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Everyday Apocalypse Bookcover


"Who Put These Fingerprints
On My Imagination?"
Engaging the Matrix
Adapted from Everyday Apocalypse
David Dark



"Propaganda makes up our mind for us, but in such a way that it leaves us the sense of pride and satisfaction of men who have made up their own minds. And in the last analysis, propaganda achieves this effect because we want it to. This is one of the few real pleasures left to modern man: this illusion that he is thinking for himself when, in fact, someone else is doing his thinking for him."

--Thomas Merton

With the latest New York Times in one hand and a Bible (NRSV) in the other, we try to explain ourselves to ourselves. What compels me? How did these clichés manage to hijack my consciousness? What does it profit a person to gain all the homeland security in the world and forfeit his soul? What is the Matrix? Or, to borrow a line from Elvis Costello's "Green Shirt": "Who put these fingerprints on my imagination?" What man, mind, or monster did (is doing) this. When and how did our thoughts get to feeling like they're not entirely our own? And when did we agree to it? Who benefits from our sedation? Who colonized my brain space? How hard it is to prefer the pounding headache of looking hard at the world over the blissful, happy-ending incomprehensibility of Technicolor and the easy answer, simple explanation, sound-bite culture of Fox News Network.

As a high school English teacher in America, ever in desperate need of a difficult-to-contest analogy, I've found a very present help in the metaphorical value, maximum applicability, and effective citation afforded by The Matrix. While very few propositions go unchallenged in a good classroom discussion, the intense relevance of this film to the experience of your average American teenager is something of a no-brainer. My students often accuse me of madness, but they find nothing particularly controversial in my observation that The Matrix powerfully names and describes the forms of captivity into which we're born and within which we live and move and, by all appearances, have our being. They know that worlds have been constructed around them, physically and psychologically, as protection against many a perceived threat, and they understand that it is an effort oftentimes well-intentioned and always in progress. They also understand that they are a target market whose buying power sustains the economy and that enormous amounts of money, mind-power, and resources are expended anticipating and manipulating their desires.

They live with the notion that their speech and their way of looking at the worldthe little red pill of reality are often the creation of television and market research. They are painfully familiar with the Trumanesque epiphany in which the words "I love you, man," whether spoken or heard, are part-joke, part-sincere, and part-conspiracy. They know what it means to be unsure as to whether your own laughter is genuine. When Lawrence Fishburne's Morpheus describes the Matrix as "a neural-interactive simulation," they don't have to stretch their imaginations to know what he's talking about. They know. It's obvious.

Although most of my students don't know what a metanarrative is, they have a pretty good idea after I suggest that The Matrix might be the most convincing metanarrative on offer in this present age of popular culture. They take personally the apocalyptic significance of films whose protagonists discover themselves in carefully scripted, immersive environments which create the illusion of freedom while using inhabitants to fuel their own death-dealing machinery. They know the joke's on them when a voice says, "Because we value you, our viewers/customers/clients...." And the bright colors, earnest-sounding voices, and lively music only serve to remind that someone (or something) is trying to create demand and move product. They don't like it particularly, but they don't see much in the way of available alternatives. As the popularity of the film suggests, any articulation of a spirit of resistance will have people lining up. As Dostoevsky observed, no one wants to want according to a little table, and the sense that they've been playing roles in a vast formula of market research, while occasionally consoling themselves with a packaged rebellion, isn't a realization anyone can sustain for long without becoming depressed. But there is something powerfully invigorating about imagining, especially in the company of young people, what it might mean to take the red pill of reality on a regular basis or to weather the storm to the limits of one's bubble and to break on through to the other side.

Copyright ©2003 by David Dark. Adapted from Everyday Apocalypse, published by Brazos Press; used with permission.



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