Author’s Profile                                      Research Blog                               My PhD thesis                           Contact Me                 

 

 

 

 

Giovanni Tiso

Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand

 

 

The spectacle of surveillance

 

Images of the Panopticon

in science-fiction cinema

 

 

 

Our society is not of spectacle, but of surveillance [...]. We are neither in the amphitheatre, nor on the stage, but in the panoptic machine, invested by its effects of power, which we bring to ourselves since we are part of that mechanism.

(Michel Focault, Discipline and Punish)

 

 

It’s not paranoia when they’re really after you.

(Tag line of the film Enemy of the State)

 

 

 

 

 

Introduction - Enemy of the State and the technology of surveillance

 

‘The more technology you use, the easier it is for them to keep tabs on you’. This is how Gene Hackman’s character in Enemy of the State (USA, 1998, Tony Scott) a communications expert turned private investigator by the name of Brill, explains modern surveillance at work. The line of argument is simple: every time we use a phone, log onto a computer or make a purchase with a credit card, we send bits of information concerning ourselves into a world of many networks; and then all it takes is someone with enough resources and the appropriate agenda to collect this information and turn it into an instrument of control. Which is precisely what the American National Security Agency is seen doing in this film, lurking in the shadow of political protection and acting not as a line of defence against potential threats to the State but as a very high-tech secret police.

 

The direct relationship between technology and surveillance suggested by Brill has interesting implications. For one thing, it is becoming increasingly difficult to accept the one without the other: as socio-economic pressures drive more and more people to increase the levels of technology in their lives, if only to keep their jobs, there is a corresponding increase in the overall levels of surveillance. This mutual relationship does not even require an explicit intent to monitor people on the part of the manufacturing industry, for the devices which make the new brand of surveillance possible - such as cellphones, credit cards and networked computers - do not serve the primary function of keeping tabs on people; on the contrary, they are consumer products bought on a voluntary basis as tools to carry out certain tasks. And yet an important part of the way they function is by leaving subtle but permanent marks which can ultimately be traced back to their users. In time, these traces grow and start circulating between computer systems, giving to unknown others the power to map our lives.

 

A scene from Enemy of the State illustrates the kind of inferences which can be drawn out of such information: having obtained two names, those of lawyer Robert Clayton Dean and freelance entrepreneur Rachel Banks, the analysts at NSA feed them into a computer programmed to cross-reference all the data included in the various commercial and institutional databases in the country; in this way they are able to ascertain more or less instantly that the pair went to college together, shared a one bedroom flat and its bills for a few months (a connection that suggests a romantic involvement), and that although currently living apart they have some kind of business relationship – as can be deducted from a coincidence of withdrawals and deposits into and from their respective bank accounts.

 

Older, less technological ways of collecting data about the individual, namely those of centralised bureaucracies, would not have been able to produce such updated and relevant data. The registration of births, deaths and marriages (to establish identity) and the assessment of income (for tax purposes) have been the main instruments of control of the State over its citizens for the last few centuries; but in comparison to the kind of information circulating in modern databases, they tell little about the individual. Just as importantly, modern communication systems make it much easier to cross-reference whatever information is at hand, enabling the watchmen to establish connections without which, as in the example above, the data themselves would be largely worthless.

 

The panorama of modern surveillance would not be complete without the oldest means of all, the one investing the very etymology of the term (literally to ‘watch over’). Accordingly, the instruments employed by the NSA in Enemy of the State could not but include the latest in the field of optical surveillance. All manners of cameras, including futuristic ones mounted on satellites and keeping constant watch over the American territory in astonishing detail, help to ensure this primary form of surveillance by striving to keep a literal eye on the subject at all times, while the accompanying soundtrack is provided by small and unobtrusive microphones which can be easily concealed on and around the target.

 

The powerful mix of informational, bureaucratic and optical/aural surveillance portrayed in this film is not that far-fetched: the technology is there and the intent has been demonstrated in several quarters[1], leading the media to show a great deal of interest in the issues involved. The explosion of the theme of surveillance in contemporary films - and particularly in the science fiction genre that Enemy of the State borders upon - should not come therefore as a surprise. Of more interest is the technophobic bias shown by many of these films which, as in the case of the one touched upon in this introduction, seem solely concerned with amplifying the feelings of fear and disquiet which surround this issue rather than with exploring the ways in which it reflects on social structures or indeed cinema’s own involvement - as a technology-intensive industry - in the surveillance process.

 

 

Foucault, Orwell and the one-way gaze

 

The Panopticon has become the key metaphor for the power of surveillance in contemporary society. Originally conceived by English philosopher Jeremy Bentham in the 18th century, the Panopticon is a prison structured as a circular building divided into cells which are all simultaneously visible from a central tower. The inspector who inhabits the tower is rendered invisible to the cells by Venetian blinds and by a complex system of architectural tricks, so that the prisoners have no way of knowing whether or not they are being watched at any given moment. In this way, although the inspector cannot possibly look everywhere at the same time, the illusion of incessant observation is created by removing the source of the gaze from view. Without the need of coercion, postulated Bentham, the prisoners would follow the rules of the prisons for the simple fear of being caught in the act of breaking them; and in time their behaviour would become automatic, as if they had voluntarily grown to abide by those rules. The Panopticon, in other words, was at the same time an instrument of containment and of moral reformation. For this reason, although his primary example was the penitentiary house, Bentham saw applications of the design to schools, hospitals, asylums, factories; in other words, to every situation in which a large number of individuals had to be controlled and indoctrinated at the same time.

 

Despite the fact that no such building was ever actually built, the Panopticon survived as an organisational principle with a powerful imaginary appeal, and was taken up by Michel Foucault as the model for the development of contemporary disciplinary societies. In the disciplinary society, argues Foucault, power is no longer exercised through coercion but through surveillance, by virtue of the panoptic principle:

Hence the major effect of the Panopticon: to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power. So to arrange things that the surveillance is permanent in its effects, even if it is discontinuous in its action; that the perfection of power should tend to render its actual exercise unnecessary; that this architectural apparatus should be a machine for creating and sustaining a power relation independent of the person who exercises it; in short, that the inmates should be caught up in a power situation of which they are themselves the bearers. [2]                               

It is society as a whole which induces the illusion of “conscious and permanent visibility” in its members, while power is disindividualised and rendered automatic. The most well-known representation of this mechanism is undoubtedly that of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, in which the figure of Big Brother could be seen as the equivalent of the inspector in the central tower of the Panopticon: he cannot be seen, and may not even exist for all the prisoners/citizens know; all that counts is the possibility that he may be watching, a possibility which becomes certainty - by virtue of a paranoid short-circuit - precisely because he cannot be seen[3]. His power is that of a social self-regulating principle which works through a gaze which is at once literal and metaphorical.

