May 21, 2003
Just as common are reactions like MemeMachineGo’s:
My mind boggles that there are actually people reading depth and significance into the Matrix. Phil Dick was examining these themes with 100 times this depth 50 years ago. With 1000 times the depth in his later career, 20 years ago. Not to mention all the literature he inspired.Well, leaving aside the question of whether there are all that many “exciting and new questions” at this level of metaphysics, I have to wonder whether this isn’t making an extravagant claim on behalf of poor old Philip K. Dick. Exactly how much of Dick’s “depth” actually has to do with his brilliant answers to questions of philosophy and epistemology? Indeed, it seems to me that a lot of very good written SF, including Philip K. Dick’s best work, primarily uses this stuff as titillation and decoration, just as MMG plonks The Matrix for doing. It “doesn’t offer anything interesting in considering them…it just raises them and hopes the audience will confuse special effects with sophistication.” With the understanding that irony, tone, and sketched-in characterization are just another kind of “special effect” (and they are), you could say exactly the same about Valis or Ubik. You’d be right. And you’d have gotten no closer to understanding why Valis and Ubik are good books.
But, of course, one has to have actually read science fiction to know that. Even if you haven’t…c’mon…”what if we’re just brains in vats”, “what if we don’t have free will”—these aren’t exactly exciting and new questions. And the Matrix doesn’t offer anything interesting in considering them…it just raises them and hopes the audience will confuse special effects with sophistication.
I dunno, maybe after all these years working with prose SF, I’m just less impressed with its inherent formal intellectual superiority to action movies and comic books, the claim for which seems to be an article of faith with many of my friends. I’m not arguing that The Matrix and its sequel are inherently profound. They’re entertainments, not treatises. I feel like I’m making my way by touch down a darkened hallway with a blindfold over my face, but I think I’m becoming radically opposed to the notion that we should “boggle that there are actually people reading depth and significance into the Matrix.” It’s hard to avoid noticing that, on the commanding heights of literary culture, the official position on writers like Philip K. Dick is to boggle that there are actually people reading depth and significance into their work.
Am I suggesting that there’s no such thing as artistic merit? Not a chance. Am I coming to suspect that it might be more complicated than the rigid hierarchies of merit (Ironic dialogue: virtuous! Chopsocky action: sinful!) we all seem to be in a big hurry to construct? Could be. [09:05 AM]