Type: a conversation with Callie Brown Dog
Participants: Callie, Bunny, Pinky, Kim & Mimi
Summary: We get together with Callie Brown Dog to discuss one of our favorite movies, The Matrix. Topics discussed include the film's use of the Matrix as a metaphor for ideology, as well as the enormous importance of ideology on our relationships to power, society, work, family and more.
Pinky and I first started studying about ideology when our friend gave us a book by Terry Eagleton titled Ideology: an introduction. At the time I remember saying, "What kind of book is this? Sounds kind of general...?" But we started reading and immediately we realized that the concept of ideology would become a very important tool for our understanding of how and why people act the way they do in the world. From page 1:
• the process of production of meanings, signs and value in social life;
• a body of ideas characteristic of a particular social group or class;
• ideas which help to legitimate a dominant political power;
• false ideas which help to legitimate a dominant political power;
• systematically distorted communication;
• that which offers a position for a subject;
• forms of thought motivated by social interests;
• identity thinking;
• socially necessary illusion;
• the conjuncture of discourse and power;
• the medium in which conscious social actors make sense of their world;
• action-oriented sets of beliefs;
• the confusion of linguistic and phenomenal reality;
• semiotic closure;
• the indispensable medium in which individuals live out their relation to a social structure;
• the process whereby said life is converted to a natural reality.
If you haven't already seen The Matrix, please watch it before reading the following conversation (it'll make more sense that way). Pinky says it has too much explosions and guns in it but I think it's exciting, definitely one of my all-time favorite action movies. - Bunny
This conversation was recorded on October 25, 2007 at our desert studio.
"The Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us, even now in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work, when you go to church, when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth." - Morpheus, from The Matrix
Bunny: Okay, we're recording.
Pinky: Okay, thank you. Today we are very happy to have here with us a very special guest. [ Kim: Yay! ] Kim, settle down. I want to welcome Callie. As you can see, Callie is a dog. Not a problem. Callie is Associate Professor of English at the University of Devastated Wilderness. Some of her areas of interests include feminist and nationalist critical theory and practice, settler colonialism, and... and actually quite a few other areas, is that correct?
Callie: Yes, that's correct.
Pinky: That's neat. Well thank you for coming to talk to us Callie.
Callie: Hi everybody, thank you for inviting me. [ Cats: Hello, hi, etc. ]
Pinky: Today all of us cats, and Callie, we're going to have a discussion about the film The Matrix. Callie had mentioned to me that she uses the film in her classes, as a way to get students to understand what ideology is. And since we are all really interested in not only in the concept of ideology, but also how people learn these kinds of abstract concepts, I thought it'd be great if she could come by and talk to us about it too. [ to Callie ] So how do you use the film in class?
Callie: We do an analysis on both the text and the film. We start with the book...
Bunny: What book is this?
Callie: Oh sorry, the script of The Matrix is published in book form. So we read the script first, we discuss it, and then after that we watch the film. Some of the students have never seen it before, so for them they're watching it for the first time and they're so blown away.
Pinky: Do you introduce them to the concept of ideology before they watch the film or after?
Callie: I give the students a handout on the first day of class on what ideology is, specifically how we're going to be looking at ideology in relation to literature. I try to talk about it in a language that they can understand.
"Ideology is the myths, stories, narratives, representations, and images, that convey a certain idea of what is natural or common sense. Ideologies serve the interests of particular groups, often at the expense of other groups." (from Callie's handout)
So that's the most basic definition we start with. But then as we really begin looking at how ideology works, we'll keep building on the concept until the students have a more nuanced sense of how it functions socially, in terms of power. And it gets complicated when you look at ideology because like in the film, the students want this clear distinction between 'illusion' and 'truth'. You know, red pill or blue pill. That's why The Matrix is so appealing on one level because in the beginning there seems like there's this ideological construction they call the Matrix, and then there's the real world. Two completely separate worlds, and everyone wants to be in the real world. Apparently simple. But when we look at the film a little more closely, we realize that even the so-called real world is also ideologically constructed. For example, in the movie the Wachowski brothers [ the directors ] made everything in the Matrix appear greenish. Words on the computer screens are green, there's actually a slight green cast on everything. The Wachowski brothers say they were making everything look kind of sickly. But when you get to the real world everything's got a blue cast. It's not neutral color, natural color. Now all the words on the computer screens are all blue, did you notice that? So yes, it's different, but it's still ideologically colored. So even in the 'real world' we can't be free of ideology.
