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Archive for June, 2012

Hacking The Matrix

Cyberculture have become a large part of our lives. This is a paper exploring the impacts of the Internet on American life and media written for a class at Portland State with Dr.Rill.

Hacking The Matrix

Imagine every particle in your body was not, in fact, a particle of matter at all. What if our world wasn’t made up of tiny atoms binding together but rather a series of ones and zeros creating a code, a computer code? This is the reality within The Matrix. This film brings cybercultures to life, communicates cultural messages, and presents elements of cyberpunk.

Cyberculture

            Cyberculture is an element of The Matrix, specifically the cyberculture of hacking. In order to understand what cyberculture is and how it applies to The Matrix, culture must first be defined. According to Samovar and Porter (1997), “culture is ubiquitous, multidimensional, complex, and all-pervasive,” (p.12). Culture that flourishes due to electronic wired networks is known as cyberculture (Nayar, 2010). Culture helps mankind to understand the world and aids “in the transition from the womb to this new life,” (Samovar & Porter, 1997, p.12). This concept of understanding the world through the lens of culture is a reoccurring theme in The Matrix.

When the audience first meets Mr. Anderson, he understands the world in relation to the culture that exists within the matrix. After taking the red pill, Mr. Anderson is ripped from ignorant bliss and is born into a new culture and a new understanding of reality. The red pill symbolizes the invention, or discovery, of a new concept of reality that is eventually accepted by the majority of the members in a culture (Samovar & Porter, 1997). The scene in the film where Mr. Anderson struggles to free himself from the machine’s hibernation chamber, that strongly resembles a womb, and is symbolically reborn as Neo speaks directly to Samovar and Porter’s cultural transition from one life to another. Cypher’s betrayal is a manifestation of the outlier that Samovar and Porter mention in relation to the invention. There are also specific examples of cybercultures in The Matrix.

Hackers are the unique example of a cyberculture in The Matrix. When Trinity is first introduced to Neo at the club, Neo recognizes her hacker tag from a historic event that occurred within their culture. The hackers that belong to Morpheus’ crew all dial the switch board operator (Tank and Dozer) for information and pathways. This operator controls the flow of information by directing the hackers within the matrix, adding to the cyber element of the culture.

Cultural Messages

            Cyberculture is accompanied by cultural messages from offline America (where the film was created). These cultural messages include those of rules and norms, gender, plus freedom and individuality.

Rules and Norms

Cultures and cybercultures teach people the rules and norms of life. The real world that exists in the film is a post-apocalyptic reality where nature has been completely stamped out. Nayar (2010) would call this a post-human society. However dismal reality may be Neo, Morpheus, Trinity, and the others reenter the matrix to save humanity. Now that Neo’s culture has changed, he must relearn the rules that govern him. In other words, he must be enculturated (Samovar & Porter, 1997). Online interactions and discourse in cyberspace follow different rules than tradition interactions. Silver (2000) identifies this as key concern for cyberculture scholars.

This is a key concern because of instances such as the woman in the red dress. Mouse offers Neo intimate time with the program and argues that there is no need for self-control in the digital realm because it is not real. In the offline culture, that would be considered prostitution or even rape. Either of these instances are accompanied by negative reactions from society but that changes online simply to what is called “tiny sex” (Silver, 2000). “Tiny-sex” leads to the next culutural message: gender and male dominance.

 

Gender

The patriarchal society is one of the cultural messages that are infused in The Matrix. All of the positions of power in the film are occupied by men. Neo, is ‘the one’ who has the power to save mankind from the machines. Morpheus is the leader of the Nebuchadnezza. Although Trinity is a strong character, she answers and aides both of these men and devotes every action to them and their destinies. She is, essentially, a deadly tool for them to wield. Evil is also considered, within American culture, to be male. For example, the agents of the machines are all male. The real villain, Cypher, is also a man.

Women are represented as strong but also soft. Switch begins to tear up, as does Trinity, after Cypher kills one of the other hackers. Neo never shows sadness or compassion. Even the oracle is shown as a caring mother figure that bakes cookies for Neo. Nayar (2010) discusses the genderfication of electronics by pointing out nouns like “motherboard” and verbs such as “jacking in” (p. 18). Motherboard reinforces this giving aspect of females while jacking in reinforces the cultural message that men use women (of course this is not always the case). The woman in the red dress is once again a perfect example. Mouse tells Neo “she doesn’t talk much but” that doesn’t matter because female needs, desires, and thoughts are unimportant. Trinity’s refusal to express her opinion about Neo throughout the first section of the film also reflects this cultural belief. Why should she share her opinion if she doesn’t think it will matter? This symbolically silences women.

Although there is a definite message of male dominance in American culture and The Matrix, women are portrayed with a measure of strength. This is a much more progressive view of women then back when Thomas Edison was creating films. Women from the inception of film were portrayed as weak and helpless. This reflects the culture’s gradual march towards sexual equality both online and offline, which is evidence of cyberfeminism taking effect. Although still subordinate, females are gaining autonomy in cybercultures at a much faster pace than ever before.

Freedom and Individuality

A very strong cultural message that is found in The Matrix is that of autonomy and individuality. America is an individualistic culture. The Matrix features a hero who has been reborn in order to free mankind from being enslaved by machines. The physical world that awaits a freed human is not a pleasant one, but it is still valued over slavery and comfort. Zion represents the ultimate freedom for humans in this film. Suffering and self-sacrifice illustrates just how important freedom is to the culture. The hackers risk their lives every day to fight for freedom and many of them die. Morpheus is more than willing to sacrifice himself for Neo because Neo is the best chance humanity has for autonomy. Even being bugged, or spied on, is something worth going through a measure of pain to avoid. When Trinity sucks out the bug from Neo, it is clear that he is in pain and there is blood on the device once it is removed aiding to its unpleasantness.