 

In Michael Radford’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (UK, 1984), the gaze of Big Brother is channelled through ubiquitous television screens which depict the still image of his imposing face and unblinking eyes. In this respect the film is at a distinct advantage compared to its literary source, for it can show this haunting image, give shape and colour to it without the need to resort to a verbal description. At the same time, the film presents a significant structural ambiguity in terms of point of view: while Orwell’s narrator could modulate with words his relationship with Winston and Julia, the two main characters/victims in the story, Radford’s camera can do little more than choose from which position to shoot them; and no matter how sympathetic the angle, the cold fact remains that the characters are being constantly framed, looked at, exposed in a way that presents many similarities with the structure of the Panopticon: a single gaze, that of the spectator through the camera, is able to watch many characters while remaining unseen.

 

This unavoidable, structural effect is heightened in Nineteen Eighty-Four by an almost clinical mise-en-scene which portrays Winston and Julia with very little sympathy; the depiction of nudity in the sex scenes, for instance, is unromanticised and focuses on the flaws of their malnourished bodies, so that it becomes difficult to regard them as objects of desire. No matter how significant a point is being made in this respect (sex is being rediscovered by people who have suffered from systematic emotional desensitising) it is difficult to chase away the sensation that the viewer is being asked to partake in the same kind of surveillance carried out by Big Brother, a practice which is especially careful to leave no room for intimacy. In fact, until the couple is captured and it transpires that their meetings had been monitored all along, the spectators may well regard their own powers of observation as being greater than those of Big Brother himself. But the blind spot was an illusion, and it later becomes clear than the same clandestine scenes observed by the audience had been - coldly and clinically, no doubt - surveyed by the authorities.

 

Does this suggest that the spectators are made to feel like accomplices of the rulers of Oceania? My contention is that to a certain degree this is so, and that it could not be otherwise due to the nature of the medium. The cameras and microphones which provide a film with its narrative perspective are also instruments of monitoring and surveillance, and every cinematic work could be said in this respect to contain a voyeuristic dimension. Whenever this structural aspect intersects a thematic aspect of the story, as in Nineteen Eighty-Four, this inherent ambiguity in the position of the viewer is amplified and demands to be reckoned with. Radford’s way of dealing with this aspect of filmmaking is to make conscious use of it in order to heighten the isolation of the characters within their society; hence Winston and Julia’s dream to be able to lead a secret life in a secret place could be said to be doomed, even before the police breaks into their upstairs room, by the fact that we can still see them. There is secret police, sitting in theatres or in front of television screens, that these two individuals will not be able to get away from, so long as their story is being told cinematically.

 

 

Limits of the Panopticon

 

The relationship between cinema and surveillance comes to the fore in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation (USA, 1972). The title refers to a brief conversation between a man and a woman recorded in the midst of a crowded square by Harry Caul, a private investigator specialised in video and audio surveillance hired for this particular assignment by the woman’s husband. During the many sequences devoted to the rehashing of these few lines of dialogue, the film proper turns into the one shot by the investigator, and its images and soundtrack wholly occupy the narrative space. That this effect can be reached with little effort -  merely by using a different film stock, distorting the soundtrack and making the appropriate deviations from the conventions of classical mise-en-scene - makes again the point of the contiguity between filmmaking and surveillance. What is more interesting in this film, however, is the way that this contiguity is used to reflect on the issues of representation and point of view, as well as to highlight certain contradictions of the panoptic society.

 

As he spends long sessions in front of his editing equipment, trying to produce the best possible footage to hand to his client, Caul gradually develops an obsessive interest in the content of the film he has surreptitiously shot. Of the man and the woman in the film he knows nothing, except what he can glimpse from the fragments of their conversation: from these he deduces that that they are lovers, and that they are afraid that the woman’s husband may be on to them; their wandering around in the crowded square is in fact a deliberate attempt to escape surveillance, and it transpires that was only thanks to his extraordinary expertise that Caul was able to overcome the technical difficulties involved in recording their dialogue. Yet somehow this crowning professional achievement is also the job which irrevocably undermines Caul’s ability to distance himself from his work. The man and the woman seem afraid that something terrible will happen, and there is no ignoring the fact that the by passing the film on Caul will be instrumental in precipitating the events; this realisation causes a shift in his interest from the act of surveillance seen in complete isolation (as the art of finding solutions to a series of technical problems), to its actual consequences. Caul’s obsession brings him to follow the two lovers until finally, in a hotel room where he thinks a trap has been set for them, they actually carry out the premeditated murder of the woman’s husband.

 

As the victims turn out to be murderers, Caul suffers ultimate defeat: no longer can he hope to claim professional detachment, to be as guiltless and impartial as one of his cameras; nor can he confide in the direct correspondence between his recordings and the real. At the same time, the role of his film in the story remains ambiguous: it gives the husband proof of the adultery, and perhaps causes him to draw the same erroneous conclusions reached by Caul - that the two lovers are afraid for their safety, when they are in fact planning a murder. Ultimately, this false knowledge may or may not have accelerated the death of Caul’s client. In any case, however, the scenario undermines the notion of impartial observation: the act of watching is fraught with consequences both for the subject and for the object of the observation; and that these consequences are difficult if not impossible to predict, as in this story, helps to uncover the underlying contradictions of a model of society based on surveillance.

 

The prisoners of the Panopticon may be under the illusion that they are constantly being watched, but we know that this is not the case: there is only one inspector in the central tower, only one gaze to be aimed to a given cell at any one time. From the point of view of the central authority, surveillance is therefore partial, and the data it produces will be necessarily as fragmentary as the conversation recorded by Caul. The illusion that from these fragments it is possible to reconstruct a true and comprehensive picture is a fallacy, for vital pieces of information may well have fallen into one the many gaps in the device. This consideration harks back to Foucault’s observation that surveillance in the Panopticon is “permanent in its effects, even if it is discontinuous in its action”. In other words, the success of the Panopticon is based on an error of perception: if the prisoners realised that surveillance is far from constant, and that the information it manages to gather is far from comprehensive, the prison around them would collapse.