So I think that's where our discussions become more complicated. Because some of them who think they know something about ideology, they go in thinking okay, it's binary: 'illusion' on one side and 'truth' on the other. No! [ laughs ]
So part of the thing that we get into ideology is that it can help us to understand that there are different sets of realities. And this is useful if we want to help the students understand complex social phenomena. One example I give of why I don't want to call one reality 'The Truth' is, for example, what happened with feminism. For example, white feminists, at one time, they thought they knew the truth about oppression. And then what did we find out? That their narratives were oppressing women of color. So then women of color started asserting themselves and saying well, we have to speak our truths. And what did we find out? That they were oppressing indigenous women! [ laughs ] So even though your truth would be politically motivated in a way that serves the interests of an oppressed group, you can still end up oppressing another group. It becomes another form of ideology. So that's what we kind of get at in the course of our study and there's some struggle over that. Because it's easier to say there's The Truth and if we can just cast off ideology then we would all be free. And the thing about the film is that we have a character like Cypher, he wants to be plugged back into the Matrix even though he knows the truth.
Pinky: Okay, so you use the film specifically to complicate our preconceptions, that's nice. Do you give your students specific definitions of ideology or do you just let them have a go with defining it themselves through discussion?
Callie: We start with the standard, classic Marxist formulation "forgive them, they know not what they do." Okay? So people don't know what the ideologies are. But you move from there to like a critic like Zizek, who quotes Sloterdijk - "They know exactly what they're doing, but still, they do it anyway." And that's one of the hard things I'm trying to get them to look at. Why is it that sometimes we're like Cypher, and we want to be plugged back into the Matrix, we choose that world over the other kinds of truths we know are out there.
Zizek has this really helpful thing where he talks about cynicism as a form of ideology, and he talks about kynicism as a response to cynicism. And what you guys do, that's kynicism, it is so cool. When I first saw The Pinky Show I was like 'Oh that's how you define kynicism - The Pinky Show'.
Bunny: Wait - what's this? I don't know these terms...
Callie: Cynicism is the position of upholding the ruling class ideology by saying, you know, it's always going to be that way, so why bother. So I guess you could say it helps to uphold an ideology by doing nothing to challenge it. I think I wrote it down... [ reads ]:
"The cynical subject knows the interests behind the ideology but finds the reasons to perpetuate it."
And kynicism is a response to cynicism [ reads ]:
"Kynicism represents the popular, plebeian rejection of the official culture by means of irony and sarcasm: the classical kynical procedure is to confront the pathetic phrases of the ruling official ideology - its solemn, grave tonality - with everyday banality and to hold them up to ridicule, thus exposing behind the sublime noblesse of the ideological phrases the egotistical interests, the violence, the brutal claims to power." - Slavoj Zizek, from The Sublime Object of Ideology.
That's exactly what you guys are doing, you know?
Pinky: Hmm. Is The Pinky Show sarcastic or ironic?
Bunny: Whatever. So why do people want to be plugged back into the Matrix?
Callie: It's because it fulfills some kind of need that people have. Why do people buy into ruling ideologies? They fulfill some need for wholeness. For example, there's this thing called imaginary plenitude. Which is like this idea that the only time we're happy in our lives is when we're in our mother's wombs...
Kim: ...it was crowded in there...
Bunny: Yeah right, like you remember that - sorry, go on.
