Techno-Orientalism and the Matrix

In thinking about the virtual- and science- based fiction narrative, and its intersection with racial and postcolonial criticism, I questioned whether authors employ intentionality in making decisions regarding setting, theme, characters, and etc. While Nakamura’s article implies intentionality at least to a degree, especially for Gibson’s settings (64), and Stephenson’s cultural institutions (70), it seems that the rest of the story characteristics flow from the creative intuition. Similarly, in Park’s treatment of The Matrix, she analyzes Keanu Reeve’s outward multi-racial qualities, but does not address other reasons he may have been chosen in the role, including the previous roles he played in the similar Johnny Mnemonic (1995) and Chain Reaction (1996). These similar roles may have provided a greater basis for casting for the casting director than his outward and deeply postcolonial appearance. The intentionality question is often disregarded in critical studies of any sort, but plays into the question of whether to analyze a given work as a cultural artifact or as a postmodern commentary on the culture. A postmodern commentary would by definition be nearly completely intentional in its choices and self-referentiality; on the other hand, a cultural artifact may display some intentionality but would otherwise be restricted to an analysis based on how it represents the culture in which it was produced.

Given this problem, questions are raised. What are appropriate ways to critique intentional versus unintentional works? Can a cultural artifact critique analyze more than just the (culturally imposed) assumptions made by the creator? Is the intuitive flow of creation for the creator a challengeable process for those not working in the postmodernist mode? Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story is intentionally postmodernist and self-aware, whereas I am not so sure about Stephenson’s The Diamond Age. Although it may not be the best comparison, Matt Groening’s Futurama television series is clearly self-aware, whereas I am not convinced about The Matrix. In fact, the Wachowski brothers are clearly not engaging in postmodern intentionality, a point made clear when Park writes about how “these Japanese iterations of U.S. cyberpunk were then… (mis)translated by [them]” (175). This unintentional mistranslation of both the genre and the cultural artifacts behind it must lead the reader to question how much the text represents a utopian ideal versus how much it reflects our current society.

The postcolonial and critical racial criticisms of this movie and others step in here. As a reflection of where our society stands currently in regards to racial questions, the ‘other,’ equality, and normalizing the role of the white, The Matrix and other techno-orientalist fiction can serve as a lens through which to critique and create change. Creating the postmodern out of the unintentional can allow a clear critique of the culture of production, bringing awareness to issues which may be considered in a “natural” state, but which are not.

Works Cited

Groening, MattFuturama.  Twentieth Century Fox, 1999.  Television.

Lavender, Isiah.  “Critical Race Theory.”  No other information.  Print.

Nakamura, Lisa.  “Race in the Construct and the Construction of Race.”  Cybertypes: Race, Ethnicity, and Identity on the Internet.  Routledge, 2002.  Print.  61-85.

Reeves, Keanu, perf.  Chain Reaction.  Twentieth Century Fox, 1996.  Film.

—.  Johnny Mnemonic.  TriStar Pictures, 1995.  Film.

—.  The Matrix. Warner Brothers, 1999.  Film.

Shteyngart, Gary.  Super Sad True Love Story.  New York: Random House, 2010.  Print.

Stephenson, Neal.  The Diamond Age.  New York: Bantam, 1995.  Print