The latest issue of the New Yorker has a rich, complex interview with the Wachowski siblings, science fiction storytellers who created the Matrix franchise.
If you don’t know it, the Matrix series imagines a world where the reality around us is virtual, fluid, imaginary.
They have a new film, “Cloud Atlas,” that traces the paths of a network of human souls that migrate through different bodies, points of history, stories.
One additional texture here is that Larry Wachowski has re-emerged publicly as Lana Wachowski. She has undergone that suitably science-fictiony process known as “trans-gendering.”
That cluster of data points merged weirdly in my head this week as I was reading a series of high profile articles about the cultural and economic struggles of men in our society. In his review of Hanna Rosin’s new book, “The Failure of Men,” David Brooks writes this:
It [the uncertain position of men in modern society] has to do with adaptability. Women, Rosin argues, are like immigrants who have moved to a new country. They see a new social context, and they flexibly adapt to new circumstances.
Men are like immigrants who have physically moved to a new country but who have kept their minds in the old one. They speak the old language. They follow the old mores. Men are more likely to be rigid; women are more fluid.
This is, on one level, pop psychology. But I think there’s a lot of truth here as well. We live in a frenetic, evolving, complex culture, one where all concepts — but particularly masculinity, femininity, sexuality and gender roles — are being re-negotiated in real time.
It is, in other words, a matrix. It’s a shifting and complicated pattern. This is incredibly challenging stuff and for some men in particular, it’s absolutely terrifying.
While thinking about this stuff, I came across this conversation on the Christian Bible Network, where evangelist Pat Robertson is trying to offer advice to a man whose wife clearly doesn’t love him anymore.
The guy is on the front lines of this cultural moment, begging for advice and guidance.
Robertson laments the fact that physical violence is no longer an option to resolve their domestic crisis. “I don’t think we condone wife-beating these days,” he says, “but something has got to be done to make her [more obedient and respectful].”
He goes on to describe the wife as “a rebellious child” who won’t “submit to authority.” (Watching his female co-host field these comments is worth a click-through.)
I know that sounds Medieval — on one level, it’s sort of a conversation-ender. But I think it’s also an important reminder of just how profound this shift is.
Having a black man in the White House is revolutionary. Having women out-earn and (in many situations) out-confidence their husbands, that’s intimate and for many people viscerally gut-wrenching.
One of my favorite writers, Iain M. Banks, has penned a series of science fiction novels — The Culture sequence — where he envisions a future where we have moved past all this, where identity is in a constant and comfortable state of “trans” that is no longer defined by gender or race.
His exploration of what that might feel like is riveting, one of those rare “speculative” fiction experiments that really might be giving us a sense of what our future will look like. But we’re not there yet.
Still, I think Rosin and Brooks and Wachowski and Banks are all right about one thing: It’s an adaptation moment for men.
Not “let’s behave better because it’s the right thing and enlightened men will do it” — that was the inflection point of the 1970s. This is more of a “we have to change or get left behind” situation.
Does that mean matriarchy, as Rosin suggests. I don’t think so. In fact, the idea that there is a clean, zero-sum-gain continuum between partiarchy and matriarchy is, well, weirdly masuciline.
Instead it means men being more fluid, more flexible, and learning to accept that every day will bring situations and relationships that can’t be controlled — or, to borrow Robertson’s phrase, can’t be disciplined.
But maybe, in the end, it’s Neo who says it best. “I know that you’re afraid,” he says. “You’re afraid of change. I don’t know the future. I didn’t come here to tell you how this is going to end. I came here to tell you how it’s going to begin.”
What Neo promises is, fundamentally, a world of constant uncertainty, negotiation and (yes) opportunity, a “world without rules and controls, without borders or boundaries. A world where anything is possible. Where we go from there is a choice I leave to you.”