Callie: ...um, because when we're in the womb we're not hungry, we're not thirsty, we're not cold, we're completely at one with the universe. [ laughs ] Right? Literally. And we all want that kind of wholeness. And ideologies tend to offer us the illusion that we can return to that wholeness. In other words they return us to the sense of wholeness. And I try to explain it to the students, like, when Midori Ito was skating in the Olympics, she kept on trying to make that triple-axel? And she kept falling down in the practice sessions. Falling down, falling down, falling down. But in her actual performance, she did it. And I said, that was a moment of imaginary plenitude for me! There's just these moments where everything is right in the world, for just a second! [ laughs ] You know? People talk about it like orgasm, like orgasm is imaginary plenitude, whatever. But for me it was Midori Ito making the triple-axel.
So ideologies sort of offer you those things, you know? What you feel is lacking, and it kind of makes up for those things that you feel you don't have. So of course people are going to want certain ideas. Like the American Dream or whatever. So we talk about that desire. Is that how you guys think about ideology?
Bunny: Yeah, I think it's about the same. It's not just the material goodies, like being able to have your own Mercedes Benz or the Gucci shoes, it's also the false of sense of security that comes from having an answer for everything. Pinky?
Pinky: I think the thing about ideology that fascinates me so much is how powerfully it functions as a mechanism of social control. I mean, it's so powerful because it makes its home in our brains. When it's like that the dominant classes don't need to point guns or tanks or even threats at the ordinary citizens of the state. It's unnecessary - we'll police ourselves, we'll consent to our own subjugation.
Bunny: You said 'we' but we're not citizens, we're cats.
Pinky: Yeah, I get confused. I guess I meant we're subject to ideologies too. It's constantly in our heads. And that's the part that I'm fascinated with because here we are trying so hard to fight against domination but honestly, we're still going to be subject to it. The dominant narratives find their way into our heads way before we're really conscious of what's happening.
Kim: When we're kittens.
Pinky: Right, but it also never stops, it's continuous. And we'll speak 'our' thoughts using the language and logic of these narratives. I mean, I don't want to say the process isn't without tension or constant contradictions, but it works. You can see examples of this principle at work all around us. It's not absolute control - we're not powerless and we can resist in various ways. But to act like we're somehow outside ideology just because we can see how some of it works is totally delusional.
Callie: Yeah, exactly. It's hard. Cynics will say "Yeah I know exactly how that works, but who cares because we can't do anything about it anyway." So yeah, there is that sense of control, so you could say that ideology is about control. Actually in the film, that's what Morpheus says, "What is the Matrix? Control."
Bunny: Oh my god, she has all the dialogue memorized! [ laughter ]
Pinky: Callie, I'd like to ask you this, because you use this film with students. At the end, after Neo gets shot and killed, this is the point where he comes back from the dead and he's finally fully 'awake'. He gets up and looks down the hallway and suddenly everything is all code. I guess the suggestion is that now he can see the Matrix, it's all laid bare. He can see it, he can see through it. So I guess my question is, do you have a sense of how your students make sense of that? Have they talked about what it'd be if they could somehow penetrate or see through ideology?
Callie: I don't let them even get there! [ laughter ] So I don't think they imagine... well actually, I think they try to imagine it in opposition to what I'm telling them. I always say we cannot get out of ideology. We're always in language and there's no way we can extricate ourselves from language and the world views that you've grown up with, even as learning about different ideologies gives us more choices about how we live our lives.
For example, sometimes I'll put an object that they don't know on the table and I'll say, so what do you make of this thing? And if they've never seen that thing before, then... what? So we talk about how basically you incorporate it in relationship to the things you know, so that it becomes recognizable in the context of the things that you already know. It becomes reincorporated. So I don't think they can imagine that. That's actually a really good point. Because that's the 'real' that most people never ever get to. The thing that's stripped of all its assigned meaning. But yeah, we don't talk about that. I keep telling them "We won't get there!" [ laughter ] You know? Because again, you know that whole line or reasoning, what happens is that even if you think you see something and you know exactly how it's working, you're still being positioned in some way that could be potentially problematic.