 

 

Informational surveillance and the Superpanopticon

 

The flaws as well as the oppressive might of the model of society imagined by Bentham and Orwell are the subject of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil (UK, 1985). This film plays down the aspects of direct, visual/aural surveillance in favour of the informational/bureaucratic means, and yet represents a dystopia which has still many points in common with the world described by George Orwell: both are based on the depiction of a strong, centralised State which claims control over every aspects of social life and has expanded in such a way that there is no “other place” for the citizens to aspire to flee to; here too there is a strong emphasis on propaganda and on the invention of unseen, powerful enemies in order to justify a permanent state of national emergency; and, crucially, the same efforts are made by the authorities to keep the citizens under constant, obsessive monitoring. This is achieved no longer through the gaze of a Big Brother-like figure, but through an endless circulation of paperwork documenting every aspect of an individual’s life. Hence the most prominent branch of the Government becomes the seemingly all-powerful Ministry of Information.

 

As in The Conversation, however, here too surveillance is very much an imperfect art. This point is made at the outset in the form of a rather tragic joke: a cockroach falling into a typewriter mechanism causes the name Tuttle to be changed into Buttle in a document being issued to the Police, and this results in the arrest and eventual death under torture of the wrong man. The point being that where absolute faith is placed in the direct relationship between documented reality and the real, such mistakes are inconceivable and cannot therefore be remedied; and indeed all that the attempts by the protagonist to correct the blunder achieve is to set off another series of bureaucratic misunderstandings, eventually resulting in his own capture and torture by the secret police.

 

On this backdrop, the film follows a different cinematic approach to the representation of the Panopticon. Free from the burden of having to share its point of view with that of the instruments of surveillance - for the gaze of the prison guard here takes the form of a flow of documents - Gilliam enjoys a somewhat greater narrative freedom, and employs it to represent the inner workings of informational surveillance in a highly imaginative and often surreal setting. The Ministry of Information is represented as a monster which is at once frightening and grotesquely ridiculous, an oversized and hopelessly inefficient system of power whose mistakes, as in the case of poor Buttle, can have deadly consequences. It is interesting to note that the people responsible for running this system are animated by the same constant state of paranoia that the Panopticon strives to produce in its victims. They work on the assumption that there is no such thing as a coincidence, and that every minute link in the information they possess must necessarily point to a plot, a hidden design of some kind. As one of the chief bureaucrats at the Ministry puts it, “our job is to trace the connections and reveal them”. Hence the obsessive craving for information by the authorities in Brazil is motivated by their need to continuously find (or manufacture) such connections, in order to justify their role as protectors of society.[4]

 

Which brings us back to the role of the National Security Agency in Enemy of the State. The present day capabilities of communications technology are such that the visible structure of the Panopticon disappears altogether, for the information can be gathered and processed incessantly without the individuals involved being any more than vaguely aware of it. Thus the NSA does not need to rely on a totalitarian regime around it in order to carry out its function of secret police, and becomes a far more subtle, advanced and efficient equivalent of the oppressive structures of power Nineteen Eighty-Four and Brazil. At the same time, the fact that a limited, almost subliminal level of awareness of the workings of the Panopticon still exists, guarantees that the mechanism of self-surveillance described by Foucault remains in place.

 

The mix of informational, bureaucratic and optical surveillance portrayed in Enemy of the State is perhaps the most straightforward cinematic attempt to date of representing what Mark Poster calls the Superpanopticon, “a system of surveillance without walls, windows, towers or guards”[5]. According to this model, Bentham’s complex architectural design is replaced by the incessant flow of information which characterises the most technologically advanced societies; in other words, it becomes a truly automated mechanism from which the individual cannot escape except by withdrawing from society altogether. As more and more people become aware of being caught in this flow of information and realise that they have no control over the circulation of their personal data around the network, the Superpanopticon is growing into a sort of collective nightmare which the cinema is not alone in trying to articulate.  The remainder of this paper will be devoted to the close analysis of two recent science fiction films which explore these issues.

 

 

The Truman Show and surveillance as a spectacle

 

If Enemy of the State proves that the Panopticon can be made into a spectacle, The Truman Show (USA, 1998, Peter Weir) goes a step further by turning surveillance into its key narrative device.

 

The foundation of the film is another truly paranoid vision: the world inhabited by Truman Burbank is a simulation, nothing but an oversized television set, and everyone he has ever known are actors and extras acting from a script. From the moment he was born, Truman has been the unknowing protagonist of a show on air twenty-four hours a day for almost thirty years. His whole life is nothing but a spectacle made possible by a sophisticated form of surveillance akin to what Manuel De Landa calls “the panspectrum”. The chief characteristic of the panspectrum is the deployment of a multiplicity of sensors around several bodies instead of several bodies around a central sensor[6]. This is how Bentham’s vision is achieved in the world outside the prison, by multiplying the perspectives of the guards in order to cover a much greater ground - ideally as vast as the world itself. Truman’s Seahaven Island is the perfect panspectrum for it is filled by hidden cameras and microphones down to its remotest corner, and nothing can escape the gaze of its all-seeing masters.

 

The instruments of surveillance provide the show with its narrative apparatus, for the same sensors that enable the television producers to track Truman’s position on the island are also the ones which capture the video and audio signals to be broadcast (with the addition of a few transition effects and some music) to the television audience. What is more interesting, however, is that during the first hour of The Truman Show these instruments are also the narrative devices of the film itself: outside of occasional cuts to various audiences watching the show at home or in public places, the scenes from the end of the opening credits to the first appearance of Christof in the film proper are seen and heard through the same cameras and microphones which make a prisoner of Truman. We are constantly reminded of this by the fact that most shots are framed in round or elliptic shapes which reflect the hiding places of the various cameras, by the range of different lenses employed and by the unusual angles which suggest that the mise-en-scene is not totally free but constrained by the necessity to maintain secrecy (good examples of this are the camera placed behind the transparent front panel of the stereo in Truman’s car and the one behind his bathroom mirror).

 

Such self-conscious mise en scene begs the question of what kind of spectacle the film audience is watching. Is this meant to be a typical episode of the television show? We know it cannot be, for there are considerable time lapses and the editing is much too precise and content-sensitive to mimic a live programme: while a television director could to some extent time his cuts in the presence of a fixed script, the spontaneous acting of Truman makes it impossible to plan in advance the editing (especially of conversations) as neatly as that.

