A One Act Play
By G. L. Horton
copyright © 1998
BERNICE WHITING, Vice President of Midlands University
late thirties, very businesslike.
PANACEA F. SOMMERBY, Ph.D. late twenties, eccentrically
Time/Place/Scene: Ms. Whiting's office. She is working
at her computer when Panacea bursts in.
PANACEA (dashes in, hysterical)
What have you done to me?
I beg your pardon?
You should beg my pardon, Ms. Vice President Whiting! How could
Do you have an appointment?
Cutting me off!
I did what?
You didn't even notice? Like a drunk running over a bicycle--
What bicycle is it you're talking about? Downtown? In the parking
Not my Bicycle. It's my life you cut off!
I'm not in a position to cut off anyone's life-
My research! You cut off my voice, my life, my lifeline, the Ariadne
thread I depend on to lead me through my scholarly research!
Don't you even know who I am? After all messages I've left for
you, all the phone calls --
I am very busy.
Busy! Busy! If you won't see me now, after all the --!
Maybe we'd better begin at the beginning. You do have an appointment?
Of course I have an appointment! That's the only way they'd let
me in. Whenever I'd come you were out, or busy, or in conference,
or busy, and you never returned my phone calls. I've waited days
to get to talk to you, days when my life has fallen apart on me
and there's nothing I can do because I don't know why or what
would fix it. Why you couldn't at least give me some information
over the phone -
Is this about your assistantship? With all the funding cuts-
I don't have an assistantship. I'm a postdoctoral fellow. You
haven't a clue, do you? You and your bureaucratic meddling are
destroying the most important intellectual project in the university,
and you don't even register that you're doing it!
If you'll just calm down--
I am calm. Very calm, considering--
--- and explain what it is you've come for.
I've come for some answers. Why have you terminated me? On whose
orders? How do you expect me to do my work, my revolutionary planet-saving
work, without my Internet account?
Ah. Your Internet account. Which was terminated because--?
You tell me. That's what I want to know.
I seem to remember something now-- . You are Miss Sommerby
Doctor. Doctor Panacea F. Sommerby.
Ah, yes. Of course. We were forced to terminate the Sommerby account
because of legal problems. Use of copyrighted material without
What do you mean, use? I simply took a post off one bulletin board
and put it on another, giving the source full credit --
Not being authorized to do so--
Authorized? By whom? I shared news, from a news service, with
people who would have access to it anyway, but probably wouldn't
have stumbled onto it themselves --
It's a matter of copyright--
Says who? If there had been some kind of copyright sign, some
posted warning, then I would have known that I was supposed to
get permission, and I would have done that.
The software includes a warning--
I never saw it!
Ignorance of the law is no excuse . As a scholar, it is your professional
duty to know and to follow professional ethics. If you were enrolled
here as a student, plagiarism would be grounds for expulsion.
A member of the faculty or staff who plagiarized could be fired.
As it is, working as an independent scholar--
I never plagiarize! It's fair use Intellectuals build on each
other's work, that's how we make progress. You couldn't --
-- being neither one of our students or our staff or faculty,
we would not be able to monitor and control your use of the Internet
services, to be sure you were in compliance--
Control! So that's what this is about?
The university must have some way to
Control us. On behalf of your corporate masters!
We could be held legally responsible. Our whole access to information
systems could be withdrawn, because of one person's illegal use--
There's no such thing! Even if they had a copyright warning, which
they absolutely did not, and I went on to deliberately violate
it, which I absolutely did not, the university couldn't be held
responsible. Nor could I. This entire Cyber field is new -- brand
new. There's no cases for precedent. People are going ahead and
assuming that it should work like radio broadcasting, or like
published books, but there's no settled law in this area, and
it may even be that anything that's been once posted on the Net
is forever after in the public domain, an instance of speech like
talking on the street corner, totally free and unprotected as
well as indefensible.
I don't think you can--
I can unless you stop me. Just last week, National Public Radio
was saying that a task force is drafting up some recommendations
for Electronic Copyright laws. Just last week! So they don't exist
yet, so I can't have broken them!
As far as our corporate server is concerned, this is a matter
of contract. I have discussed what would be an appropriate response
to your transgression with the company, and they convinced me
that termination is the right step. If we allow this sort of thing
go on, we are colluding in your theft, and subject to sanctions,
either contractual or by a suit for damages. If the university
wants to keep its own access--
They can't do that! My files aren't on disk, cutting me off without
a download means I lose almost two years of work--
Cybercorp's a private corporation. Of course they can choose what
entities they want to do business with. If they are afraid that
their merchandise will be subject to expropriation, or that your
data is illegally obtained --
Facts aren't property. Ideas aren't merchandise--
Of course they are! The "marketplace of ideas" is the
foundation of our democratic society--
Of your plutocratic society! "Marketplace of Ideas"
is capitalist crap! The "free exchange of ideas" is
the way democrats put it, and the way we practice it, too.