Pinky: Yeah okay. Because that's one of the moments in the movie where I felt like it had no reference to anything I've ever experienced in my life. It's like if someone were to say to me, "And I woke up one morning and I saw the Buddha standing at the foot of my bed..." Umm... I can't relate to that at all. [ Callie: Yeah, yeah. ] I'd be like, 'Well, that's... 'different', you know? [ laughter ] In fact it's so 'different' that it's beyond my ability to comprehend. So when I was watching that scene I was like, wait a minute, what IS that?! What's that supposed to be?
Callie: Maybe it's like those "Aha!" moments in our lives, those moments when we become aware of the hidden interests behind the ideologies exposed - like your episode on 'Illegal Immigration'! Or the truth behind Nike's facade - the exploitation of child laborers in Pakistan and elsewhere for massive profits. Or that article that Pinky sent me [ Pinky's note: Coke Pepsi and the Politics of Food Safety, by Vandana Shiva ] about how the Coca-Cola corporation uses over a hundred million liters of water a day in countries like India that suffer from severe water shortages, all while polluting existing water sources. These are industries that manufacture their own Matrices. When we learn about their motives and we can connect that to how they actually operate their businesses, organize their relationships, run their public relations and advertising, and so on; these are the moments that allow us a glimpse into the ideological structure of the Matrix we all live in.
Callie: So then there's this other question: Why do people choose the red pill? Why is it that some people can refuse certain interpellations? We talk about Althusser and one of his arguments is that ideology interpellates individuals as subjects. [ Pinky's note: Definition 'f' from Terry Eagleton's list ] What he's saying is bascially you're called a name, and that identification positions you within a particular system of power. For example you're called mother, sister, or woman - and in that naming you're being positioned in a system, a social structure that has meaning for people.
Pinky: The social framework that preceeds you... [ Callie: Right. ] And... the differing amounts of power and privilege that are typically associated with those names become part of how you relate to the world?
Callie: Right, right. But some people are 'bad subjects', who resist the names that they're called, right? They're given a name and they're supposed to behave a certain way, but they're like 'fuck you, that's not me'. So what makes a bad subject? What enables Neo to be a bad subject? And so we kind of talk about that, and it sort of goes to that line:
(Morpheus to Neo): "Let me tell you why you're here. You're here because you know something. What you know you can't explain. But you feel it. You've felt it your entire life. That there's something wrong with the world. You don't know what it is but it's there, like a splinter in your mind driving you mad..."
I think this is so cool - there are moments where the real world intrudes into the Matrix. I've watched this film so many times. The squeegee scene.
Bunny: Yeah! What's that all about?!
Callie: Yeah, so that's my thing! I tell students "This is so cool! Watch, I'm gonna show you, okay?" [ laughs ] Okay in this scene Neo's boss at Metacortex is telling him what he needs to do to be a good worker, yeah? He's giving him this whole lecture, basically he's interpellating him. But it's kinda interesting - he's actually interpellating Neo as a bad subject - you come to work late, you do things on your own, etc. And it's just kind of interesting because he's saying 'you're a bad subject' in a way that's supposed to make him want to be a good subject, but it still creates this alternative position for him which I think is real interesting. But anyway, as he's talking, the window-washer is cleaning the window outside and you're thinking, "Okay, that's significant", right? If you're in film studies, you know that if they're looking at the squeegee and Neo looks disturbed and he looks at this squeegee... you know what it is? It's the scene where he's in his pod. Here, let's watch the video. [ plays view pod scene ]
Okay, so this is Neo supposedly breaking through the mask of illusion into the real world, it's not pleasant, it's not that easy... THERE! That's it! [ laughs ] Right before he gets flushed down, his hand swipes the side of the pod... The squeegee was driving me nuts, but then I was watching this part and was like, hey! There's that sound!