 

Another possibility is that the film is meant to be read as the narration of Truman’s story by a film director using the material provided by the television show. This would explain why, when Truman is sitting on the beach and starts remembering about his father’s death at sea, the flashback is narrated by the usual array of hidden cameras - still recognisable for the peculiar angles and the way the shots are framed. We may therefore conclude that the filmmaker, in order to preserve the fiction that the Truman show is an actual television show, is suggesting that this material was drawn from the archives of the series, and that it was used to retell the story according to the conventions of a feature film rather than a television documentary.

 

Yet another possibility is that what we are watching is a condensed show assembled by the producers from the most significant material recorded during the previous few days. Such a show would be closer to a feature film than to live reality TV both in editing and in the narrative liberties taken by the authors - as it is in fact the case. Truman’s flashback on the death of his father, for instance, is the result of pure speculation, for the surveillance technology adopted in the film does not go as far as mind reading. This last interpretation is not made explicit in the film, but it is supported by a key piece of internal evidence: after the cut to a bar in which two waitresses are discussing the show, the (film) camera shows the television screen as a second flashback comes on, this time narrating the story of Truman’s first meeting with Lauren/Sylvia. Hence we can conclude that the assemblage is part of the actual show.

 

With the exception of the occasional scenes of television viewing, then, the first hour of the film is meant to portray the show in an unmediated fashion. This puts the film audience in a very ambiguous position, for we are asked to identify with the extreme voyeurism of the show’s fans, at the same time as the system of values that we brought into the movie theatre moves us (presumably) to dismiss this as a monstrous experiment. All the while, we are watching Truman through the cameras which capture his every movement, and listen to him through dozens of hidden microphones. We are meant to sympathise with his status of prisoner, and yet we partake in his constant surveillance. Thus his first, futile attempt to escape the panspectrum with Lauren resembles the chases of Robert Dean by the NSA in Enemy of the State, for in both cases the audience assumes the point of view of the pursuer, not the one of the pursued. In terms of narrative perspective, we are effectively siding with the prison guards.

 

Espionage is an important element of the film. Prominent characters such as Truman’s wife Meryl, his mother and his best friend Marlon are akin to spies who have forfeited their private lives in order to pursue their career. But the spy film genre is also directly taken as a referent, notably in the sequence in which Truman unwittingly tunes his radio on the frequency used by the people who track his movements around town. “He’s turning left on Lancaster square” the radio announces as he drives the car to work, and “Oh, no, he’s almost hit a lady!” when he swerves to avoid a passer-by in his amazement at what he is hearing. Made suddenly paranoid (and not without reason) he then decides to abandon his routine and to wander around the square, as if trying to catch glimpses of his followers, in a scene strongly reminiscent of the famous one in The Conversation. Here too the problem is one of surveillance: how to record pictures and sounds of a person walking around a crowded square along a non-predetermined trajectory. The solutions, albeit made easier by technological advances, are indeed worthy of the resourcefulness of Harry Caul, and include the rear-view mirror of a parked car which changes angle in real time in order to enable a camera to follow Truman’s movements from its concealed position.

 

The panspectrum that is Seahaven Island works because it is small enough in relation to the resources of the show’s producers. In this sense we can see that there are two reasons why they will not allow Truman to leave the studio and go into the real world: one, perhaps the most obvious, is that the real world is the place where Truman’s life is a television show - and the moment Truman saw that show, or were approached by one of his fans, the foundations of the project would fall apart. But, just as importantly, in the real world it would also be impossible to follow Truman closely enough for the show to be technically feasible. Even if it were possible to confine Truman to his country, not even the NSA has disseminated enough instruments of surveillance to achieve the total annihilation of someone’s privacy on such a vast scale.

 

In the absence of reasons of national security, this particular act of surveillance must be financed independently of the huge resources of state agencies. In other words, the espionage war against one that is the Truman Show requires the panspectrum to be financially viable, and in fact it literally pays for itself by shoving a variety of consumer products in front of the orifices of its surveillance apparatus.

 

Truman’s world, then, differs from ours in that it needs constant funding in order to exist. High ratings are necessary for the show to remain on air and for the simulation around him not to fall apart. And yet the show’s storyline appears deliberately dull. Aside from the staging of his father’s death, in itself a device to generate a fear of water in Truman and ensure that he will never leave the island, his life has been manufactured to be as boring and uneventful as possible. And when the father is reintroduced, in a typical soap opera twist, it is not to boost the ratings but to remedy a previous attempt of the actor playing the part to contact his “son”.

 

Once again, the reason for this perpetual dullness is partly practical: if Truman’s freedom of choice had not been systematically restrained, it would be much harder to ensure his permanence on the island; moreover, the predictable routine guaranteed by a stable, middle-class marriage and an office job makes round-the-clock surveillance a much easier task. But the implications work on several levels. On one hand, the great popularity of the show notwithstanding its lack of a captivating story encourages us even more to picture the television audience as a collective monster which takes pleasure solely in the elaborate torture that Truman is subjected to. It is not his successes or failures that the viewers of the show respond to, for he has been deprived of both - and in the absence of a real plot all that is left if the interest in the experiment itself, with Truman as the guinea pig. But on another level, this situation contributes to shatter the illusion that surveillance can be carried out in a detached and objective manner, without affecting the subject as long as he or she is unaware of what is happening. The whole show becomes a demonstration of the panoptic principle at work: in order for us to be able to observe Truman we have first of all to turn him into a model prisoner, one who has interiorised the moral code required by the extreme example of disciplinary society that he inhabits.

 

The contradictions which underlie this experiment are akin to those of many contemporary television shows which aim to portray the everyday life of ordinary people in a more or less unmediated fashion. Of particular interest for the discussion of this film, since they seem to have been partly inspired by The Truman Show, are those which have recently been produced in several countries under the title of Big Brother. In these particular example of reality TV, based on an original concept launched in 1999 by Dutch producer John de Mol[7], a group of people is made to reside for a set number of weeks in a purpose-built house disseminated with hidden microphones and cameras. Every week one of the participants is evicted after a secret ballot within the group, until the last remaining participant is left to collect the cash prize at the end of the series.

 

Despite the lack of a script and of professional actors may support the claim that these shows achieve a more truthful level of representation than mere fiction, the final product could not be farther from any meaningful definition of the real. The mini-worlds where the participants are made to live - enclosed television studios which are smaller scale equivalents of Truman’s Seahaven Island - have never been anything like real places inhabited by real people. They are wholly permeated and defined by the presence of cameras, literally built on the principle of surveillance. And, in a sense, so are the participants. For the duration of the show their ‘real’ lives are put on hold as they forfeit jobs, families and friends to play an elaborate game of survival; a game whose rules require them to change their behaviour in order to always place themselves on the winning side and escape exile from the artificial world for as long as possible. Under these conditions, it seems difficult to argue that there is anything real going on inside these fake homes. What is being portrayed is not life as seen through television, but life inside television. 

