In the Matrix movies the experience of “reality” is a complex computer program downloaded directly into the brains of an unknowing and enslaved humanity. The electrical energy from these inert humans is harvested as a source of power for the machines that control a decimated planet earth. Most people think this “matrix” resides firmly in the realm of science fiction. In some ways, however, a “matrix like” false reality already exists. To see the underlying “programming” code of the “matrix” I refer to, one must cast aside the science fiction of the Matrix, and consider what surrounds you 7x 24 x 365. Aside from the “news,” two presentations of “reality” appear. One is pop culture with its fashions, values, morals, music, art, ethics, promiscuity, drug use and language. The other is advertising that often uses fear, envy, greed, lust, and insecurity as motivating agents prompting material consumption. The advertising and entertainment content of T.V., radio and the computer are the downloading interfaces connecting the programming (pop culture/advertising) with the hard drive of human beings; their brains. This transfer is via the data acquisition functions of the senses of sight and sound. What is extracted from people is not electrical energy as in the Matrix movies but something much more precious, absolutely irreplaceable and non-renewable, their time.
In the Matrix movies human beings are “plugged in” literally from birth. In real life this immersion takes place as soon as children can be plopped down in front of a T.V. By the time they have reached school age they have absorbed thousands and thousands of hours of programming depicting a worldviews with values, morals and ethics that stem not from history or the broader culture but from the minds of writers and producers, or the “programmers.” These few people engineer something like a computer program. They are practically anonymous and unaccountable. The public, for the most part, has no idea of what or who these people are but download the worldview of these people and their values into their brains everyday. The programming code is the social, political, sexual, cultural and economic templates of the writers and producers that come to life in the characters, scripts, plots or lyrics. Some people do not believe there are negative cultural repercussions stemming from these downloads. Steven Spielberg does. He severely restricted his children’s’ access to T. V. and the movies. The inventor of Nintendo didn’t allow his young children to play it. It’s taboo for their kids but not for yours. What do they know that you don’t?
The societal repercussions stemming from the assimilation of this programming are severe. One particular tragedy is the sexualization of the very young. I recall reading that the singer Joni Mitchell was horrified to discover her 5 year-old grandchild thrusting her pelvis in imitation of copulation (they call this dancing now) while watching MTV, prompting Ms. Mitchell to issue angry denunciations directed at the “creators” of the MTV downloads. Judging by the response of MTV executives, I do not think they understood her point. The CEO of VH-1, a teen focused pop culture conglomerate, said he is “selling a lifestyle that happens to have music.” Such candor is rare.
The “life-style” operating programs of certain segments of the culture, particularly the young, are primarily derived from media downloads and can lack reference to objective reality. One might think that I have a vendetta against entertainment or commerce or that like the Matrix, there is some sinister plot behind all of this. Actually, it is the logical outcome of an unprecedented historical phenomenon; the convergence of stunning technological advancements in virtually every form of human endeavor. This has created in America disposable income and leisure time on a scale without precedent. It is a phenomenon that no one has experience with except for a statistically insignificant few. There was a vacuum in mental and physical activity that has over the last 40 years been filled with the programming of the aforementioned "matrix." It is now beginning to define reality to a greater and greater extent with a sense of history and the experience of real culture receding from the consciousness of certain segments of the populace.
While manipulating cultures and people on a mass scale is not new, doing so with leisure time and material abundance is a first. As an optimist regarding humanity, I perceive the increasing evidence of unplugging. What that portends for the future is for another post.