Well, now you'll have to practice some other way, won't you? You've
broken Copyright Cyberlaw and the price of that transgression
is being dropped from your research account. You should have thought
of that before you went ahead--
PANACEA (shows bruised arm)
Went ahead ? As if I deliberately--Wait. I can prove it to you.
You mean somebody beat you? Forced you to--?
I got these bruises when I fell down and hit against the bookcase:
I fainted from the shock of it, do you see? Fainted dead away.
I'd never heard of Cyberlaw! I don't believe that there is such
a thing! This is harassment, an excuse for the patriarchy to kick
me off the net, to keep my revolutionary messages from getting
through to my oppressed sisters.
Well, whether or not you believe in Cyberlaw, CyberCorp believes
in it. As far as CyberCorp is concerned, you're off line, and
But I've arranged my entire life around my research account. Losing
it means losing the intellectual life. I'm struck dumb. Rendered
Come now, Miss Sommerby, let's not dramatize an inconvenience
into a catastrophe. There are other roads leading to the information
highway. If you are reasonable, I'm willing to help you.
(WHITING types in a filename on her computer)
WHITING (checking file)
If you are reasonable. Come around here and look at this.
What is it?
A list of the phone numbers of the local services. Sign up with
one of them and you can be back on-line within a few hours. Maybe
you can even find one that will wink at piracy and electronic
That's the kind of attitude I've come to expect from this corrupt
I beg your pardon?
What are you, getting a kickback?
Young lady, I'd advise you to--
Handing out that kind of information. As if a university employee's
an advertiser, as if you work for the commercial sector rather
than help people in their search for truth--
If this is how you treat people who go out of their way to --
I'm not surprised. Everything at this school has become corrupt.
One long commercial. When I served on the President's Commission
last year, then I was shocked by it. Horrified, even, to hear
the members refer to the students as customers. "Educational
consumers" of the institution's "educational products".
No. I objected to that then, and I object now. Consumerism makes
people passive. Turns judgment into preference. Consumers don't
think. Consumers respond to stimulus. A real education would turn
out anti-consumers. Critical thinkers who'd refuse to serve the
profit motive. That's why the corporate masters told this university
to kick me off the President's Committee, and that's why you were
instructed to pull the plug and silence me now.
Well, I'd say if that's what you believe, it'd be more honest
to pay for your own Internet connection. Why be a dependent of
an institution you despise?
Of course I'd rather be independent--
Look here, then. Take a look at these figures. Not so bad. Basic
service is about $30 dollars a month. You should be able find
that. Fewer meals in restaurants--
How many hours on-line does that include?
But I'm on the Net sixteen hours a day, six days a week!.
America On Line advertizes unlimited--
But you can never get on!
It looks as if you a guarenteed eighty hours that could be anywhere
from $1000 to as little as $120 a month.
$120 a month! Even if I went without eating altogether--
I don't see how you have time to eat anyway. If you work eighty
Who is it you work for? Doesn't your department supply computer
I work for the oppressed, and for this university.
Not according to our records. Not since December of last year.
That was Professor Gelb's project. This project's my own, but
the University will get some of the credit, too.
Well, then. Perhaps your sponsor could put in a good word for
you. Where do you get your funding?
I can't get funding. Society is so screwed up it doesn't even
realize that it is dying for lack of the information theory that
only I am working on.
I need society to take care of me so that I can have time to be
a truth-teller. In return, I'm going to find society a way out
from the dead end it is racing toward at this very minute
How do you live, if you aren't working?
I am working!. There is nothing so important as Pantopia, nothing
that would provide a greater return on the social investment.
But, in a capitalist society, work like mine is not valued. Only
my university research account made it possible.
What about your rent? Your transportation?
If I didn't get an eight hundred dollar check every month from
my father, I would be a homeless woman, living in a cardboard
Eight hundred dollars? Sounds generous to me-
$400 of that goes to pay off student loans. $250 is my rent --
That's a good deal.
I have roommates.
I'm glad to hear that.
As you can see, I've been marginalized. If I had funds, I'd buy
You don't have health coverage?
So I'm living without medical care.
You really shouldn't do that. You need health insurance. The comprehensive
kind, that covers mental--.