 

The fact that Truman is unaware of the deal does not add a dimension of reality to his show; it merely makes the unreality of it even more unbearable. There is a sense in which The Truman Show is a horror film, and a rather gory one at that. Far from providing an innocent window on a man’s life, the cameras and microphones that enable us to keep constant track of Truman’s actions are brutal instruments of violation. In this film, to watch means quite literally to harm, and television viewing becomes an act of mass violence; for Truman’s captivity is at once a consequence of the constraints imposed by surveillance technology, and a commercial transaction in which the viewers prolong the torture by purchasing the products advertised in the show. The levity of the film’s style does little to tone down the abject victimisation of its protagonist.

 

One is reminded again of Nineteen Eighty-Four, except here the conditioning is far more subtle. Truman needs not be reminded that Big Brother is watching him - in fact the mortification of his will works much better if he has no idea that he is being watched at all. For how can the individual rebel against a system which does not exist? The fabrication of news, the distortion of the world beyond the borders are at work here like in Oceania, for instance when a colleague of Truman triumphantly shows him the headline of a newspaper boasting that Seahaven is the “Best place on earth!”, while the advertising posters in a travel agency peculiarly suggest that visiting other countries is dangerous as well as futile. Furthermore, like in Nineteen Eighty-Four the rulers of this little world do not stop at prohibiting certain behaviours, but strive to engineer society in order to blank them out altogether.

 

Ultimately, of course, the simulation falls apart, and the free spirit of the white male hero triumphs. Yet we have to question whether the satire of the entertainment machine achieved by conflating spectacle and surveillance would have been more effective if the ending had been different. A much more biting - and perhaps, in a Nineteen Eighty-Four-like fashion, quite unbearable - finale, would have had Truman resign himself to live in his fake world and carry on with his fake life, despite knowing at heart that all time he is being watched, and looked after, by his captors. In fact all that his liberation achieves is to suddenly exculpate the television viewers, whom we see celebrate the end of the show as if they had been opposed to its experiment all along. Thus the ending restores a reassuring status quo ante in which events like the Truman Show are a one-off exception, not the disturbing norm, and society outside of Seahaven Island can carry on as usual.

 

While on the one hand it exculpates the television audience and lays the blame for the excesses of the experiment on a faceless corporate network and on a handful of producers - as if they alone were morally responsible for the success of the show among its viewers - the film is even more unduly magnanimous with its own audience. While television is demonised as the source of demeaning reality shows which violate the most basic of human rights, cinema is implicitly set up as a medium capable of a more in-depth analysis of the issues and of encouraging debate. All this despite the singular conflation of filmmaking and surveillance realised during the first half of the film, and the points made repeatedly with regard to the role of simulation in securing a disciplined society. If Christof is right when he states that “we accept the truth of the world we live in”, then it would be possible to suggest that cinema plays an important role in constructing this truth via its very appealing simulations, and a case could be made for its direct involvement in the panoptic society.

 

 

The Matrix and the ultimate simulation

 

Whether or not we should accept the truth of the world we live in, and choose to trust our perceptions, is an issue that recurs throughout the history of philosophy. Descartes gave it a famous formulation when he hypothesised that the world as we know it may be the product of a malignant god, a demon playing with our senses[8]. This notion could be used to justify to the most paranoid of assumptions, for if we cannot even be sure of the existence of the physical world that surrounds us, if all experiences and memories of a lifetime may have been manufactured by a superior entity, then not only the existence of individuals like Truman, but indeed of the whole of humanity could very well be questioned.  

 

This is the premise of The Matrix (USA, 1999, Andy and Larry Wachowski) - the world as we know is in fact a carefully constructed illusion. The year is around 2199 and machines have taken over the world, using people as a source of bioeletrical power while their brains are suspended in the virtual reality called the Matrix, a simulation which looks and feels like a the year 1999 as it is recorded in the collective memory of its human inhabitants

 

There are, predictably, a handful of rebels, who lead dreary, clandestine lives in the world dominated by machines. They have learnt to travel into the Matrix and even bend its laws to a certain degree in order to transcend their physical limitations and achieve superhuman strength and speed. But being immune from the illusion does not make their lives easier. If anything, just the opposite, for they are in constant danger of being found out and destroyed both in the machinic world, where robot scanners seek out the humans who are not plugged into the system, and inside the Matrix, which is scoured by a handful of extremely powerful and relentless agents, trained to recognise and kill the enlightened few. These agents, whose name recalls the software applications which scour the Internet in search of information, represent the embodiment of electronic surveillance and of the Superpanopticon; seemingly ubiquitous and capable of travelling within the confines of the simulated world at the speed of light (much like packets of information circulating through a computer network), they exercise constant and relentless surveillance inside the Matrix.

 

In this rather bleak scenario the rebels can find some solace in the prophecy that some day they will find The One, an individual capable of penetrating the secrets of the Matrix and of beating the agents, and the machines that have created them, at their own game. He will lead humanity out of captivity and shatter the illusion, so that the real world can be reclaimed and turned again into a place fit for human life.

 

As in The Truman Show, here too a quintessentially paranoid vision is made possible by communications technology and by its capacity to fool the senses and mimic the real. The key difference is that in The Truman Show humans were still in control of technology, even as they employed it in manipulative and distorting ways; in The Matrix, on the other hand, the real enemy is AI, Artificial Intelligence, perpetuating the science fiction cliché that as soon as machines are endowed with human-like brains they will use them to turn against their creators. The cliché is taken a step further here since the machines, instead of merely setting out to wipe humans off the face of the planet (like in, say, The Terminator), figure out a way of turning them into a convenient source of renewable power.

 

From this premise, the film sets out to narrate the journey towards self-consciousness of a male hero, a rather geeky computer programmer by day/hacker by night known on either side of his double life as Thomas Anderson and Neo. At first a common, unaware inhabitant of the Matrix (but with the nagging feeling that the world may not be as it seems), Anderson/Neo is recruited by the rebels and made to see the reality of the world around him, or rather the unreality of what he has always accepted as the real. Much like Truman’s solitary journey on a boat outside of Seahaven and into the world, the trials faced by Neo throughout the rest of the film have more to do with the realisation of his full potential (and the shedding of the old identity of Mr Anderson, cog in the machine) than with the danger of being destroyed along the way. They are mystical trials on the path of spiritual enlightenment.