Bunny: Oh yeah...
Kim: Oh boy.
Callie: See? Neo's hand slides against the pod and it makes that 'eeeiiiiieeeaaahhh' sound. So what it is is the real world, you know, the pod, intruding into the ideological world of the Matrix. So it's kind of like for us, in our everyday consciousness like, we don't want to acknowledge certain things, but things will pop up in certain ways that sort of contradict what we want to believe. And that's what it is for Neo, that's the splinter in his brain. It's the contradictions that he can't account for, he can't do anything about it until he decides to wake up. So anyway that squeegee part I think is so cool. On some conscious level, we kind of know we're in pods. Right? At some conscious level we know that we're like, settlers benefitting from the subjugation of Native peoples, or whatever. Even for people who don't want to think about being settlers, at some conscious level, they know.
Pinky: That's pretty neat...
Callie: Yeah! The squeegee yeah?
Bunny: That was really bugging me. I couldn't explain why that scene was in there.
Callie: Me too! I show that to the students and I think they laugh more at the fact that I've watched the movie too many times.
Callie: Yeah... there's a few things that I don't like about this film. Like there's a lot of violence that's not necessary to the film but... You know, I guess that's how they pull people in. People just think it's an action movie, yeah?
Bunny: Really? I kind of like the violence.
Kim: Bunny always likes the violence. [ laughter ]
Bunny: No, I mean - okay, it's a little true [ laughter ] - but what I meant was in this movie I thought the violence was meaningful. It raises a lot of important questions. For example the movie would not have made sense without the violence. Actually, the movie is about violence, and it's about freedom from that violence. It's about absolute control, domination, exploitation, dispossession. I mean, think about it - we don't see the fields except for that very short scene, but we gotta remember that the fields are always there. They're actually the unseen backdrop that is the reason for the whole movie.
Morpheus to Neo: ...There are fields, endless fields, where human beings are no longer born. We are grown. For the longest time I wouldn't believe it, and then I saw the fields with my own eyes. Watch them liquefy the dead so they could be fed intravenously to the living. And standing there, facing the pure horrifying precision, I came to realize the obviousness of the truth. What is the Matrix? Control. The Matrix is a computer generated dream world built to keep us under control in order to change a human being into this. [ Morpheus holds up a battery ]
Seriously, how is that not violent?
Kim: It's sort of like slavery.
Bunny: It is slavery! Or maybe it's genocide. Or maybe it's predatory capitalism. All supreme forms of violence. The system is such an extreme form of violence, and it's successfully being hidden via ideology. Hidden with nothing but a mental construct! I mean, that's a powerful statement. Think of how you get 300 million Americans to totally blank out on colonialism and genocide. If that's not ideology I don't know what is.
So one of the ways I was looking at the violence in this movie was just in terms of demonstrating how powerful ideology can be - enormous history, enormous reality (or whatever you want to call it) and still, near-total effacement via ideology. And in opposition to this then we have the violence connected to struggle and liberation. I'm not suggesting that violence is the best way to change society. Far from it. But let's be real, there are times where violence is an option.
Pinky: We disagree on this all the time.
Bunny: Yeah, we do. But here's something that I think we at least agree with each other, correct me if I'm wrong. Whenever you're going to try to transform society for the better, you'd better be ready to fight...
Callie: State violence is sanctioned, but resistance to state violence isn't.
Bunny: Exactly, thank you, yes. The dominant classes who hold power are not just going to give shit up. Struggling for principles and structural change is a difficult, long-term undertaking and if you don't know how to fight or you haven't developed your spirit so that you can persevere while being attacked, forget it, you have no chance. So that's how I see the violence in this movie. To me it's a metaphor for the struggle for good things. Like, Neo and Morpheus and Trinity, to me they're the good guys and I'm rooting for them.
