Paranoid Machines

Flynn [gesturing at his video game arcade]: The kids are putting eight 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.

– Tron (1982)

In the last scene of the movie Tron, our protagonist, the hacker Flynn, has been reborn as CEO of the mighty ENCOM corporation. He climbs out of his black helicopter onto the roof of his skyscraper headquarters, and there are his friends — his ex-girlfriend, who’s avatar he just smooched on, and her new boyfriend. All dressed in their early 80s disco best, about to head down to the executive suite for who knows what terrible coke-fueled entertainments.

Flynn rushes towards them, arms and suit-lapels outstretched, shouting a cryptic phrase: “Greetings, Programs!” This makes no diegetic sense. Flynn would have had to explain everything that happened to him — got digitized, played death frisbee, got squirted back out by the AI that controls the world, and so that’s why I now say ‘greetings programs’ and am your boss.

Another explanation is that Tron is an old Disney movie that focused more on groundbreaking CGI technology than plot and continuity. But no, that’s not it either.

What’s really going on is that final shouted “Greetings, Programs!” isn’t supposed to make sense within the narrative frame of the film. It’s directed at us in the audience. Because Tron is in fact an allegorical text depicting the rupture of digital technology into the physical world, where it now dominates us.

Hi. I’m Jason Brown. For the last twenty years or so, I’ve been trying to understand the paranoid nature of memory technology, using the 1982 movie Tron as a mythopoetic scaffold for a series of lectures, performances, and essays to explain everything. It hasn’t worked.