 

Or at least this is what the authors would like us to think. In spite of the temptation one may feel to dismiss the storyline as a mere vehicle for a series of extremely well constructed action scenes, the Wachowski brothers worked three years on the script for The Matrix, and they appear serious when they talk of the film’s deeper significance. They speak openly of references to Greek myths, the Bible and the path towards the re-incarnation of the Buddha[9]. In the words of Larry Wachowski, “mythology, theology and higher-level mathematics [...] are all ways human beings try to answer bigger questions, as well as The Big Question. If you're going to do epic stories, you should concern yourself with those issues. People might not understand all the allusions in the movie, but they understand the important ideas. We wanted to make people think, engage their minds a bit.”[10] Such claims authorise us to explore these ‘important ideas’ and the way they are constructed in the film.

 

The theme of the quest of spiritual self-discovery, and of the liberation from the tyranny of machines, appears to be the central point. Immediately it transpires that in this respect things are not as clear-cut as they seem, for the mechanisation suffered by humans as a consequence of their defeat has some positive repercussions along with the more obvious, horrifying ones: thus, no sooner has Neo been unplugged from the tubes that enabled the machines to feed off him, that he is plugged into another one in order to get a full training in the martial arts by having the appropriate software uploaded into his brain.

 

Such juxtapositions illustrate how technology operates both as a friendly tool and as the enemy in this film. The irony is all the more obvious if we pause to consider that it is cutting-edge digital technology that makes the film what it is, and that the production crew must have included a significant numbers of computer and special effects enthusiasts. Line producer Paul Taglianetti’s boast that there are as many as 480 effect shots in the film[11] betrays the love of simulations of the very people who created this parable against computer-mediated experience. Indeed, what appears as the Matrix in the film, and that one would assume is the physical world in which the audience lives, is in fact mostly simulated through a software called Virtual Cinematography, which enabled the studio to “turn a live-action location or set into a photo-realistic virtual set for generating any camera move”[12]. In other words, instead of setting digital effects on a real, photographed background, the filmmakers produced digital backgrounds that looked realistic and at the same time could be manipulated more easily than real ones.

 

The result is a remarkable blurring of the boundaries: if after viewing The Truman Show we may be surprised to discover that the film was shot on location in Seaside, Florida, a place that looks so phoney as to pass admirably for a television studio, in The Matrix the metropolitan setting of Sydney, Australia, is turned into a digital set which is in turn supposed to pass as a real place which is in fact a simulation. But the audience is meant to think that it is real, that it is their reality, much like the audience of The Truman Show was meant to think of Seahaven as a television studio. There is a manipulation at work here that is not too dissimilar from the one perpetrated on Truman and Neo, and it throws their journeys of self-discovery into an ambiguous light. For the filmmakers are using the same illusions, the same simulations which they portray as dehumanising.

 

The contradictions in the anti-technological stance of The Matrix abound. Readers of William Gibson, and indeed of every cyberpunk writer since, will immediately identify the Matrix with cyberspace and the Internet; how can a film, then, warn us against the dangers of shifting our lives onto the computer networks and at the same time advertise massively through a website[13]? How can Neo’s spiritual self benefit from learning the martial arts not through painful and rigorous training but in a matter of seconds through a piece of computer software? And why is it that, when it comes to rescuing Morpheus from the headquarters of the enemy, Neo turns his back on the spiritual teachings of his master and asks for “Guns. Lots of guns”?

 

The issue seems to be one of control: technology is regarded positively as long as it can be harnessed and it responds to straightforward commands. Guns are a prime example: you press the trigger, they fire the shot. Simple enough. Other tools prove to be less predictable, for they carry out more complex functions. The cameras and microphones used by Harry Caul, for instance, are not just instruments of surveillance; they could be used to shoot the film of a family birthday, or monitor safety in a power plant. But one day they could be developed to such an extent as to be able to map the movements of an individual on a 24-hour basis, and broadcast them live around the world. At such a point we could say that, in spite of the fact they are still being operated by humans, these tools have escaped our control, because they have evolved towards new, unpredicted  tasks. 

 

Accordingly, the original sin in The Matrix is that we have finally created Artificial Intelligence, and have thus lost all control over our tools. Contextualised in the year the film was made, it is a parable that reflects the widespread fear of being left behind by the advances of information technology; a fear boosted by the unforeseeable, chaotic, uncontrollable spread of the Internet. Even if the network has no intelligence of its own, and each one of its cells is ultimately controlled by a human being, the overall behaviour of the sum of the cells is largely outside the control not only of individuals but also of governments and international organisations. The Internet grows, much like an organism, and at a rate that would have been unimaginable at the beginning of the 1990’s. That the reaction to this phenomenon should be one of exhilaration mixed with disquiet is perhaps not surprising. More singular is the way that films like The Matrix polarise the attraction for technology and the outright fear of the same in such extreme tones, leading to an overall stance that seems unhealthy as well as contradictory. 

 

That there are other ways to painting our technological future than the strictly utopian or dystopian is proven by cyberpunk literature, a sub-genre of science-fiction inaugurated by William Gibson in 1984 with Neuromancer. As well as foreseeing the Internet with remarkable clarity, Neuromancer engages in the exploration of  a world characterised by the overlapping of the human and the technological domains, where people can enhance their abilities through cyber-implants and even achieve immortality by uploading their memories and thought-processes onto the computer network, here too known as the Matrix. The similarities with the film by the Wachowski brothers are numerous, and include the pairing of male hacker and female warrior, the mention of AIs and of a human city called Zion, the nature of the Matrix as a “consensual hallucination”, the possibility of uploading computer software into the human brain, the extensive role of martial arts in the story. And yet in more significant ways The Matrix and Neuromancer could not be more different. Despite borrowing many of the themes, some of the jargon and a lot of the mystique of cyberpunk literature, the film does not come even close to replicating the richness of the cyberpunk viewpoint on the social impact of the new technologies.

