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MCI's Anthem (1997) - Freedom from the Marked Body

by Jason Lipshin

Although there are many cinematic and televisual representations which depict the virtual dematerialization of the body as an ecstatic event (see Tron and Johnny Mnemonic for prime examples), perhaps none is as insidious as this 1997 commercial from MCI. Conflating empowerment in public space with the erasure of any vestiges of marked physical difference, it adds a sense of ethical urgency to N. Katherine Hayles’ contention that we not forget the body in our lust for posthuman virtual freedom.


The convoluted politics of this idea of erasure as empowerment are summed up by the commercial’s repeated refrain concerning the status of democracy on the Internet: “There is no race. There are no genders. There is no age. There are no infirmities.” Although such discourse might lead one to initially label this commercial as espousing the typical post-civil rights discourse of color and gender-blindness, as Wendy Chun notes in her book Control and Freedom, the commercial, in its own roundabout way, actually acknowledges that social inequity still exists. By presenting this refrain as speech spoken by a series of interchangeable, yet smiling others, the commercial acknowledges social inequities in the “real world” while positing the Internet as a space that somehow operates under a more democratic logic. (Although, of course, the pretensions toward self-representation in this commercial involve a curious act of ventriloquism in which “pseudo-subalterns speak corporate truths” (130).) Such an acknowledgement allows MCI to position itself and its supposedly color and gender-blind technology as the blanket solution to that injustice.  Thus, the message of the commercial becomes not just “do not discrimate,” but “get online if you don’t want to be discriminated against” (129). Such a Cartesian logic valorizes virtual disembodiment as a kind of passing and displaces blame onto the othered subject, “positing discrimination as a problem that the discriminated must solve” (129). 

Works Cited

Chun, Wendy Hui Kyong. Control and Freedom: Power and Paranoia in the Age of Fiber Optics. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2006. Print. 

Hayles, N. Katherine. How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999. Print.

MCI's Anthem (1997) - Freedom from the Marked Body

This commercial from MCI posits the Internet as a utopian public space in which inequalities like race, class, gender, age, and disability disappear.

from Anthem (1997)
Creator: MCI
Distributor: Youtube
Posted by Jason Lipshin