virus: Limiting Icons and Simple Explainations (was: The Matrix [spoilers])

Tim Rhodes (
Wed, 7 Apr 1999 16:47:32 -0700

Bill wrote:

>After watching it again and very closely I did notice a cool thing: The
>Matrix was the second Matrix - the first Matrix was heaven on Earth,
>but the people werent happy and would not accept the program - so
>they re-programmed it to the time right before computers became

Did you also notice the parallels to Richard Bach's book "Illusions"?

I went to see it just after reading the latest Adbusters and just having finished Debord's "Society of the Spectacle" the day before and I ended up silently replacing all the references to "the Matrix" with "the Spectacle" as I watched the movie. I think that that added a layer of complexity to the narrative that I otherwise wouldn't have perceived. I suspect that the backward-baseball-cap-wearing dudes that sat behind me and cheered whenever something blew-up didn't get the same reading out of the film that I did. But that's okay--there's something to be said for the old "Rocky and Bullwinkle" effect--layering meanings so it can be interesting on both a shallow and a deeper level at the same time.

On a completely unrelated note: I saw a feature on the News Hour (w/ Jim Leher) the other night about teachers trying to explain what was going on in Kosovo to their students. The students were only able to grasp the concept when the teachers resorted to a familiar iconography: the Nazis. They couldn't get their heads around the subtle details of the conflict, but as soon the teacher said, "And that's just like what the Nazis did to the Jews," every kid in the class suddenly had an opinion on the subject. It was a little scary actually. But it's the same set of mental images the press generally has been using to explain the situation. Why?

Are we only able to understand concepts to the extent that we can relate them to our preformatted socially-shared media-mediated iconography? Can we even introduce new ideas into the culture if they can't relate them to a symbol they've already seen in an article from Cosmo, an MTV video, or found a plastic toy of it in their Happy Meal(tm)?

-Prof. Tim