From My Piblokto Madness Bed

William Gibson on Our Military-Influenced Fashions

There are few novelists currently working whom I like as much as William Gibson. His science fiction doesn’t go that far into the future, yet he constantly introduces concepts, which he doesn’t explain, and yet which fascinate me. One such is the Piblokto Madness bed in which her character Hollis Henry from Zero History sleeps at a posh London hotel. Looking up Piblokto on Wikipedia, I found this definition: “A culture-bound syndrome observed primarily in female Inuit and other arctic populations. Individuals experience a sudden dissociative period of extreme excitement in which they often tear off clothes, run naked through the snow, scream, throw things, and perform other wild behaviors.” Huh?

On another topic, Gibson is spot on, namely the civilian fashion of adopting military styles in one’s apparel:

“Sleight had arranged for us to have a look at a garment prototype. We’d picked up interesting industry buzz about it, though when we got the photos and tracings, really, we couldn’t see why. Our best analyst thinks it’s not a tactical design. Something for mall ninjas.”

“For what?”

“The new Mitty demographic.”

“I’m lost,”

“Young men who dress to feel they they’ll be mistaken for having special capability. A species of cosplay, really. Endemic. Lots of boys are playing soldier now. The men who run the world aren’t, and neither are the boys most effectively bent on running it next. Or the ones who’re actually having to be soldiers, of course. But many of the rest have gone gear-queer, to one extent or another.”


Bigend’s teeth showed. “We had a team of cultural anthropologists interview American soldiers returning from Iraq. That’s where we first heard it. It’s not wholly derogatory, mind you. There are actual professionals who require these things—some of them, anyway. Though they generally seem to be far less fascinated with them. But it’s that fascination that interests us, of course.”

“It is?”

“It’s an obsession with the idea not just of the right stuff, but of the special stuff. Equipment fetishism. The costume and semiotics of achingly elite police and military units. Intense desire to possess same, of course, and in turn to be associated with that world. With its competence, its cocksure exclusivity.”