Thursday, August 07, 2003

A day in the Matrix

I met an advertisement today. When I first saw it, I thought it was a woman, but when it got closer I realized it was only an advertisement. I'm not saying this in some abstract way; she actually was branded by a company, turned into a walking advertisement: clothes that matched the color scheme of the product, hair that was subtly highlit with those same colors, a hint of colorization in the makeup, in the eye shadow, in the nail polish. A small temporary tattoo, unassumingly stating the company's name, lay across her left cheekbone. I envision a team of makeup artists and marketers, working from the back of a windowless truck, with people out on the street waiting to ensnare one of the Beautiful People, someone who fits that boring predictable generic white-bread American sensibility, assuring them that all they have to do is submit to this makeover and they can make a few bucks. In one sense, the overall effect was not as glaringly intrusive as the marketing ploys we are accustomed to (billboards and tv ads and such), but in another sense this method of advertising, an almost holographic saturation of all the senses, is infinitely more sinister, since it's goal is to quietly influence, without triggering whatever defenses a person might have retained after a lifetime of being assaulted by the media.

I suppose it was only a matter of time... for years now people have been paying for the privilege of advertising for some company, and they don't see anything wrong with that, since the Matrix is internally self-consistent. The consensus narrative tells them that whatever it is they seek, they can find it by consuming more. If they want to express themselves, they can do so by choosing which particular brand of crap they buy; the option to disregard the mediated existence entirely is, of course, not presented to them.

I've noticed that my friends, people I admire, people I respect, all have a common trait: to some extent, they do not accept the mediated reality presented to them by our 'culture', choosing instead to find a path on their own. I feel like this is an increasingly rare trait. I went out into The World today (it doesn't happen very often), and I was stunned by how completely the people around me were absorbed in the consensus narrative, letting the Matrix tell them who they are. The Matrix doesn't seem to be telling too many people to be kind, intelligent, and friendly lately.

The part that gets me the most is that they actually don't see it, or if they do see it they think it is a good thing and will even fight to defend the chains that bind them. Republicans versus democrats, my team versus your team, Ford versus Dodge, Christians versus everyone... people so love to hate, that when they are presented with any trivial difference that can be exploited, they choose a side and somehow think that the act of doing so has changed them, made them better. Need an example? Go outside and check nearby cars for those little Jesus fish. Around here, they are epidemic.

The root of the issue seems to be that the consensus narrative has the power to define the realm of discourse. People seem to think that the 'choices' they are presented with are definitive, and that by choosing one side or another they can make whatever statement they seek to make in the world... they don't realize that there is another choice, the choice of whether or not to accept the limitations built into the system. It is not a matter of choosing between the options presented to you by the Matrix, it is a matter of choosing whether or not you are willing to accept those options as a substitute for really living.

The system isn't set up for self-realization. It's not set up to provide you with what you need. It's only set up to keep you hooked to the system. Is that enough for you?