Having said that, later on in the movie it also gets more complicated. For example, when Morpheus gets captured, Trinity and Neo grab a bunch of guns and they start wasting people - real people - as they try to rescue him. Which really raises a whole lot of interesting questions - difficult questions - regarding what people are willing to do in order to overthrow something oppressive. Is it possible to overthrow something inherently violent with... violence? And how much violence can you actually perpetrate before you've become merged with that thing that you're trying to liberate yourself and others from? Well okay, I have a problem with the question itself, because like we said earlier, the motivations matter, but the questions are still valid I think, because there is never a clear and easy distinction between 'illusion and reality', or 'good and evil'.
Pinky: And you don't think the movie could have raised those questions without blowing a whole bunch of people up? There wasn't any consideration of whether or not those people Trinity and Neo shot were 'worth sacrificing' or not...
Kim: Actually, there kinda was. Remember the part where Neo and Morpheus are in the training simulator program thing? And Morpheus shows Neo all the people walking on the street and he says something like 'these people are your enemy'...
Callie: Morpheus says:
"The Matrix is a system, Neo. That system is our enemy. But when you're inside, you look around. What do you see? Business people, teachers, lawyers, carpenters. The very minds of the people we are trying to save. But until we do, these people are still a part of that system, and that makes them our enemy. You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inert, so hopelessly dependent on the system that they will fight to protect it... If you are not one of us, you are one of them."
Bunny: No seriously, to me, a lesser movie would have come right out and told the viewer what all the answers are. But it's way more interesting to have all these messy questions regarding where we position yourselves in relation to the Matrix. It's easy to say "Yeah! Down with the Matrix, the Matrix is a big lie", but how do we do that? How, how, how. That's what we're always talking about right? And the thing is, the answers are often irreconcilable, but we still have to make a choice and act. So there's a lot of contradictions in this movie - that's a good thing.
Kim: I like Agent Smith. He's interesting, right? Like when he gets real close to Morpheus and he's all torturing him, trying to get information from him, you can see that even though he represents the oppressive, authoritarian aspect of the Matrix, he's also got a lot of individualism in him. He's got his own desires, his own motives for doing what he's doing.
Callie: I love that part where he unplugs his earpiece! Before he 'confesses' his 'personal' desires to Morpheus he's gotta unplug from the Matrix. And the best part is when the other agents come in and they look at him and they say, "What are you doing?" [ laughs ] You know, like he's masturbating or something, he looks really embarrassed! And then he has to plug back in. But yeah, Agent Smith is interesting. I don't quite know, like fully understand what his role is. The scary thing is that students, they commonly like to make the argument that Neo, Cypher, and Agent Smith are all fighting for their own liberation. And I'm, like, that's true on one level... but... come on, their motivations are different...
Bunny: [ laughs ] Exactly! It matters where you are positioned in relation to power.
Callie: Yeah, it does.
Bunny: Pinky's still waiting for The Matrix IV: The Return of Gandhi.
Pinky: Yeah, I am! I'd watch that!
Bunny: You'll be very lonely in that empty theater. [ laughter ]
Pinky: You know, I was really grateful for that scene where Neo goes to work late and gets lectured by his boss. I like that the movie shows how the cubicle is totally located within the Matrix.
Bunny: That was a really generic looking cubicle.
Pinky: Exactly, it really could be anybody's cubicle. And I think this is important because people generally don't think about how their daily activities - work included - provide the Matrix with power. It's like Morpheus says, we're the batteries. I mean, maybe it's pretty obvious if you go to work and you're building nuclear bombs for a living or whatever. But for most people, no, I don't think the all connections are so easy to map out.
And for me it was kind of neat to see that in the movie because, you know, one of the things that we're trying to do with the Pinky Show project is we're trying to do things outside the legitimate, so-called respectable ways of making a living. How we've defined work for ourselves is actually a big part of the project that most people don't think about - mostly because they don't see it I guess - but how mainstream conceptions of work typically constrains our ability to respond to the world around us is a huge problem that we need to find solutions for.
