If I were to pick any single film from my lifetime as the best mirror to hold up to society to show it what it really is, it would be The Matrix. And it all comes down to a single line in this scene:
"And many of them are so inured, so hopelessly
dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it."
Which brings me to Todd F.
He put on The Matrix while I was staying over at his place. I believe the year was 2000. I hadn't bothered to catch it while it was playing in theaters, despite many assuring me I would love it.
I did. We were drunk, as I recall; it was very late; and his new wife had gone to bed.
I watched most of it with my mouth hanging open. When it ended, I was a changed man. In fact, I couldn't see how anyone who watched it wouldn't be. The Matrix is a powerful mirror with respect to this sick, toxic, cowardly, morally bereft, selfish and destructive culture.
I had always had high hopes for Todd. We met when I was coaching the local girls' high-school swimming team. He was a sophomore, as I recall; and we became fast friends. When he went to college, he decided--for reasons I am clueless about today--that I was no longer worth his time. As deeply painful as that was, I went on with my life.
In 1998 or '99, he got married. Quite surprisingly, he invited me to the wedding.
My initial plan was to blow him off. I was bitter about how he had treated me; rightfully so I feel even to this day. But I went anyway. It was there, or within that week or so span of time, that he made a half-hearted attempt at mending fences. He and his bride moved to Denver, to a small apartment. He'd invite me over every now and then. It was on one of those sleep-overs that he showed me the movie.
I was at the time in a living hell. I was dead broke, living in Greeley, Colorado (itself a true hell), and just months away from being sexually assaulted by one of my graduate professors, and, a few months after that, homeless. If ever there was a time to watch The Matrix, I was living in it. Its impact on me was profound and persists to this day, despite the many grotesque misappropriations it has suffered from the likes of Republicans, white-lighties, materialists, and other cultural leeches.
I got raped, and good ol' Todd, as though on cue, decided that very month that he didn't like me anymore. I remember leaving him a phone message. I was beyond desperate, confused, terrified, suicidal, and furious, and with no one else to talk to. I blubbered for him to call me back--a message he never bothered returning.
I had no idea what the hell I had done to piss him off--again. No idea whatsoever. (I still don't know.) And here I was, needing my friend more than I ever had before.
Long story short, for some reason, in 2003 - 04, while I was blogging at LiveJournal (remember that site, anyone?), he suddenly decided I was worth talking to again. But only via comments, and only very occasionally.
I was living in San Diego by that point. I had just started writing Melody and the Pier to Forever. I was broke (as usual; I've been broke almost all of my life), but feeling very strongly that, despite my continuing troubles, I was finally on the right path. I had, in effect, and with tremendous effort and sacrifice, left the Matrix.
Now, if you haven't seen this film yet, I'm compelled to ask: What fuckin' rock have you been living under, eh? Here's a quick summary to catch you up. I don't feel any particular need to do more than that; this movie is, in my opinion, easily as iconic as Star Wars. Just watch it already.
Leaving the Matrix (that is, truly waking up to it) isn't easy; and once you're out (once you've truly woken), life doesn't suddenly become all roses and sunshine. If anything, it becomes a hundred times harder. You are part of a tiny minority of human beings who have escaped. Your clothes are threadbare; the food is awful, and the system--the Matrix itself--is hunting you with every intent to destroy you.
Such has it been for me. And such has it been for everyone for time immemorial. I quote Jesus of Nazareth himself:
Enter by the narrow gate.
For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leadeth to suffering,
and those who go through it are many.
But the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leadeth to true life,
and those who find it are few.
It's not that the gate is hard to find. It isn't. In fact, it presents itself to you every single day, every single moment of every single day. The few who find it do so because they opened their eyes. In the language of The Matrix, they took the red pill.
It's important that you ignore the fascist fucks who have misappropriated this scene and the terminology in it to advance their hateful political, gender-based, and cultural agendas. I know that my position is correct, because Matrix's writer and director, Lilly Wachowski, has made it very plain, and on more than one occasion, that Republicans and their stank-assed ilk, if they are anything, are willing parts of the Matrix--the real-life version of it. They are the disease. They are the problem.
