Thursday, April 23, 2009

Nearly Roadkill

Sullivan, C., & Bornstein, K. (1996). Nearly roadkill : an Infobahn erotic adventure. New York NY: High Risk Books.

On the surface, a reader might assume that this novel is nothing more than futuristic, dystopian, utopian love story from the mid 1990s. The novel is set during the time when the government, in conjunction with monolithic marketing concerns, is requiring national registration for all internet users, and building the tools to track registration evaders.

The two main characters are gender non-conformists intoxicated with the internet’s facilitation of virtual interactions for marginalized identity and special interest groups, who become 'nearly roadkill' on the information superhighway by being caught between government policies and identity/special interest politics. The book is written entirely in chat transcripts, email logs, and electronic clippings. By mimicking the fragmentation of textuality and intertextuality of cyberspace, with multiple narrators and many different forms of electronic ephemera constructing the narrative, a relatively simple story is enveloped in the folds of a virtual world. Central to the novel is the social construction of gender, the tension between regulation and innovation, and the tension between normativity and otherness, largely focusing on gender performance in the online world.

Despite being fictitious, and focusing on the tensions surrounding marginalized groups, the novel also portrays the controversies and discussions surrounding the historical moment that internet usage became widespread in the US. These discussions include themes such as marketing, electronic surveillance, privacy, control, gender, online personas, online representations of identity, counter-culture, sexuality, sexual harassment, sexual liberation, public discourse, and religion.

However, the authors also astutely demonstrate the that internet provided access to social support and community building for certain marginalized groups that was previously unavailable. On the other hand, the representation suffers from the invisibility of race and class endemic to the mainstream discourses at the time, portraying the US of the future as largely white, largely unconcerned with race, with users limited in access to the internet only by their lack of interest. These themes have remained relatively constant in discussions of the tensions between the physical and the virtual worlds and successfully carry the novel over into the 21st century.

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