From Stieg Larsson’s novel The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo to “Occupy Wall Street,” the war between good and evil, resurrected from the dustbin of history, is being fought again. This time the force is with Lisbeth Salander—Larsson’s vatic heroine—and Occupy “squatters” assembling in the streets. Their spirit, a sign of the times, is addictive. Rules and venues in the “thought” revolution have changed, giving advantage to the people. Cyberspace has leveled the playing field. Everyone has a weapon—a computer or camera phone. As Larsson and Occupiers break away from hegemonic thinking via brave new games and slick technology, they become potent moral forces in a twenty-first century ethics battle.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the first novel in Larsson’s trilogy, unravels in a grim montage of grotesque plots, entangling past and present corruption and gross abuses of power in the system. The narrative is disjointed, broken into pieces, then arranged under business model subheadings: “Incentive,” “Consequence Analyses,” “Mergers,” and “Hostile Takeover.” This model is further divided into parts, each part with a statistic: 18% of women in Sweden have been threatened by a man, 46% have been subjected to violence, 13% have been subjected to aggravated sexual assault, and 92% have not reported the most recent assault to police. No great insight is required to connect crimes against women with hegemony.
There’s very little space for conventional values in Larsson’s text. The 40-year-old murder mystery of Harriet Vanger is the axis around which everything turns. Add to this recent events and investigative failures in the life of a mediocre, albeit good-hearted journalist, Mikael Blomkvist, who has been framed by the corporate media while going about righting wrongs. Then blend in the dark humor and darker details from the personal life of 24-year-old Lisbeth Salander, who has been unconscionably abused in the name of the system’s norming and who has cut herself free from all social constraints, and you have Larsson’s recipe for writing the age-old story of good vs. evil—with a difference.
It’s Old Testament “eye for an eye,” even an entire system for an eye, and Salander, the perfect victim turned victimizer, steals the show by taking justice to a new level: vengeance is hers. What so fascinates and disturbs us is the chronicling of history and execution of justice according to an unscrupulous superstar hacker. The effect is sublime, which is why we can’t stop page-turning; it’s as if we’re sitting with the click click click of Salander’s machine and being given instant data gratification and endless insights into an immoral universe by way of her computer, and suddenly we’re left standing on the moral edge with the prospect of plunging into unremitting evil.
To read on is to keep one’s moral balance. Salander’s story is the tale of an individual’s raw freedom to engage amorally with the enemy; it pits the tiniest victim of the system against the system’s giant corporate conglomerates, with a scant chance of her David overcoming the system’s Goliath. The deviant tactics she uses to exact revenge are the very ones she’s learned in the system. It’s hard not to recognize Larsson’s morality play in Occupy protests. They, too, rise again and again, like a phoenix, to resist corporate evil. They’re grass-roots movements spreading organically from coast to coast, individuals striking back by drawing lines in the sand and asking what power they as individuals have to stop abuses in the system. There’s no “face,” no military strategy, no recent legislation, but there is agitation, occupation, and non-violent resistance.
Demonstrators support everything from individual freedom to assemble and speak, to protests against Wall Street greed and banks’ corruption. In some ways, Occupy is about every cause, every systemic abuse and social injustice in this country. But it’s also about educating the public, about documenting what the news fails to report, about circulating pictures of real people being bullied, beaten, and bloodied. It’s about pictures that don’t lie. It’s about ordinary people showing and telling facts the corporate media either omits or distorts. Individuals witness history in the making and hold the line, online. And although they’re pushed back in the streets, they’re not retreating. While their stories are going viral, the Occupy movement is going worldwide.
History, for Larsson, is remembered in “her story.” Tattooed and pierced, Salander, who hates the very labels used to describe her, is portrayed as an angry, morally transgressive, sexually deviant freak. But appearances deceive. Nothing’s lost on her photographic memory; she retains every word she reads and has the ability to see patterns and understand abstract reasoning others cannot comprehend. She uses her Apple PowerBook to surf through people’s cyber-empires. Guided by her mantra, “analysis of consequences,” she resists, subverts, solves delitescent puzzles, and single-handedly confronts the evils of bureaucracies, organized crime, sick and corrupt powerful families, and fundamentalist religion. Cyberspace is where she begins her battles; cyber subversion is her strategy; real time is where she wins her vendetta. Just as cyber memory is forever, Salander’s mind stores everything. Her crime-solving tools are a digital camera and laptop. She tapes her own anal rape in order to bribe, dominate, control and persecute her sexually perverted, court-assigned guardian. She gets into peoples’ heads by hacking personal computers and into their physical space by unlocking security systems. By the end of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, she has us tailing her story via her e-mails, and we’re not far from cybernetics. We’re inside the game.
What ‘her story’ shares with Occupy is the internet. Occupy has no historical precedent. It goes viral. It is the 99%ers. It is those individuals frequently charged with “deviancy” and “civil disobedience” as they resist the yawning gap of inequality and vow to take back their country and their control. It is those who endure being pepper sprayed like cockroaches. It is those who, when taken out, multiply. Everyone has a computer and a camera phone; everyone is recording history, processing data, taking the pulse of the people, and making news with videos.
To overcome evil, Occupy embraces Gandhi’s “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” Salander takes up the Old Testament’s “Evil Shall With Evil Be Expelled.” What Occupy and Salander share, however, are a technological savvy and a rabid spirit of “individualism.” Both are enabled and empowered by the internet, “inter” being both a connective and an interment. The heroic “enlightenment” energy of previous revolutionary movements is now grounded in Occupy’s “boots on the ground” and Salander’s literal rising up out of the dirt of her own grave.
Salander’s indefatigable spirit, a spirit manifest in Occupy, is a trace memory of the historical revolutionary spirit, now indelibly etched in cyber memory for all time. The key difference in this new revolution is in the screen. Once upon a time, literature was a screen for history. Today, the computer screen is a window into real time. Oscar Wilde seems to have gotten it right over a century ago when he said, “Life imitates art.” For like Lisbeth Salander, Occupiers seem to be taking their lives back.