Internet Offers Twist on Fictional Motif of Disguise

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Scroll down to read excerpts from William Gibson's Pattern Recognition and Shakespeare's Twelfth Night.

'Me and You and Everyone We Know' i i

In Me and You and Everyone We Know, the online world is a place where people can explore new parts of themselves. IFC Films hide caption

itoggle caption IFC Films
'Me and You and Everyone We Know'

In Me and You and Everyone We Know, the online world is a place where people can explore new parts of themselves.

IFC Films

Despite an atmosphere of increased security and monitoring technology, it's never been easier to assume another identity — at least, for a little while. Filmmakers and writers are finding fodder in the modern ability to easily diguise oneself online.

Pretending to be someone you're not is a time-tested plot device — Shakespeare certainly knew it — and several films in the past few years have featured chat rooms as crucial plot elements. One of the offbeat relationships in 2005's Me and You and Everyone We Know begins when a 14-year-old boy and and his 7-year-old brother start up a conversation online.

The younger brother eventually develops a virtual relationship with the adult on the other side of that chat — one that might be considered inappropriate, yet turns out to be sweetly revealing about both people.

Cultural critic Annalee Newitz believes chat rooms and other forms of faceless communication tap into an American tradition: The belief that it is possible to move to a place where no one knows you, and start all over.

Newitz says it's a literary tradition that goes back to Ben Franklin's autobiography: "[Franklin] is famous for having shown up with [almost nothing] in his pocket in Philadelphia and [going] from there to being one of the most influential figures of his time. So I think that's part of our myth ... that we should be able to pass through a phase of anonymity and into a new selfhood."

However, the idea of becoming someone else and starting over goes back even further than Ben Franklin in Western literature. Shakespeare's women often cross dressed as men, and sometimes noblemen became servants.

Other recent films, such as The Dying Gaul, Closer and Hard Candy also have dark twists on Internet communication.

William Gibson, author of the best-selling novel Neuromancer, has little doubt that this new form of social interaction is going to be the source of inspiration for all kinds of dramas — real and imagined.

"I do think that this has changed our lives in some profound way," he says. "But part of our job as artists is ... to guess how we've been changed, because I don't believe we can directly know, once it's happened to us."

Excerpt: 'Pattern Recognition'

Cover

In this 2003 novel by the author of Neuromancer, the main character lives a disconnected existence as she travels around the world. However, she finds company in an online group that is as obsessed as she is with some mysterious online film images.

She unzips the cigarette pocket on the Rickson's sleeve and looks at Baranov's card.

stellanor@armaz.ru. Looking faded in this light, as though Baranov had written it years ago.

She puts it carefully away again, zips up the little pocket. Opens her bag and removes the iBook and phone.

Hotmail. Timing out. Empty.

She opens a blank message, outgoing.

My name is Cayce Pollard. I'm sitting on the grass in a park in London. It's sunny and warm. I'm 32 years old. My father disappeared on September 11, 2001, in New York, but we haven't been able to prove he was killed in the attack. I began to follow the footage you've been

That "you" stops her. Pecks at the delete key, losing the "you've been."

Katherine McNally had had Cayce compose letters, letters which would never, it was understood, be sent, and which in some cases couldn't be, the addressee being dead.

Someone showed me one segment and I looked for more. I found a site where people discussed it, and I began to post there, asking questions. I can't tell you

This time, it doesn't stop her.

why, but it became very important to me, to all of us there. Parkaboy and Ivy and Maurice and Filmy, all the others too. We went there whenever we could, to be with other people who understood. We looked for more footage. Some people stayed out surfing, weeks at a time, never posting until someone discovered a new segment.

All through that winter, the mildest she'd known in Manhattan, though in memory the darkest, she'd gone to F:F:F — to give herself to the dream.

We don't know what you're doing, or why. Parkaboy thinks you're dreaming. Dreaming for us. Sometimes he sounds as though he thinks you're dreaming us. He has this whole edged-out participation mystique: how we have to allow ourselves so far into the investigation of whatever this is, whatever you're doing, that we become part of it. Hack into the system. Merge with it, deep enough that it, not you, begins to talk to us. He says it's like Coleridge, and De Quincey. He says it's shamanic. That we may all seem to just be sitting there, staring at the screen, but really, some of us anyway, we're adventurers. We're out there, seeking, taking risks. In hope, he says, of bringing back wonders. Trouble is, lately, I've been living that.

She looks up, everything made pale and washed-out by the light. She's forgotten to bring her sunglasses again.

I've been out there, out here, seeking. Taking risks. Not sure exactly why. Scared. Turns out there are some very not-nice people, out here. Though I guess that was never news.

Excerpt: 'Twelfth Night'

Act I, Scene II

Correction Aug. 7, 2006

The line of dialogue cited from 'Twelfth Night' in this story is spoken by the character Viola, not Olivia.

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