- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 13, 2003

Gnostic cinema

“If you want to understand the ‘Matrix’ trilogy, think of it as a capsule history of baby-boom rock. The original ‘Matrix’ is a three-chord riff of a movie: a simple, familiar idea — ‘What if reality is a great big fake?’ — amplified and transformed into an irresistible hook. ‘The Matrix Reloaded’ is a 1970s prog-rock concept album: sprawling, pretentious, and ultimately incoherent, but brimming with ideas and virtuoso displays. And ‘The Matrix: Revolutions’ is an over-the-hill pop star recycling someone else’s material — the sort of music you’d hear on a Michelob commercial, circa 1987.

“Even if ‘Revolutions’ weren’t already slated to be the final installment, its chilly critical and commercial reception should guarantee we won’t find ourselves awash in ads next year hyping ‘The Matrix 4: This Time, It’s Personal.’ Less obvious is the fact that this turgid tale marks the decadent stage not just of a Hollywood franchise, but of a briefly vibrant genre. In the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, a wave of films played with the notion that what we experience as ‘reality’ is a false and perhaps malevolent illusion. …

“For whatever reasons, audiences at the turn of the century were receptive to paranoid thrillers about inauthentic realities. Call it the Demiurge cycle, after the Gnostic notion that our world is governed by a mad ersatz God.”

Jesse Walker, writing on “Every Man a Demiurge,” Monday in Reason Online at www.reason.com

Unreadable ‘culture’

“Go to your nearest academic bookshop and look at the section labeled ‘Cultural Studies.’ …

“If you open these books and try reading a page or two, you will probably notice … most of them are unreadable. …

“Somewhere in the origins of this new academic quasi-discipline there was a democratic impulse: the idea was that ‘low’ culture (pop music, soap operas, football and pornography) could be just as much an object of serious study as sonnets or string quartets, and that through such study ordinary people might gain a self-understanding which could help in the processes of emancipation and empowerment.

“Clearly, something has gone terribly wrong. Not only have these clever cultural theorists ended up producing stuff which will never emancipate ordinary people, because no ordinary person can read it. They have turned into cultural relativists, and given up on the whole theory of emancipation.”

Noel Malcolm, writing on “Why don’t we discourse anymore?” Nov. 2 in the London Telegraph

‘Reliable punch line’

” ‘How did Arianna Huffington, one-time conservative Republican, become a liberal?’ asked the press during the California recall. …

“The media assumed Huffington suddenly became a liberal flake. The truth is that she always was one. … She has always preferred celebrity to seriousness. … She has a need for attention that appears bottomless. …

“As Republicans rose to congressional power in the 1990s, her liberalism conflicted with her desire to climb with them, so she revised it and turned her forensics skills toward currying favor with Newt Gingrich, whom she lionized so long as he was riding high. …

“Now a reliable punch line to a joke, she is associated in the public mind with attention-grabbing, power-seeking, and phoniness. Football broadcaster Al Michaels uses her to describe zig-zagging halfbacks.”

George Neumayr, writing on “Arianna of Brentwood,” in the November issue of the American Spectator


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