Back to Todd. I quoted Jesus because Todd's father is (or was; I haven't kept up with him in many years) a pastor. Todd grew up in a very devout home. He grew up with that verse, or quote, or whatever you want to call it, as a central part of his life. A central part, as it turns out, that he has ignored completely.
In 2004, I posted something to LiveJournal. I don't even rightly remember what it was. Certainly I've been known to post controversial topics and take a strong, controversial stand with or against them. I'm unrepentantly political and I refuse to shut my mouth. Maybe that was it. I don't recall. If so, it was one of hundreds of such posts I'd written by that point. I'm no Neo or Morpheus or Trinity; I'm no hero: but that doesn't mean I don't have an obligation to rail and rant and fight against the real-life Matrix, the one we all are living in, awake or not awake, the very one destroying the planet as I write this.
Whatever it was that I wrote, it prompted not a comment posted to my feed, but an email, one in all caps, a hateful insult-laced single-paragraph rant that I skimmed through and deleted in about six seconds. The post didn't include or insinuate anything against him; if anything, I was tip-toeing through my strong opinions in an effort to bring him around, to start a more regular dialogue with him, to--again--mend fences. Fences that I had never touched in anger, not even once.
And that was it. Todd was gone, this time for good.
In that time, he quit his teaching job and went to work as a cog for Western Union. He's probably got a cubicle--but he ain't no Neo. Not remotely close. He is a willing and enthusiastic part of the real-life Matrix. He is, as Morpheus would say, "hopelessly inured."
He's got kids and a mortgage and lives comfortably in suburbia; he is sound asleep; and, like everyone around him, a coward and part of the problem. He is, by dint of his chosen existence, a destroyer. His amatonormative lifestyle demanded that he treat everyone not in his nuclear family either like shit or with only the most glancing of acquaintanceships; he spends his days comfortably numb, like everyone plugged into the Matrix is; he makes money, feeds the kids, pumps the wife occasionally, and feels like he is a good man, a moral man. But he isn't.
You call yourself good.And yet you turn away as immigrant childrenare torn from their mothers’ grips—?And yet you ignore the crimes of your so-called president,a traitor to this country, a thief who stole the presidencywith the aid of a cabal of criminals and a vile Russian government—?
You call yourself good, but are indifferent—?You didn’t vote in November 2016.You aren’t going to vote in 2018.You’re still somehow good?Really?
Or maybe you did vote.You voted for the Orange Twitler.Or you voted third-party because you believed the bullshitabout “that woman.”Her emails! Benghazi! Oh my!
You call yourself good.You have a job. You think that makes you good.You provide for your family.You think that makes you good.You’re “normal” to your neighbors.You think that makes you good.You don’t rock the boat.You think that makes you good.You play the game, pay your taxes, and do as you’re told.That makes you good, right?Right—?
But it doesn’t.You are in fact no better than the finest Naziwho lived and breathed and watched hiscountrymen fill railcars with human beingsdestined for extermination.
To hell with you and your soulless “good” life.
I watched The Matrix with him. I was forever changed by it. In no small part it gave me the courage to get through what was coming. In no small part it gave me the courage to see the real-life Matrix with both eyes open, and to reject it as best I could and leave it, knowing that my life wasn't going to get any easier, but indeed, would likely stay hellish, a day-to-day fight to survive, to pay rent, even to eat.
Todd--and millions of others--watched it and--? What the fuck did he, and they, do?
He, and they, consumed it. Nothing more.
And that's the essential crux of the difference between those few, like me, who have rejected the system and fight it every day, and ones like Todd who, heedless of his own Savior's passionate words, continues slogging on, as Frank Slade of Scent of a Woman says, "That long, gray line of American manhood."
He owns that movie as well. That movie changed me too.
But Todd? Ol' Todd and all like him are consumers. They're suburbans. They're automatons. They're cowards. They are, in a word, cogs. And cogs refuse to change, refuse to open their eyes, refuse to man up, refuse to leave the Matrix.
And so our planet burns.
I regret ever befriending him.