More Like 'The Matrix' Every Day

I was in a restaurant in New York the other day and the waitress said, "We can't catch a break: the war, the economy ... the weather."

New Yorkers are usually a little tougher than this but the city has lost 200,000 jobs in the past two years. And snow in April? Damn.

There is one bright spot on the horizon. Everywhere I go, people are counting the days 'til the new Matrix comes out. The first movie was a surprise hit. But Matrix Reloaded and Matrix Revolutions, scheduled for May and November releases respectively, are already cult phenomena.

They're also all too real.

Every morning I walk past a scene straight out of The Matrix. Remember those cops, the ones on the roof, with the helicopter? Full riot gear, dorky helmet ... yeah, them. They're on Wall Street just off of Broadway, guarding the New York Stock Exchange. Every morning I walk down Wall Street to work, I expect Keanu and Carrie-Ann to jump out in their nouveau bondage gear, tha-thwacking the riot cops on the head and using up a zillion rounds of ammo.

But these cops are the good guys, not the bad guys. I think. Seeing men with enormous guns rarely makes me feel safe. I guess they'll protect the brokers from the random crazy with a Saturday Night Special, but from an attacker with anthrax or a hijacked plane -- nah. Meanwhile, it makes me profoundly aware that I'm living in a war zone. I don't know if I'm an observer, hostage, or combatant.

It's hard to imagine the endgame for a post-terror America. Will we one day decide that we don't need assault rifles on our streets? Or does it seem like street corner surveillance cameras and office buildings fingerprinting employees (which I will soon have to undergo), are a part of the New World Order that's here to stay?

I turn to my Oracle -- The Matrix. Not only stylish and sophisticated, The Matrix says quite a lot about our barely veiled rage against the modern state. It takes leaps a movie set in contemporary times would never get away with.

In The Matrix, the state is the enemy, not protector. One of the climactic scenes takes place in a sterile glass-and-steel office tower whose clones clutter financial districts around America. Keanu Reeves' Neo, staging a daring rescue of guru Morpheus (Lawrence Fishburne), first guns down the uniformed guards by the metal detector. The he blows the place up from the inside out, setting off a powerful bomb in the elevator shaft.

The symbol of America's power explodes, here, from the inside out, not from the outside in as with the September 11 attacks. Maybe I'm reading too much into this, but let me ride for a bit. How many movies have you seen where the massive office tower -- the place in which the American worker is symbolically trapped -- explodes in a shower of steel and glass? From Die Hard to Spiderman, the impregnable fortresses of commerce seem to be the first to go. Take the Westin Bonaventure, a monstrous set of mirrored-glass cylinders plopped in Downtown L.A. On weekends, there are a few homeless people on the streets, which are otherwise nearly empty of both foot and car traffic. In the auto lobby, you can see posters of all the movies in which the building exploded or threatened to.

Watching the business world literally explode seems to be one of the top American fantasies. It's a nice distraction from watching the actual implosion of the American economy. Frankly, I feel less scared in the theatre.

Farai Chideya is the founder of Pop and Politics.com.

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