Cyberpunk

Cyberpunk is a type of science fiction that deals with the limitations of the human body and cyborgs, reproduction, time and space, plus environment, information, and politics in relation to cybertechnology (Nayar, 2010).

Cyborgs and the Body

Wetware is another term for the natural human body that cyberpunk is concerned with (Nayar, 2010). After all, the human body has major limitations. Cyborgs are nature and technology combined together to create what Lister et al. (2009) call “the living machine,” (p. 322). The hackers are all cyborgs and therefor have access to the matrix. When Neo first awakens he is shocked to find himself comprised partly of machinery. A natural human is rare and establishes a kind of hierarchy for something as simple as being human. Tank’s display of joy at being completely natural and describing the difference between him and Neo is evidence of this. It also creates a division between wetware and cyborgs.  Although natural humans are considered better, the cyborgs are the warriors and the strongest weapons in the war for freedom. This strength elevates cyberpunk beliefs.

Reproduction

In The Matrix humans no longer reproduce with other humans. The scene where Neo is birthed from the machine reflects cyberpunk as well as cultural change. This seems fictional, but even in America today, in vitro fertilization occurs. Cloning is the next step for science. Nayar (2010) describes cyberpunk’s attitude towards cloning (and alien reproduction) as something to be feared and predicts that it will create monsters. This is evident in the scene described earlier of Neo being reborn from the machine’s womb. Keanu Reeves is considered an attractive actor by many but in this scene, he is horrific and frightening. Skinny, pale, bald, disoriented, and gasping for air Mr. Anderson resembles a monster. The fact that his body was nourished into adulthood by feeding off of liquefied human corpses, ads to this monstrous image. Once his muscles are rebuilt and he is oriented to his new culture, Neo becomes a cyborg that can be identified with as human.

Time and Space

Time and space become blurred in the realm of cyberpunk. Incongruent experiences of time are a concern for cyberpunk.  “Real time slips under cyber-time,” is most clearly manifested in The Matrix when the audience learns that the 90s reality was false and the year is actually much closer to year 3000. Human slaves to the machines are born, die, and recycled through feeding tubes for other human slaves that are born into the same time their predecessor, were born in the matrix. This slipping of time is clearly inspired by the cyberpunk movement.

Space in cyberpunk and cyberspace is irrelevant. As long as a person is close to a wire they are connected. One important element of cyberculture in the film is that in order to actually travel to and from the matrix, a hardwired phone must be used. This is representative of the fact that networked societies do in fact rely on elements (such as wires) that exist in the physical world.

Environment, Information and Politics

It is clear that in The Matrix the environment of nature and the environment of cyberpunk are fundamentally different. The cyberpunk environment is represented within the matrix and portrays Earth as healthy and vibrant. The sun is shining and plants are growing. The natural reality, according to cyberpunk, is represented on screen as the real world that has a scorched sky and only metal and darkness to make up the scenery. This speaks directly to Nayar’s (2010) description of cyberspace as “an electronic universe that is surreal [and] hallucinatory,” (p.39).

When Neo is being nursed back to health by Morpheus and his crew Neo asks “why do my eyes hurt?” (Berman et al., 1999). Morpheus calmly responds, “because you have never used them,” (Berman et al., 1999). Information is an essential theme for cyberpunk and The Matrix “where the right kind of data is truly priceless or dangerous,” (Nayar, 2010). The information that the matrix is real is the perfect example of this. It is priceless because Neo now has his freedom. However, it is also extremely dangerous because after learning this knowledge he is being hunted both within the matrix and in corporeality. This constant quest for Neo’s life sends a clear us versus them message for politics. This also feeds off of the cultural messages of individuality and freedom discussed earlier. The gender messages within the film also communicate the politics of cyberfeminism.

Conclusion

            The Matrix is a complex film with intricate layers. There are many lenses that can be used to examine this film. However, cyberculture is clearly influential for the premise of the film and its content. Cultural transitions are dealt with in the film as well as a particular cyberculture: hackers. The Matrix also touches on the way rules and norms are altered in cyberspace. The film can also be studied through the lens of gender and American culture. Cyberpunk is clearly influential on the film. It manifests in relation to cyborgs, the human body, reproduction, time, space, environment, information, and politics.

References

Berman, B., Cracchiolo, G., Hughes, C., Mason, A., Mirisch, R., Osbornne, B., … Wachowski, L. (Producers), & Wachowski, A., & Wachowski, L. (Directors). (1999). The Matrix [Motion picture]. Retrieved from imdb.com

Lister, M., Dovey, J., Giddings, S., Grant, I., & Kelly, K. (2009). New Media: A Critical Introduction by Jon Dovey, Martin Lister and Seth Giddings (2009, Hardcover): A Critical Introduction (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Rutlidge.Nayar, P. (2010). An introduction to new media and cybercultures. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.

Nayar, P. (2010). The new media and cybercultures anthology. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.

Samovar, L., & Porter, R.(1997). Intercultural Communication (8th ed.). Boston, MA: Wadsworth Publishing Company.

Silver. (2000). Looking backwards, looking forward: Cyberculture studies 1999-2000. Web studies: Rewriting media studies for the digital age, 19-30. Retrieved from http://www.newmediastudies.com/index.htm

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