Media Archaeology: Approaches, Applications, and Implications

By Erkki Huhtamo; Jussi Parikka | Go to book overview

4
On the Origins of the Origins
of the Influencing Machine

Jeffrey Sconce

By the close of 2003, no fewer than four homicides in the United States claimed an interface with The Matrix, the inescapable science-fiction franchise of the new millennium starring Keanu Reeves as lowly hacker turned avenging avatar. Raiding the elegant poetry of Jean Baudrillard to create a more multiplexed vision of simulation as an opportunistic CGI infection, the three films embedded their cyber-stoner premise in the visual kinetics of a prolonged arcade fight: Neo the seeker of material truth versus an unending digital stream of sober-suited authoritarians—Agents Smith, Jones, Brown, and so on. In May of 2000, less than a year after the first and most explicitly paranoid installment of the trilogy, Vadim Mieseges murdered, skinned, and dismembered his landlord before leaving her body in a dumpster in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. Defending this former mental patient and obviously still troubled computer science major, Mieseges’s lawyers convinced the court that the murder was the product of a psychotic break triggered by a volatile combination of crystal meth and Mieseges’s delusion that he had been “sucked into the Matrix.” Tonda Ensley appears to have suffered similar distortions when she murdered Sherry Lee Corbett, a professor at the University of Miami-Ohio. The local press noted the Matrix connection during an early court appearance, writing, “The science-fiction film, acclaimed for its impressive special effects, suggests reality may not be as it appears.”1

Living in their own world of simulated reality, media pundits responded to this franchised body count with the usual panic about the media as a catalyst for violence, some even resurrecting the epidemiologist Brandon Centerwall’s hysterical claim in 1992 that had television “never been invented, the United States today would experience 10,000 fewer murders, 70,000 fewer rapes, and

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