 

The differences can be observed by looking at Johnny Mnemonic (Canada/Usa, 1995, Robert Longo), a film which, regardless of its actual merits, is much more deserving the cyberpunk label, and not merely due to the fact of having been written by Gibson himself. Also starring Keanu Reeves in the title role, Johnny Mnemonic is set in a near-future dominated by corporates in which a data courier, who is capable of uploading data into his brain and smuggle to its destination without the danger of electronic interceptions, is caught in a mission that goes horribly wrong. Overloaded with data from a pharmaceutical company, Johnny finds himself haunted by both the mafia and the corporate police, who are desperate to cut off his head in order to recover the information (which turns out to be the cure for NAS, a future planetary plague). What is worse, he is going to die in a matter of hours if he does not get rid of the data, and part of the download code was conveniently destroyed in a skirmish with the mafia at the beginning of the film.

 

Enter the LoTek, a group of destitute rebels whose main activity is to hack into the global television networks and pollute them with the kind of information that those in power are trying to keep the lid on - the cure for NAS being of course the prime example of such information. Eventually, with the help of a super-intelligent cetacean hacker named Jones, the LoTeks manage to download the cure and broadcast it to the world, saving Johnny’s life and that of million of others in the process.

 

The key difference in the dystopian premises of the two films is that the future of Johnny Mnemonic is explicitly portrayed as a direct result not of technological advances, but of a strict free market logic. With the corporates in charge and the disappearance of nation states and elected governments, the gap between the rich and the poor has grown exponentially. It is a jungle out there, and to make it into the higher classes requires enormous sacrifices - Johnny in fact forfeits most of his long-term memory (and therefore a significant part of his identity) in order to be able to carry more data in his brain and increase his earning potential. In this context, the Internet has been turned from the open, largely user-directed network of today into the place where corporates vie for information, trying to penetrate each other’s defences. This is why the LoTeks’ strategy to overthrow the system mainly consists in attempts to achieve a more democratic sharing of information via computer-piracy. Their actions are not aimed, like those of the rebels of The Matrix, at restoring a society of the past by rejecting the technology of the present one; rather, they endeavour to found a new and fairer one, based on something akin to Jean-François Lyotard’s motto – “give the public free access to the memory and data banks”[14].

 

In this perspective, Johnny’s triumph - unlike Neo’s - does not consist in saving the world (the credit should rather go to the LoTeks and especially to the dolphin), but in achieving a higher level of social and political awareness. Thus, before joining the rebels as a last resort to avoid death by data overload, he breaks into a speech that exorcises the set of values he has to get rid of in order to be saved:

You see that city over there? That’s where I’m supposed to be. Not here with the dogs and the garbage and the fucking last month’s newspapers blowing back and forth. I’ve had it with them, I’ve had with you, I’ve had with all this... I WANT ROOM SERVICE! I want a club sandwich, I want a cold Mexican beer, I want a ten-thousand-dollar-a-night hooker. I want my shirts laundered like they do at the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo...

The mention of clothing points to a recurring visual theme of the film. Johnny wears the same expensive suit throughout - it starts off well-ironed and spotless, perfectly worn by cover-boy Reeves, and it gradually gets splattered and torn until in the final scenes it ends up resembling the casual, no-frills, utility clothing worn by the LoTeks. In other words, the downgrading of Johnny’s clothing mirrors his conversion to a different, less money-driven way of life.

 

The rebels in The Matrix, on the other hand, never stop loving fancy clothes. In their real lives, they are restricted to the same kind of clothing worn by the LoTeks - grey, loose, ill-fitting uniforms. But as soon as they enter the Matrix, where they can pick from an endless wardrobe of simulated garments, they go for the super-expensive look: long leather trench-coats, cutting edge magazine-like fashion statements. It is a love of clothes that sometimes defies logic, for even as they prepare to break into a military complex they choose to go for leather outfits with tail-coats that trail to the floor - perhaps not the kind of comfortable garments that the situation would have called for.

 

The ensuing massacre is in fact chillingly glamorised, to the point of attracting some criticism in the debate on cinema’s portrayal of the use of firearms[15]. It can hardly be disputed that the scene offers an example not of violence as a last resort, but of cool, utterly enjoyable violence; and that, even in the context of the film’s story, it appears to rest on very thin moral justifications. Briefly: Morpheus had previously told Neo that the inhabitants of the Matrix, i.e. the humans plugged into the machines, have to be regarded as enemies, for they will do anything to protect the illusion of the world they live in. In spite of this, they are not beyond hope of salvation, and Neo is living proof of this; they too could eventually be converted to the truth. As he sets out on his mission to save Morpheus, Neo could choose to listen to his master’s teachings, and rest on the knowledge that he can bend the rules of the simulation to an extent that not even the machines are capable of. In other words, if he truly believed in himself he could be invincible, and carry out the mission without the need to hurt anyone. Instead, he opts to go in with ‘lots of guns’, and mows down dozens of fellow prisoners of the Matrix without a hint of remorse, almost as if they too were part of the software construct, like enemies in a videogame.

 

This is not conclusive evidence that The Matrix carries a reactionary message, but one has to question the individualistic, ultra-violent ethos of this film, in which the world is saved once again by a white male with perfect features, and machines are rejected as threats to the purity of the human race even as the filmmakers embark on a technological orgy in order to narrate their story. By choosing not to address this glaring contradiction, The Matrix can do little else than glide on the surface of the many issues its storyline touches upon.

 

 

Conclusion

 

If cinema has a role in the society of surveillance is precisely that of creating powerful, well-crafted illusions which play with collective fears instead of probing their deeper roots; films that reinforce the dominant ideology by giving a false sense of resolution, as in the finales of both the Truman Show and The Matrix, whereas in fact all that they are suggesting is that things should go back to how they were in a mythical time in the past, before technology started changing our lives.

 

In their essay on technophobia in science fiction cinema, Michael Ryan and Douglas Kellner propose that most anti-technological stances are inherently conservative. “[T]echnology”, they argue, “is usually a crucial ideological figure. [It] represents everything that threatens the grounding of conservative social authority and everything that ideology is designed to neutralize. It should not be surprising, then, that this era should witness the development of a strain of films that portray technology negatively, usually from a conservative perspective.”[16] While this analysis is perhaps a little too clear-cut, for claiming that technology is in itself an engine of positive social change is as questionable as claiming the opposite, the authors suggest how we could account for the contradictions incurred by films like the ones we have just analysed :

The increasingly technical sophistication of the economic world and the shift away from industrialized manufacturing to tertiary sector ‘information age’ production creates a hypermdernization that is at odds with the traditionalist impulse in conservatism, the desire that old forms and institutions be preserved. Yet the new technologies make possible alternative institutions and lifestyles, as well as the reconstruction of the social world. Perhaps this accounts for the desire for a more literal, natural world in conservative films. It is a reaction to the world they themselves help create through an ideal of efficient economic development.[17]

Both The Truman Show and The Matrix end up conveying an odd sort of nostalgia for the present which betrays the effects of the antinomy described above, and which prevents them from exploring future avenues of change. Not having come to terms with the full impact of communications technology on society and, crucially, on their own structures of discourse, these science-fiction spectacles cannot speak meaningfully about the future nor about the present; instead, they are confined to dwell on paranoid visions - such as those of oppressive Panopticons - which expose their contradictory stance towards the very technology which enables them to exist.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Acknowledgments

 

My thanks go to Dr. Russell Campbell of Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, under whose supervision I wrote this research paper in 2000.

