“Remember – all I’m proposing is the truth, nothing more.”
Photo: Courtesy of Warner Bros.
This series originally ran in 2019. We reissue it as The Matrix Resurrections hits theaters and HBO Max.
It is difficult to say exactly what would happen if you transported the two-century-old Christian Gnostic sect Valentinus to the 21st century. He would probably be confused by contemporary Christianity, and frightened by cars. You should teach him English, and explain to him modern inventions like computers, and The Hooded Singer. But I can be sure of one thing about bringing Valentinus into the 21st century: he would love. The Matrix.
He would not only appreciate the masterful production design, the legendary battle choreography, or the way the Wachowskis put Keanu Reeves’ woodwork to work – though he would; how could he not? – he would love too The Matrixthe Gnosticism of. Gnostics like Valentinus believed that the world we face every day is pain and suffering, an evil lie created not by God but by a lower deity of God’s creation, a figure called the Demiurge. To escape the falsehood of the material world and save your soul, you must attain gnosis or knowledge.
Sounds familiar? Valentinus – again, assuming you taught him English, explained guns, and turned off motion smoothing on his new TV – would no doubt recognize in the film his own worldview: the false world of the Matrix; the divine Demiurge personified in Agent Smith; the enlightened savior Neo, who arrives to save humanity. Valentinus ‘favorite scene (apart from the helicopter shoot, which is everyone’s favorite) would be where Morpheus sits in front of Neo and opens his palms to reveal two pills, perfectly reflected in Morpheus’ mirrored sunglasses: one red, one blue. “You take the blue pill and the story is over. You wake up in bed and believe whatever you want to believe, ”says Morpheus. “You take the red pill and you stay in Wonderland, and I’ll show you how deep the rabbit hole is.” The red pill: gnosis, baby.
Nineteen centuries after Valentinus and other early mystics first began preaching, Gnosticism is thriving as the indigenous belief system of the social media internet. It’s just that we know it as “red-pilling” – because, of course, there is no religious text more fundamental to the internet than The Matrix. Online, “to red pill” is to learn that you are deceived and deceived, that you have bought into a false and diabolical lie, and that your only way out is to gain true knowledge of how the world works. “Remember – all I’m proposing is the truth, nothing more,” Morpheus tells Neo.
What that “truth” is depends on your choice of pharmacist. Sometimes the Matrix is a “prefabricated world, ruled by a select few seemingly omnipotent forces, such as the Banksters, the Rothschilds and George Soros” – that is, from James Red Pills America, a popular conspiracy-focused YouTube account that promises to “educate the masses about the reality of the world we live in today.” Sometimes the Matrix is just political liberalism in general, as was the case with Red Pill Black, a YouTube channel created by right-wing activist Candace Owens with the intention of driving black Americans away from the Democratic Party. (Owens’s Denial of Morpheus was in short Kanye West, who tweeted praise from her in 2018 amid her flirtation with Trumpism; he also happens to be huge Matrix fan.) Red-pilling is generally right-wing – the left equivalent is “to be awakened” – but not always: Sometimes, as in the case of a YouTube channel called Red Pill Vegan, the Matrix is just “Short Keto Diet Advice.”
For the most part, what the internet has seen as the Matrix – the supposedly all-encompassing lie that causes pain and suffering – is feminism. Documentary (2015) called The Red Pill: A Feminist’s Journey into the Men’s Rights Movement (A 29 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes), follows journalist Cassie Jaye “as she stumbles down the rabbit hole into the mysterious world of the Human Rights Movement” and is “carried on a life-changing journey where she would never see the world the same. ” (Just like Neo, if he launched a Kickstarter fundraiser to find Morpheus.) Since at least the early 2010s, online anti-feminists have called their worldview the “red pill” that the infamous Reddit community r / TheRedPill, founded in 2012, defines as “the recognition and awareness of the way feminism, feminists and their white-knight enablers affect society.” R / TheRedPill now has 300,000 subscribers discussing “a sexual strategy in a culture increasingly lacking a positive identity for men.”
Misogyny, anti-feminism, and crude “catch artist” dating tips have been around on the internet for a long time, but it’s the religious sensibility of The Matrix as translated into “the red pill” that combines these threads into a coherent cosmology: Feminism, the Red Pill theory tells its mostly young male followers, is a cruel invention that causes personal unhappiness, social disorder, daily chaos, global strife, and , the worst reason is that you don’t have sex. Only with the red pill can you see the world for what it is really is, and – finally! – to have sex.
As with any movement, there are branches and schisms and rival sects. Beyond the red pill of anti-feminism, is the “black pill” of the “incel”, or involuntarily celibate: an abominable, boiling nihilism even about the things that animate “red pill” communities. (Important things like “how can I make love?”) On 4chan, an idiotic rainbow of “pills” appeared to match the various arcane ideologies represented on boards like / pol / (“politics”) and / x / (“paranormal”). . A widely circulated MS Paint-illustrated scheme sarcastically outlines the characteristics of “green pill” (“opponent of the Illuminati” and “political non-Euclidean”) and “brown pill” (“looks at green pill’s struggles against the NWO as vain”). ) among others. An anonymously written comic on Tumblr sings of the adventures of “Iron Pill”, a playful white supremacist with supernatural powers who fights feminists and anti-fiction protesters dressed only in a boxer shorts, boots and a sleeveless hooded cloak as a cloak. volkisch fuckboy superhero.
The flowering of pills in the wider spaces of the web seems a bit like a betrayal of Morpheus ’two-pill offering – instead of“ truth or illusion, ”you get, well, your choice of different truths. It makes you wonder a little if “the red pill” is really enlightenment or just another elaborate lie. But there were also dozens of different Gnostic sects and schools in the time of Valentinus. And why shouldn’t YouTube and Twitter and Facebook be fertile ground for new Gnosticisms? Today we are mostly caught in the clutches of a handful of opaque and irresponsible megaplatforms – vast systems exerting enormous power over us, but of whose operation we remain only vaguely aware. Is it any coincidence that fables of secret and enlightened knowledge of the repressive structures of reality are so powerful?
The MatrixThe red pill has long been a symbol of the online misogyny of the human rights movement. But over the years, it has also inspired the value of a whole pharmacy of other memes and cyber ideologies – some playful, some hateful, some of which describe real beliefs, and others used mostly unfavorably. Here are the more prominent and strange ones.
Like a red pill but less worried about feminism than reptilian aliens enforcing the New World Order.
An anti-materialist is more concerned with personal education than with the Illuminati.
Ignorant of politics and global conspiracies. Hates to read and just wants to make love.
Supporter of the Illuminati (or possible member). Think people need to be controlled.
Aware of the Illuminati and certainly not a fan, but not excited about it.
In bodybuilding, the neo-Paleo diet, and the high-right. Claims to have supernatural powers.
A more nihilistic red pill, too sad to even learn charging artist techniques.
* A version of this article appears in the February 4, 2019, issue of New York Magazine. Subscribe Now!