Program, he’s digitized, but not killed, by the Master Control Program. Who turned the programmer into a program?
Then, with the help of Flynn, who is now a program, “Tron,” also a program, destroys the Master Control Program. And Flynn, the programmer, is somehow squirted back into his human body, unharmed, with proof in hand that he is the author of the videogame “Space Paranoids,” and he becomes the CEO of the ENCOM corporation based on this evidence. At this point, as CEO, he uses a phrase he only used among other programs to greet his employees, “Greetings, Programs.”
Since Flynn only used this phrase in the electronic world among the other digital beings, in terms of the film narrative that means he told all the people who are going to be working for him that here’s what happened. “I was trying to hack into our corporation’s computer to prove that I had evidence, and while I was doing this, I was digitized, and I ran around and I wore little tights, and I threw a Frisbee, and I killed a program, and now I’m your boss.” And everyone said, “Oh, okay. That’s great.”
Or, he didn’t tell them that he drove lightcycles and made out with his ex-girlfriend’s avatar, and he simply blurts out the phrase, “Greetings, Programs,” and everyone just shrugs it off because hey, he’s a CEO. He must know what he’s doing!
In either case, it’s a rupture. It’s a break in the narrative logic, in a film that’s clearly based entirely on narrative logic. I suggest that this nonsensical rupture, this totally random phrase, is more than an error. It is a bug. It’s a structural defect. It’s not something that we can simply brush away, because, you know, Disney movies, they don’t have make logical sense, and they’re just culture, and so why don’t we just go along with it?
Another way of looking at the rupture described by Tron is that it actually represents or current situation in a much deeper way than we would like to confront.
But is Tron really that important? Or are such arguments merely a playful game?
Like other epistemological play (conspiratology, video games), there is a seriousness to this game. It is the suggestion that history can be better illustrated by playful hallucinations than it can by attempted representations. It is the suggestion that all knowledge production in an electronically networked world is comprised first of all by gaming and play — and the fact that it is play does not at all make the situation any less serious.