Callie: The Pinky Show project is a kind of a social experiment.
Pinky: Yeah, it is. In this regard I don't know if it's a successful experiment or not - not yet anyway - but we wanted to do this because we had a lot of questions that were coming from our personal experiences that we felt we needed to respond to. We'd all felt really constrained in the jobs we've had. And when we saw the same patterns in the lives of our families and friends we thought 'okay, we have to at least try something different'. We noticed that there'd be these instances of dissonance, glitches in the Matrix that'd somehow alert one to the reality that there's something wrong in the world, but usually when these things would present themselves most people would look the other way: "Well, I can't afford to lose my job."
Bunny: The work thing is an easy out. Same with family, "Hey I want to do something but I have my kids to think about".
Pinky: Well I wouldn't call it an easy out, because I think actually it really is difficult for lots of people to rationalize this stuff for themselves. I think it makes us feel very conflicted and it eats at our conscience.
Bunny: I think you let people off too easy, as if it's 'good enough' if your conscience gets a little exercise once in a while. I don't really care about the emotional agonizing people are always whining about, even if they call it a 'daily struggle'. Because in the end it's how you act that matters. More people should drop out.
Kim: You know what, I kinda agree with Bunny on this one. Like, I want our project to be successful. And we need more cats for that. Right now I work on other stuff so we can have money, but if we had enough support of course I rather do Pinky Show stuff full time. And think how much more work we could do if we had more than 2 1/2 cats working on this. Even if we had, like, 8 cats - that's four times more cats! But where is everybody?
Pinky: Look, of course it'd be great if everybody was trying to unplug, but what the movie does that I think is so good is that it identifies the more mundane institutions of civil society as being ideologically coercive. When I say 'institutions' I'm not only talking about the government or educational institutions or even big corporations; I'm also including 'family'. And 'employment'. People have to see how mainstream conceptions of 'gainful employment' serves the objectives of the state. They have to be able to recognize how the mainstream family structure - especially as it's been defined in the post-WWII era - also functions as a coercive ideological institution.
Callie: So you see the blue pill and the red pill all over the place. It's not just one moment, it's everyday right? The choices that we have to make.
Pinky: Yeah. I'm not saying that the choices we have can be broken down as simply as either you work 'inside' the system or 'outside' the system; live in society or drop completely out. It's more complex than that. But I'd also be lying if I said that these kinds of choices don't embody significant symbolic and practical implications for me. To me it's become some kind of powerful litmus test or indicator as to where you're located, regarding how cozy a relationship you can stand to have with The Dominant. I mean, obviously it's not a problem if you see yourself as a functionary of the state, but if you say you're not - then what?
I think part of the reason why people don't examine the ideological aspects of their everyday lives is because we've narrowed the definition of ideology so much. When people say "Oh that's so ideological" or something like that, they're generally only referring to 'the big lie' or overtly political stuff - 'the Republicans this or the Democrats that'. But the everyday things, like how you choose to take care of your offspring, or what kind of choices you make regarding how you're going to relate to others, what kind of job you want to get, stuff like that - all that matters. It matters tremendously. Imagine how society would be different if we all were willing to reexamine and transform the relationships within our immediate families? Or if we didn't grow up assuming we'd all go out and get 'legitimate jobs'.
Bunny: Maybe we've narrowed the definition on purpose, to keep our everyday activities safe from scrutiny.
Pinky: Okay, could be. But anyway that's why I liked the office scene in the movie. It's very subversive.
Callie: You know, it would have been really interesting if they had made Neo have a family. That would have been totally different. It's easier for him to fight the Matrix because he doesn't have those responsibilities or I don't know what you'd call them. You know like, he's so free by himself, he's free to do a lot of things.
Pinky: Yeah, I think so. I guess that's why he can be on the computer all night, searching for Morpheus or whatever he was doing...
Callie: It made it easier for the director, for him to not have those ties. Because even in M.I.B. (Men In Black) Will Smith's character doesn't have those ties, those responsibilities. That's why he can become an agent. That's a really standard narrative, right?
