Plan for the Day
- Watch The Matrix (1999)
- As of 5/18/2020, The Matrix is available on Netflix.
- Read the notes below–in fact, it might be good to read the notes first
- Canvas prompts for this week
The Matrix (1999)
“The Matrix is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.”
This is quite an amazing film and came at an appropriate time in American culture. While we we’re partying like it’s 1999 (because it was) at the end of the greatest decade there ever will be, unaware of the issues* we’d soon confront, this film told us we were living under a mass illusion. Our worldviews were shaped by media that distracted us from real serious problems. We didn’t care because things were great! Of course, this is a perspective, but it was shared by many. What is controversial is that “the world that has been pulled over [our] eyes” is something we’re complicit in. As you watch the film, consider why you believe what you believe:
- From where do your beliefs come?
- What do you hold as truth? What convinces you?
- How is the machine metaphor in The Matrix analogous to our contemporary dependence on technologies?
*By “issues,” I mean the pending dot.com collapse and 9/11.
Possible Inspiration for The Matrix
Because it’s the summer, I didn’t assign the novel Neuromancer (1984) by William Gibson, but I did assign the three short stories he wrote related to cyberspace (“Johnny Mnemonic,” “New Rose,” and “Burning Chrome” are assigned for the first week of June). I saw The Matrix before I read Neuromancer, and I was stunned at how much of that novel was in the film. There were even Rastafarian pirates! Anyway, what I want you to remember is that cyberspace, the matrix, or any online virtual experience is usually allegorical in science fiction, representing the games reality can play.
Remember, your worldview is constructed based on your experiences. You probably share similar worldviews of those close to you (friends, family, co-workers, etc.), but your worldview isn’t universally experienced. Consider the “situation” of having roommates or a significant other moving in. What conflicts came up? Need more? Did they leave the sponge wet and sitting in the sink to gather funk and bacteria? [Sorry, I digress.]
History of Cyberspace
Well, this isn’t exactly a history of cyberspace, but I do want to mention William Gibson’s scifi novel Neuromancer (1984). Gibson actually coined the term “cyberspace” in his short story “Burning Chrome” (1982), but his novel is more well known. Below is a quick plot summary (more is here from another class’s page):
- Case, the protagonist, is broken and wasting away on skid row–Chiba City.
- He gets a deal to renew himself and be whole again.
- He must break into the bizarre corporate headquarters on Tessier-Ashpool, SA and free the AI Wintermute+Neuromancer to become something bigger.
See, it’s a pretty simple plot…well, there’s just a few concerns about how all this is going to get done. Case is a cowboy, and it’s on data that he rides. He’s a thief of a kind, so he’s wanted–wanted, dead or alive. The book is from the 1980s, so a Bon Jovi reference is germane to the discussion.
Cyberspace, the matrix: It’s what we call the internet, but Gibson envisioned a global network computer system that could be accessed through a GUI (graphic user interface) before the world wide web was invented. Yes, the internet has been around since the 1960s. Its personal consumer evolution didn’t occur until the early 1990s with GUIs that allowed users to surf in non-text-based environments. In the 1980s, home users with personal computers and very slow modems accessed bulletin board systems to transfer information. If they had graphics, they were very limited. Gibson has Case “jacking into” this system, so his body is outside the matrix, but his mind enters the matrix and can move around.
Barker & Jane explain that “Cyberspace is a spatial metaphor for the ‘nowhere’ place in which the electronic activities of networked computers, cable systems and other digital communications technologies occur.” Specifically, Gibson’s vision “can be understood as referring to a computer-generated, collective hallucination which constructs the virtual space of electronic culture” (p. 462).
That sounds an awful lot like Morpheus’s quote from The Matrix above.
By the way, this past semester, I assigned Neuromancer and it’s sequel Count Zero (1986). You aren’t required to, but, if you’re curious, here are the notes from that class:
- March 16th: Neuromancer (1984) Day 1 of 2
- March 18th: Neuromancer (1984) Day 2 of 2
- March 30th & April 1st: Count Zero
Respond to the Canvas prompts for this week before Friday (5/22) at 11:00 pm.
I want you to start be reading Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot (1950). You’ll have a Canvas prompt on it for Tuesday, 5/26 (of course, it’ll be due by next Friday–5/29). I’ll have notes on the novel up on Monday’s page (5/25), but I won’t have a page for Tuesday.
Barker, Chris and Emma A. Jane. Cultural Studies: Theory and Practice. 5th ed., Sage, 2016.