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By Nathan Bierma


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The Books & Culture Weblog

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CAN NEO SAVE AMERICA'S SOUL?

When Star Wars unexpectedly launched a cult following in 1977, the religious overtones of the word "cult" were significant. Volumes of fan fiction and piles of merchandise reflected the chord the movie struck with a faithful following. It wasn't just the zooming spaceships and flashing light sabers that seized viewers, it was a quasi-theological portrayal of a cosmic force of good over evil and the pilgrimage of a young knight with a holy calling (see Roy Anker on the trilogy's theology).

Twenty-two years later, The Matrix found a similar following with even more overt theological allusions and a none-too-subtle messianic theme. This time around, the age of video games, the Internet, and DVD's (a technology-drenched existence the movie was trying to call into question) extended the reach of the movie's intriguing ideas about reality, truth, and evil (The Matrix was the first movie to sell 1 million DVD's). The Matrix Reloaded, the first of two sequels, took in over $90 million over the weekend, the most lucrative opening weekend of an R-rated movie to date. Despite mixed reviews, the movie (with the trilogy's first look at Zion, the holy city) has inspired a new round of exploration of its theology and philosophy.

• Adam Gopnik's New Yorker review of The Matrix Reloaded tries to trace the philosophical heritage of the trilogy. Although he makes some mistakes in his treatment of Philip Dick, and ignores the role of William Gibson's Neuromancer in inspiring the term "matrix," the piece is a introduction to the history of the illusory reality theme in science fiction. He even brings in a medieval Christian sect called the Cathars.

The Cathars were sure that the material world was a phantasm created by Satan, and that Jesus of Nazareth—their Neo—had shown mankind a way beyond that matrix by standing outside it and seeing through it. The Cathars were fighting a losing battle, but the interesting thing was that they were fighting at all. It is not unusual to take up a sword and die for a belief. It is unusual to take up a sword to die for the belief that swords do not exist.

http://www.newyorker.com/critics/atlarge/?030519crat_atlarge

RESONANCE

Follow-up to last week's weblog on CEO salaries:

• I meant to round out my disdain for the state of runaway executive pay with this item from Seattle Weekly. A Boston-based group of upper-income workers calling themselves Responsible Wealth is speaking out for stewardship from an unlikely rung of the economic ladder, and counts Bill Gates Sr. among their supporters:

http://www.seattleweekly.com/features/0316/news-shapiro2.php

• The first two e-mails I received in response covered a range of reactions:

"Those who decry the salaries of CEO complain of greed, while indulging in greed's close relative - jealousy. Furthermore, if these CEO's made the same amount of money but gave sizable portions to charity, would there still be an issue?"

"I was troubled by the final paragraph of that section of your blog. I would guess that among your readers are a fair number of evangelicals and political conservatives, but the apparently obligatory need to close the section by stating that one is not aligning oneself with the "quasi-Marxist Left" or liberals was deflating. Is your readership really that incapable of seeing ethically bad behavior for what it is and calling a spade a spade, without running it through their political litmus test first (i.e. "Does this sound too liberal?")?"

John Hancock CEO's salary comes under fire, from the Boston Globe.

PLACES & CULTURE

From the Washington Post:

BHOPAL, India—Digvijay Singh is by most accounts a modern-minded man. Educated as an engineer, the urbane and aristocratic chief minister of the state of Madhya Pradesh has won international recognition for his efforts on conservation, Internet access in rural areas, and affirmative action for women and the lowest castes. How, then, to explain his recent infatuation with cow urine?. … "There's a tremendous medicinal value," he said, adding that cow urine also makes "an excellent pesticide" when combined with leaves from India's ubiquitous neem tree. … Cows and cow products are sacred to Hindus, who represent 82 percent of India's billion-plus people. Touting the wonders of cow urine, analysts say, is part of Singh's strategy to neutralize the appeal of the Hindu-nationalist doctrine— called "Hindutva"—at the core of the BJP's platform. More broadly, it is an example of how the Hindu-nationalist agenda is coming to dominate political discourse in India, drowning out debate on other topics and sowing doubts about the country's future as a secular, pluralistic democracy.

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