Bunny: You know, we're calling family and jobs 'responsibilities', but really more often than not these responsibilities are little more than choices we've accepted. And to be blunt I think they're often accepted uncritically. It's 'The Program' - you're born, you go to school, get a job, get married, make children, buy a house, own a dog... [to Callie] no offense. But to me, when humans say they're 'taking care of their responsibilities', what they're usually doing is supporting the Matrix. Among other things, this life-program functions to keep human beings self-centered. It's busywork.
Kim: Are you saying that people can't have decent jobs and stuff if they want to challenge the Matrix? Are you saying families are bad?
Bunny: No. You're misunderstanding me. Families aren't inherently 'bad'. I'm saying we should be willing to scrutinize the logic and validity of all claims, especially ones that are most likely to pass unexamined. I'm also saying that assumptions about how you're 'supposed to' live your life can, and are, easily exploited by the ruling classes as mechanisms of social control. The right wing rhetoric of 'traditional family values' is only the most obvious example. How do you know if it's you that wants what you think you want? Or is there even such a difference? How do the things we desire even find their way into our heads in the first place?
Look at it this way, we don't know how Neo feels about not having a family. Could be he just hates kids, but maybe the splinter in his brain that drove him to try to learn what the Matrix is also led him to sacrifice a whole bunch of things that he really, really wanted. That's my point. So I do get annoyed when human beings give 'family' or various other forms of 'security' - jobs or whatever - as knee-jerk justifications for not confronting the Matrix. In fact these choices are so taken for granted as 'natural' or 'obvious' that anyone can deploy these justifications and they'll never get challenged to defend those decisions. Go read the Eagleton list again, especially the ending part.
Pinky: Okay, I agree, in general, with a lot of what you're saying. But I also think that there are other ways of being that don't reinscribe the Matrix with power. It's resistance. Resistance in ten thousand forms. Maybe it's not so much the case at this particular moment in history, but maybe someday - I don't know when - alternative conceptions of work and family will really challenge the dominant definitions...
Bunny: Look, I'm not going to vote against radicalizing family, work, or anything else. But one of the biggest allies the Matrix has is time. We've got to stop living our lives as if we're all going to live for 300 years. And anyway, you're [ Pinky ] the one who's always saying "Hey we're only here for 10 or 20 years max, so hurry up, there's no time." But now here you are talking about 'someday'...?
Pinky: [ laughter ] Yeah. What can I say. I think for some things that's just the way things happen... What do you think Mimi? You've been really quiet so far.
Mimi: I'm just listening... You know, I think it was about last month, I was at a meeting and someone made a reference to The Matrix movie. Someone mentioned the red pill, like 'we've all taken the red pill' or whatever. And everybody just laughed like yeah, we know what's going on, 'ha ha'. But I doubt it's so easy to take a red pill. What's the red pill in real life? You'd have to reject so much of your participation in the system because at every level - the educational system, the courts, the museums, or whatever - they're all pushing ideologies down your throat... Well maybe it doesn't feel like that, but we're living in it, breathing it in, working in it, participating in it, lending your energies to it so that it can work; and after all that we're going to say that we've taken a red pill and now we're standing outside? Eh? That we're 'fighting it'? I mean if this is what resistance looks like then we're the kind of enemies I want.
So I don't know, I guess the way I imagine it, it's more like, we never took the red pill. It's more like we know that there's a red pill out there, and we know that there's something wrong with the system so we're kinda inching our way towards the red pill. And it shouldn't be a one-time pill, it needs to be a continuous thing like vitamins, because you can get swallowed up by the Matrix again, at any time. Because for the people in this movie, they break out of a shell and go out into a different world. But for us it's different because there is no 'other world' for us to break out into. There's only this constant struggle to fight the Matrix from within. And I think that unless you are actively doing it and constantly doing it you can easily get disappeared again.