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Postmodern Village
est. 1999
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Why the American Slacker is Obsessed With The Matrix
by Kathleen Davis

There are too many zealous fanzines on the web devoted to The Matrix and its sequels, and these are not fan sites that dissect CGI or allow you to download doctored photos of Keanu Reeves naked. Such obvious surface obsessions are no longer the norm. And, personally, I'd take naked pics of Keanu over the latest wave any day. Those are, at least, motivated by horniness, a basic bodily function I completely understand.

Instead, these new sites cater to a much more frightening fantasy.

They foretell of the "depth" within The Matrix: the great religious teachings, the deep philosophies, the hidden Christ elements. And, it is true that The Matrix essentially scraped the loose and pliant first layer of skin from Christianity, Buddhism and Hinduism to create the aura of mystic machinery in the film. However, let's face it, all resemblances to Christ figures---living or dead---is purely incidental. But, such easy-to-digest philosophy allows the average film viewer to feel that he "gets" what he considers a "deep" philosophy.

Let's just avoid the whole joke about packaging "deep" philosophy in two-hour chunks of shiny latex-laden kung fu. It's been done.

But, essentially, I don't believe that the "deep" religiosity of the flick is the true motivation of most devotees. Such vapidity is merely a convenient cover for something much more selfish: The idea that any typical American slacker will be plucked free from his lackluster, lazy existence and converted into the Messiah without any real effort----just a few kick-ass computer games shoved into the back of his head and he's all set to save the world.

It's the ultimate fantasy for our couch potato hordes. Even I comprehend the adrenaline rush that half-ass Messiahness can create: All power, no effort.

Other shiny distractions

Additionally, maybe there are other factors that contribute to our American slacker relating to the major characters of The Matrix. Besides the nice no-step route to simple saviorness, there are other bonuses to this job.

Maybe those who find The Matrix deep and philosophical are really just interested in the strange fact that the "enlightened" get to wear sexy, perfectly tailored black clothing and sunglasses that would cost more than my Ford Ranger if they weren't blipped from the nothingness of a "loading" program. That's really the only reason I can personally see for converting an entertaining, but plot-flawed, flick like The Matrix into a set of life philosophies: When you're enlightened, baby, you look good.

Neither Buddha nor Christ ever had the duds to compete with Neo. So, we've got an easy route to Messiahness and a kick-ass wardrobe. So far, we are on the Hollywood fast-track to Jesus Christ superstardom.

Or, maybe those who find The Matrix deep and philosophical just want others to not understand what the hell they are talking about. So, therefore, they can be mistaken as "deep" and "philosophical," too. I've seen English majors do this a lot. I've seen corporate CEOs get on that bandwagon. So, why not the average filmgoer as well?

This is my major theory about "deep" in this context: "Deep" is what the blissfully ignorant label things that they don't understand and are too afraid to ask about. If it's wrapped in enough jargon, or, conversely, unwrapped to the point of absolute abstraction, it must, therefore, be "deep."

This concept allows true Matrix followers to spout plucked lines like they came straight from the mind of the Buddha himself. Some of the best options from The Matrix for this deep illusion are the following:

"Don't think you are. Know you are."
"You have to let it all go: fear, doubt, disbelief."
"Billions of people living out their lives---oblivious."
"The Matrix cannot tell you who you are."
"Free your mind. The body will follow."

That last one was a favorite of D.C. sniper suspect Lee Boyd Malvo. Unfortunately, it didn't seem to work out for him. No get out of jail free card with movie purchase, and no being "flushed" to a "higher," more "truthful" reality once you become an unproductive and dangerous member of this one.
But, at this point we have a nice triptych of juicy appeal: route to easy hero, sexy clothes, and the illusion of depth (with the vocabulary to go with it). Our average American slacker can't really ask for more.

I mean, come on, what computer dweeb in his right mind would turn down the opportunity to finally be invited to the cool "night before the destruction of Zion" bash that occurred in The Matrix Reloaded? It's every boy's wet dream, and only those who are enlightened get in---in skimpy clothing, no shoes, and a motherload of sheeny-shiny Wesson oil.

Our average American slacker, on the other hand, is always the one the bouncer turns away from such parties in real life. Once you're outside our oppressive society, however---once you escape this Matrix---you'll need an assistant to track those invitations, baby.

A new breed of geek

There was a time when true cinema hero worship and attempts to create religion from film was based completely in two other sci-fi dimensions---that of Star Wars and Star Trek. They alone kept the fires of philosophical geekdom aflame. So, what stops the new Matrix breed from simply getting on the bus with those prop-shop Jedis and devout keepers of the Klingon Bible?

While some may say it all comes down to style---and, let's face it, sexy black leather beats desert sackcloth and Roy G. Biv jumpsuits any day---I say it's essentially about effort. Or, more accurately, lack of effort.

At its heart, The Matrix is getting to live an action fantasy without having to buff up, get into shape, learn a martial art, practice for years or get especially bloody. If you want to know something, you simply have that program uploaded. Fight programs, knowledge of technology, and entire encyclopedias slither right into your synapses. No reading, thinking, sweating required.

Then, you take this instant knowledge, step inside a video game world, and use it without consequences. All the "innocent" people are asleep. So, you can see their "deaths" as saving them. The agents and enemies are all evil and, additionally helpful, lacking in true flesh and blood. Killing them is like turning off the blender---an end to mechanics.

And you, as the hero, can defy gravity, fly, fight, and conquer without mussing your hair back in the "real" world. Very convenient.

That's the true problem of Star Wars and Star Trek. They didn't take in the average American slacker's lack of motivation to do anything at all to forward himself or society. Sure, every boy would like to be a Jedi or a starship captain, but, man, that takes years of study and shit. And then you have to put in your dues with The Man and wait to get a good nemesis. It's all so much damn work.

The Matrix gives you all of that hero worship without even the thought of effort. It's a marketing breakthrough, really. All they need is Ron Popeil and an audience willing to scream out some Buddha-fied version of "set it and forget it." The slackers will be flipping out Mommy's credit cards in droves to buy themselves a piece of that.

And I'm sure they will get the opportunity when The Matrix Revolutions comes to theaters. Until then, there is always DVD and the game for that Playstation they bought with their dwindling unemployment checks.

Kathleen Davis thoroughly enjoyed The Matrix and The Matrix Reloaded for what they are: simple and entertaining action flicks. She is an avid couch potato herself but sees no need to find her religion or salvation there. She expects to get a shitload of angry e-mails about this essay, which is fine with her. Send them to jinkies1973@yahoo.com and hold your breath for her scathing reply.