Tuesday, September 02, 2008

For Fake: Obama as Morpheus

There are all kinds of Obama supporters of my age, gender, and race (no, not class so much). Some are de facto supporters, too worldly to be smitten by any politician; some are enthusiastic only to the extent that they are energized in opposition to Republicans. Then there are the others: the douchebag true believers; the gullible, the naive, the childish -- in short, the Ezra Kleins. Someday I'll write something about them. And this excerpt of Roger Ebert's review of the second Matrix film is something I'll probably use:

I became aware, during the film, that a majority of the major characters were played by African Americans. Neo and Trinity are white, and so is Agent Smith, but consider Morpheus; his superior Commander Lock (Harry Lennix); the beautiful and deadly Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith), who once loved Morpheus and now is with Lock, although she explains enigmatically that some things never change; the programmer Link (Harold Perrineau); Link's wife, Zee (Nona Gaye), who has the obligatory scene where she complains he's away from home too much, and the Oracle (the late Gloria Foster, very portentous). From what we can see of the extras, the population of Zion is largely black.

It has become commonplace for science fiction epics to feature one or two African-American stars, but we've come a long way since Billy Dee Williams in "Return of the Jedi." The Wachowski brothers use so many African Americans, I suspect, not for their box-office appeal, because the Matrix is the star of the movie, and not because they are good actors (which they are), but because to the white teenagers who are the primary audience for this movie, African-Americans embody a cool, a cachet, an authenticy. Morpheus is the power center of the movie, and Neo's role is essentially to study under him and absorb his mojo.

Sure, it's coming from the opposite direction from me. Ebert's commenting on the marketing scheme directed at a certain mindset, while my interest is on the mindset that would be marketed to, a mindset so at home with plasticity and falsity (and, it must be said, whiteness -- though not said with the usual finality and weight of those who like to believe that the first last and only explanation to any problem is racism) that the only 'authenticity' it can divine is superficial -- symbolic at best. For them, it really is that simple: Obama is black, ergo he really is all that. Of course, the reality is that Obama -- black, white, or green -- would never be allowed to be all that and have the presidency within his grasp, precisely because America as it is has been created and perpetuated by a long line of slightly-older... yes, plastic and mendacious douchebags who are, if anything, a practical lot, and will thus admit a new member of dusky hue so long as he comes to believe what they believe, and agrees to act according to the institutional rules. 'Black' thus comes to mask and then subvert (it is, in a word, a simulacrum) what is truly magical, radicalism. The douchebags get to have their cake and eat it too, bandying the skein of a progressive stance by pointing to the skin color of their candidate.