I know. I have a panic attack every time I ride my bicycle. If
one of those gas-guzzling idiots hit me --. And I have a lump.
PANACEA(points to heart)
Here. I know I should see a doctor about it. But Ms. Whiting,
I wouln't care, but with the harassment, and the death threats--
My work exposes me. You see, Cyberspace is dominated by capitalist
thugs and female impersonators. I unmask them, all the cultural
misogynists, the ones whose greed is destroying the world. They
begin their counterattack by flaming me, parrying my appeals to
reason and conscience with their vile sexist insults. Then, when
they see that I am undaunted by their verbal attacks, they threaten
I've heard that Cyberspace is like the Wild West---
They say they have guns. Their guns are their fetishes, their
sacred phallic trophies--
They say that?
No-- that's what I say. They know it's true, though. That's why
they say they're going to find me and shoot out my kneecaps.
You definitely need health care.
It costs over $200 a month.
You have no marketable skills? You mean to tell me you were able
to make it through our university's PhD program without so much
as learning how to type? You must have some computer skills. Email,
All right. Maybe I could work at some mindless job, making minimum
wage under some patriarchal boss, forsaking my scholarship and
political activism and creativity--
Few jobs are really mindless. Your boss --
Mine would have to be. If I traffic with the enemy, I can't let
him have my intelligence, or use the skills and knowledge I've
built up. Knowledge is power. I must only use it to destroy this
ugly inhuman system, and to build Pantopia--
I'm trying to help you, Miss Sommerby, but if you insist that
you must destroy--
It's probably difficult for you to realize how hard it is for
someone like me, trying to make a living as a scholar and a prophet.
After all, you, as a top university official, are making more
than $130,000 a year.
Who told you that?
Public institutions are on the public record. Anyone with a computer
and a modem can--
My personal finances are my private affair. We are not here to
discuss my personal finances.
If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem.
I suppose the bosses figure it's worth it to pay you that fat
salary, to turn you against your sisters.
How dare you!
Makes you angry to be shown what you're doing, doesn't it? Angry
enough to prevent the news of that obscene salary of yours from
going out over the Net? If the people knew about the elites their
tax dollars are creating, the research money that is being siphoned
off into administration, the bloat, the perks, the petty tyranny--
I make good money because my time is valuable -- too valuable
for me to sit here listening to the paranoid ravings of an airheaded
parasite. How dare you call me sister?
You must know your bosses pretty well. How they demean and harass
us. You must have had a lot of that, yourself, on the way up.
Now they pay you to forget that. Go along with their robot program,
oppress uppity women like me for them--
Uppity! A trust fund chippy living off her Daddy's sugar tells
me she's uppity! Knowledge is power, she tells me. Well, you listen
to me, girl. Knowledge ain't power --power is power. I got my
little bit of it here, but I got it the hard way. Nobody ever
gave me a damn thing--- let alone a free ride to a Ph.D.. I earned
this position, learning the language, following the rules; and
I'm going to keep those rules in place so that the next lady with
good sense and honest ambition has a shot at climbing up to where
For you to have climbed up, there had to be others kept down.
Class divisions. However we were born, we were lucky enough to
have some choice. I've crossed over to the side of the Have-Nots,
while obviously you've gone in with the Haves. The difference
The difference between us is -- no, I think I'll let you figure
that out for yourself. Now that you won't have the Internet to
play with, you'll have plenty of time. Unfortunately, my time
is quite limited. I have to bring this interview to a close. Will
you see yourself out?
This won't be the end of it. I'll appeal. I'll sue.
WHITING (into phone)
Will you send someone up here from Security, please..
A Capitalist hired thug! I'll leave, you don't have to arrest
me. But nothing can stop Pantopia, Ms. Vice, not in the long run.
There's no power on this greedy earth equal to a pure and selfless
You've got a smart mouth on you. And a cute little made-up system
, full of trendy neologisms. If you were even smarter, you'd understand
that messianic style of yours only works in a cave. Out in the
world, people, even oppressed people, run away from talk like
You think so? I've got followers, you know. Hundreds, maybe thousands.
As you say, I was raised in the sheltered suburbs, so I could
afford to be a pacifist. But some of my followers are off the
street, they' re Pantopeans because they've nothing left to lose.
When they find out what you've done they're going to want to go
into action-- (backs out, still treatening)
WHITING (calls after her)
Sometimes the hidden wisdom of the system just amazes me. To think
that we were allowing you to roam the Internet, trolling for the
lonely, the depressed and the crazed and the vulnerable--- (returns
I really must email CyberCorp. We owe them a vote of thanks.