 

 

Filmography

 

Brazil (UK, 1985). Director: Terry Gilliam. Screenplay: Terry Gilliam, Charles McKeown, Tom Stoppard.

The Conversation (USA, 1972). Director: Francis Ford Coppola. Screenplay: Francis Ford Coppola

Enemy of the State (USA, 1998). Director. Tony Scott. Screenplay: David Marconi.

Johnny Mnemonic (Canada/Usa, 1995. Director: Robert Longo. Screenplay: William Gibson.

The Matrix (USA, 1999). Directors: Andy and Larry Wachowski. Screenplay: Andy and Larry Wachowski.

Nineteen Eighty-Four (UK, 1984). Director: Michael Radford. Screenplay: Jonathan Gems, Michael Radford.

The Truman Show (USA, 1998). Director: Peter Weir. Screenplay: Andrew Niccol

 

 

 

 

Bibliography

 

De Landa, Manuel. War in the Age of Intelligent Machines. New York: Swerve Editions, 1991.

Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish - The Birth of the Prison. London: Penguin Books, 1997.

Hager, Nicky. Secret Power - New Zealand’s Role in the International Spy Network. Nelson: Craig Potton Publishing, 1996.

Kemp Smith, Norman (ed.). Descartes’ Philosophical Writings. London: Macmillan & Co., 1952.

Leo, John. ‘Gunning for Hollywood’. In U.S. News & World Report (May 10, 1999, v126 i18), p.16.

Lyotard, Jean-François. The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984.

Orwell, George. Nineteen Eighty-Four. London: Charnwood, 1982.

Poster, Mark. The Mode of Information. Cambridge: Polity Press, 1990.

Ressner, Jeffrey. ‘Popular Metaphysics: In The Matrix, the Wachowskis make a hit film out of the Bible, cyberpunk and higher math’. In Time (April 19, 1999, v153 i15) p. 75.

Robertson, Barbara. ‘Living Virtual Existence’. In Computer Graphics World (May 1999, v22 i5), p. 54.

Ryan, Michael and Douglas Kellner. ‘Technophobia’. In Annette Kuhn (ed.) Alien Zone - Cultural Theory and Contemporary Science Fiction Cinema. London and New York: Verso, 1990.

Swarsdon, Anne. ‘They're Watching 'Big Brother' - Dutch TV Hit Documents Real Life of Captive Household’. In The Washington Post (September 25, 1999), p. A01.

 

 

Author’s Profile                                      Research Blog                               My PhD thesis                           Contact Me                 

 



[1]The largest scale electronic surveillance project known to the public is probably Echelon, a communications intelligence system operating among the UKUSA countries and uncovered by New Zealand journalist Nicky Hager in 1996. “Under the Echelon system,” writes Hager, “a particular station’s Dictionary computer contains not only its parent agency’s chosen keywords, but also a list for each of the other four agencies [...]. So each station collects the telephone calls, faxes, telefaxes, Internet messages and other electronic communications that its computers have been pre-programmed to select for all the allies and automatically sends this intelligence to them.”

Nicky Hager, Secret Power - New Zealand’s Role in the International Spy Network (Nelson: Craig Potton Publishing, 1996), p. 29.

[2] Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish - The Birth of the Prison (London: Penguin Books, 1997), p. 201.

[3] This mechanism is explicitly laid out at the beginning of the novel: “The telescreen received and transmitted simultaneously. Any sound that Winston made, above the level of a very low whisper, would be picked up by it; moreover, so long as he remained within the field of vision which the metal plaque commanded, he could be seen as well as heard. There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to. You had to live - did live, from habit that became instinct - on the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized.”

George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four, (London: Charnwood, 1982), p. 5.

[4] This mechanism is applied by Manuel De Landa to the self-justification of intelligence agencies: “Almost without exception secret service organizations have thrived in times of turbulence and, conversely, have seen their power vanish as turmoil slows. For this reason they survive by inciting social turbulence, spreading rumors and inventing imaginary enemies, fifth columns, and bomber and missile gaps. They need to keep society in constant alert, in a generalized state of fear and paranoia, in order to sustain themselves. This has led to the development of a gigantic “espionage industry,” whose entire existence is based on a bluff few governments dare to call.”

Manuel De Landa, War in the Age of Intelligent Machines (New York: Swerve Editions, 1991), p. 190.

[5] Mark Poster, The Mode of Information (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1990), p. 93

[6] Cf. Manuel De Landa, Ibid., p. 206.

[7] For a comprehensive media report on the original show, see Anne Swarsdon, ‘They're Watching 'Big Brother' - Dutch TV Hit Documents Real Life of Captive Household’, in The Washington Post (September 25, 1999), p. A01.

[8] Cf. Norman Kemp Smith (ed.), Descartes’ Philosophical Writings (London: Macmillan & Co., 1952), pp. 200-201.

[9] Cf. The interview with Larry Wachowski in Jeffrey Ressner, ‘Popular Metaphysics: In The Matrix, the Wachowskis make a hit film out of the Bible, cyberpunk and higher math’, in Time (April 19, 1999, v153 i15) p. 75.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Quoted in Barbara Robertson, ‘Living Virtual Existence’, Computer Graphics World (May 1999, v22 i5), p. 54.

[12] Ibid.

[13] www.whatisthematrix.com

[14] Jean-François Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984), p. 67.

[15] Cf. John Leo, ‘Gunning for Hollywood’, in U.S. News & World Report (May 10, 1999, v126 i18), p.16.

[16] Michael Ryan and Douglas Kellner, ‘Technophobia’, in Annette Kuhn (ed.), Alien Zone - Cultural Theory and Contemporary Science Fiction Cinema (London and New York: Verso, 1990), pp. 58-59.

[17]Ibid., p. 65.