Police shot a black man dead after he’d lunged at an officer with a large kitchen knife in the once-unspoiled northern California town of Crescent City on August 25.
That’s what really happened, but more and more, people seem incapable of living in the real world.
The incident was captured on video, which, sure, is a visual representation of what happened, but the fact that the video has been shared countless times online, can be remixed with a musical soundtrack and twisted into all sorts of memes to the point where its new meaning is entirely divorced from the original incident, and can be replayed long after all of us also join the ranks of the dead means it’s nothing more than a simulacrum.
During the standoff with police after he’d obeyed their orders to place the large knife down in the grass and before he suddenly picked it up again and charged toward them like a mad black rhino, 38-year-old Robert Anderson referred to a popular movie franchise that made me suspect he thought he was living in a movie.
Police had responded to a call about a disabled vehicle on a twisting rural road up there in tall timber country. They arrived to find Anderson walking in the middle of the road and clutching the large knife. As they began filming, they coaxed him into stepping on the roadside and placing his knife down on the ground. Apparently Anderson had roughed up his wife, a certain Sequoia Annette, the night before. She stood off-camera as police tried to persuade Anderson to walk away from the knife, but Anderson objected to the fact that they all still had guns.
Anderson reportedly told the police:
I’m worried about everything. I lost my whole . . . look what I just did. It’s this matrix we’re living in. We’ve been lied to. We’ve all been lied to. We’ve all been lied to. . . . Like y’all in y’all uniforms and I’ve been in uniform, too, and when the truth is the truth is the truth is the truth, man. Like, y’all don’t even know who running y’all. Or do y’all know? Do y’all know who running y’all?
I’m happy to announce that I’ve never seen any of the Matrix movies, although someone recently made me aware that a fourth one is soon to be released. To me, that’s four too many.
What’s poignant to me is that Anderson seemed aware that he’d ruined his life and was headed to jail. He also had to be aware that guns were drawn on him. What seemed most relevant to him, though, is that even with his life on the line, it all reminded him of a popular movie franchise.
Around 3,000 years ago, whoever wrote Ecclesiastes said there was nothing new under the sun. I’ve often understood the term “postmodernism,” perhaps inaccurately, to mean that there is nothing new in the art or cultural worlds, that everything shat out by artisan hacks these days is some empty, ironically winking rehash of what’s been done before and better by someone nobler, someone who grew up living life directly rather than through the detritus of other manmade artifacts.
But what’s happening now seems to be worse than postmodernism, allowing that I may be entirely mangling the term. This isn’t people making bad movies because they’ve spent their lives watching better movies from the past. This is people who think that life is a movie and that movies represent real life. They have it all ass-backward.
So this isn’t postmodernism — this is post-reality.
I’m not happy to announce that I know several people who, if they were being stomped to death in the streets by a rabid mob, would spend their last conscious moments being reminded of how a very similar thing happened in some movie they saw.
About a generation ago, I noticed the more unhinged elements of the Left had, within their frighteningly nimble plastic minds, convinced themselves that words were violence and that actual violence wasn’t really violence at all; it was a political statement.
And that’s what’s happening now, but on a much larger scale: Life is a movie, and movies are real life.
I’ve seen it estimated that the average American spends a staggering seven hours every day online. Other estimates reckon that the average American — who has gotten more and more average over the arc of my life — spends around three hours every day watching television. I’m not sure how much of that time involves an overlap — whether watching streamed movies online counts as online time, or TV-watching time, or both — but if it can be assumed that people spend eight hours asleep and even eight hours and one minute online and watching TV, this means that the average American spends more of their waking hours engaging in virtual reality than they do engaging with the palpable world around them.
In contrast, Americans only spend about two hours a week being physically active.
Of all the terrors mine eyes have witnessed, that’s the most terrifying fact I’ve ever encountered. We have become passive, weak, inert, digitally babysat, meme-tarded, easily propagandized, pop-culture inbreds who live less authentic lives than the average sand flea.
And this is only the start. Once our overlords perfect the virtual-reality headgear and the mandatory implants of wetware, the same slogans and movies and taglines and remakes and sequels and prequels and remakes of sequels and spinoffs of prequels will all be playing around the clock in all of our heads to the point where there is no “you” or “me” left, and certainly no remote control to fight over because we will all be remotely controlled.
If it turns out that I’m merely paranoid, that would be the best news I’d ever heard.
About a decade ago, I allowed a family member to live with me and my wife and my son. He’d had his mind crushed by Vietnam, and his innards were slowly rotting away due to the mountains of prescription painkillers, sleeping pills, anti-depressants, muscle relaxers, and anti-anxiety drugs he funneled into his maw after a traffic accident crushed parts of his spine.
He’d awake sometime around 2 PM every day and slowly shuffle in his flip-flops and bathrobe into the TV room, where he’d sit motionless for the next twelve hours, whereupon he’d shuffle back to his bed and repeat the cycle.
From time to time, when I needed a break from work, I’d pop into the TV room to check on him and make sure he was still breathing. And every time, like a zombie, he’d slowly shift his head away from the TV and up toward me and say, “Wanna watch somethin’?”
Every time, I told him no.
Back in the 1980s, when the show COPS premiered and signaled the advent of “reality television” — an oxymoron if ever there was one — I predicted that we would know the world was ending on the day when there’s a TV show about people watching TV.
I think the world has already ended. The online world is one toxic glut of streams where people “react” to other people reacting to other people reacting to TV shows about TV shows about movies about novels about real-life events that have been mostly fictionalized.
The only honest thing I can do right now is step away from this computer screen and take a walk outside.
* * *
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