Friday, April 23, 1999

Be happy. Be normal.

As I've said, America isn't tolerant of oddballs. Especially oddballs in American high schools. We talk a good game about individuality. But it's bullshit. We celebrate non-conformity -- just so long as you look like all the other non-conformists.

In England, if you march to a different drummer, you're "eccentric" -- part of humanity's rich fucking tapestry. Just try that stunt in America. If the jocks see you marching to a different drummer they beat the shit out of you. You're a loser, a fuck-up, a dweeb, etc., etc. You're shunned. America's flood of firearms helps explain this.

In England, the quirky, Willy Wonka-esque fellow in the purple top hat might smear some chocolate on you or pour tea on your head. In America, they might pull out a Glock and aerate you. Different is dangerous over here.

So we shun the different. And, in one of life's cruel feedback loops, some of the rejected oddballs stew, feel rejected, develop a persecution complex and shoot up the high school.

So, now we're dealing with Columbine. America, the land of blame, is now on a scapegoat hunt. If something bad happened, it must be someone's fault. That's the American way!

The standard narrative: somebody should have seen this coming. Those two weirdo kids were, well, weirdos. Their killing spree was predictable. They were, after all, wearing trenchcoats.

Based on that logic, American high schools should institute an Orwellian oddball hunt. Every weirdo is a potential killer. We need to screen the weirdos out. We need a weirdo list. We need to watch the weirdos very carefully.

Being a weirdo myself, I think that's a bad idea.

Tuesday, April 20, 1999

Jeremy Spoke in Class Today

Jesus. Some massacre just went down in a school in Colorado. Evidently, some kill-crazy kids celebrated Hitler's birthday.

They're celebrating together now.

Saturday, April 3, 1999

The Matrix

I'm in awe. Larry and Andy Wachowski -- the screenwriting/directing band of brothers behind this thing -- hit it out of the park. This has got to be one of the best SF movies of all time. Though not the most original ...

The plot/premise is a distillation of Philip K. Dick’s brand of paranoid Gnosticism. Basically, “reality” is a virtual reality dream concocted by an "evil genius" – in this case, a network of AI entities who kicked humanity’s collective ass in a recent war and deleted most people's memory of that history. A few hundred years later, the mass of humanity parties like it’s 1999 – naively assuming that’s the real year and they’re living in the real world. But that’s a digital delusion pumped into their brains to keep them asleep. In reality, humanity is hooked up in a series of goo-filled cells. The machines have reduced the formerly proud human race to the status of batteries. We’re powering them; they use our body heat to generate electricity.

But a few rebels survive in an underground city called Zion. Every now and then, Zion sends out a team to wake up a sleeping human, unplug their body from the Matrix, and make them part of their revolution. They do this to a dude name Neo -- Keanu Reeves, in a whoa-filled performance. But Neo's more than just another dude. He’s the savior, Jesus and Buddha rolled into one.

Well, at least according to Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne), the leader of the band in the hovercraft that rescues Neo. Morpheus is convinced Neo's the savior -- aka "The One." (In practice, that means Neo can potentially bend the virtual reality world of the Martix to his will.) Joe Pantoliano plays the devilish Cypher (his first name is probably “Lou”)who plants the seeds of doubt. Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss, as an old man’s fancy and a young man’s dream in black leather) gives Neo her faith. Like Jesus in the garden, Neo wrestles with his divine destiny. Meanwhile back in the Matrix, the artificial “Agents” (led by Hugo Weaving's implacable, Joe Friday-like Agent Smith) who guard the dream world, do their best to track them down. But the good guys bring the battle to them. After a few switcheroos and plot reversals, Neo plugs back into the dream world for the final battle between good and evil.

The storytelling rocks – a nice mix of action flick and philosophical head-scratcher, liberally stealing, not only from poor dead Dick, but William Gibson's Neuromancer, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, Alice in Wonderland – you name it – and, above all, Oshii's Ghost in the Shell. (The climactic shoot-out is basically a scene-for-scene remake.) But stealing’s fine with me.

In terms of special effects and cinematography, it rewrites the book. (And neatly solves the problem of improbable Kung Fu wire work. Hey, it's a dreamworld, right? Of course it breaks the laws of physics!) Some really sweet stuff, kids. See it.

As cinematic storytelling, The Matrix is purt’near perfect. As a science project, it’s not going to win any prizes.

OK, fanboys. Hate to drop a turd in the punchbowl, but nobody told Larry and Andy about the second law of thermodynamics. I.e., it’d take more energy to keep the sleeping humans alive than the humans would generate. And spare me the “combined with a form of fusion” – if you’ve got fusion power, why wire all of humanity together in a vast Rube Goldberg scheme to turn them into batteries? For that matter, why not use cows?

Who cares? It’s a movie, not a science lesson.

And, for all I know, the “human battery world" is just another illusion.

I'll wait for the sequel.