The Matrix as trans metaphor, middle-aged karate kid, desert island discs, and more.
Digest #13 - September 6th 2020
The Matrix as trans metaphor, middle-aged karate kid, desert island discs, and more.
Digest #13, September 6th 2020
I recently learned that the hugely successful 1999 film The Matrix is a transgender metaphor. The film was created by sisters Lara and Lilly Wachowski. At the time of its release, they were known as Larry and Andy, respectively, as they had not yet publicly shared that they are transwomen. This brilliant article, penned by Vox's Critic at Large Emily VanDerWerff last year (who is trans herself), describes the film as "perfectly [capturing] the experience of being a closeted trans person". The article is full of interesting references, and Emily succinctly summarizes the many arguments by critics and academics surrounding the Wachowski sisters' films, while interweaving her own personal reflections.
"The entire movie is about transcending the limitations of the physical form to explore what the mind is capable of. Bodies are, at best, a suggestion. Your brain is what really matters. The Wachowskis actually wanted to make The Matrix’s trans metaphor explicit, via the character of Switch.. [who] was written to present as male in reality while presenting as female in the Matrix — a fun way to play around with the idea of online identities and a subtle wink toward the idea that gender is a construct that can be blown apart, like so many lines of green code...Warner Bros. nixed the idea of Switch crossing the gender divide, feeling mainstream audiences wouldn’t understand."
It is a fantastic read, and I recommend digesting it and then queuing up a re-watch (or a first watch) of the film. It's been a long time since I've seen it myself, but it's now on my list of Labor Day activities for tomorrow (public holiday here in the US). A worthy endeavor especially if you're a Matrix fan, but even if you're not.
The Matrix theatrical release poster.
This week Netflix released Cobra Kai (after acquiring it from YouTube Premium, which nobody subscribes to), the continuation of the wildly successful Karate Kid film franchise. The lead characters from the first film are revisited 34 years later. They are middle aged, with very different families and levels of financial success, but still equally invested in karate. There is no clear bully and underdog in the modern iteration. Johnny (the original antagonist) and Daniel (the 'karate kid') are both shown as flawed and complex characters doing what they each believe is right. The most enjoyable part of the show for me is the playful collision between 80s norms and today's sensibilities. The overly simplistic tropes from the original film are flipped, and the show makes several self-aware jokes about how the world has changed in three and a half decades. For example, a popular jock/bully archetypal character, Kyler, is played by an Asian actor. In one scene Daniel expects him to enjoy sashimi, which he refuses to eat because he thinks fish is gross. Daniel then asks where his 'parents are from', to which he replies "uh, Irvine [California] I think?" Even if you don't like the original film franchise, this series is entertaining and pokes fun at intergenerational dynamics in a changing world.
A still from the show. Johnny Lawrence (left, played by William Zabka) faces off with Daniel LaRusso (right, played by Ralph Macchio).
My colleague Regina shared this brilliant episode of the BBC Radio 4 show Desert Island Discs with me, featuring Bryan Stevenson, acclaimed public interest lawyer from the Equal Justice Initiative. I hadn't heard of this show before (even though it's been running since 1942!!!), and it's brilliant in every way. The format has prominent guests sharing what they would take to a desert island: a curated selection of eight audio tracks, a book and a luxury. While discussing these, Bryan also touches on complex justice issues in a clear and approachable way. He is the kind of person from whom wisdom seems to flow like a fountain. This brief transcript from the beginning of a show is a good example:
"I've never met anybody about whom I can say 'there is no hope for this person.' And, this idea that we are all more than the worst thing we've ever done is very resonant for me. I think if somebody tells a lie, they are not just a liar. I think if they take something that doesn't belong to them, they are not just a thief. And I think even if you kill someone, you're not just a killer. And I actually take great pride in standing and advocating for the humanity of people... I'm not against punishment, but you know in America we have a system of justice that is really defined by error. For every nine people that we have executed in America, we have identified one innocent person on death row. And that rate of error, in my judgement, ought to cause us to stop the death penalty. Not because we think it's morally unacceptable, necessarily, but because you can't tolerate that kind of error. If for every nine planes that took off one crashed, nobody would fly."
I encourage you to turn it on while you're doing something mundane; cooking a simple recipe, doing laundry, getting your daily exercise, and let your mind engage with all of these offerings. Spoiler alert: Bryan is a fan of Stevie Wonder, Beethoven and Miles Davis.
The cover art for BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs.
Yesterday I had a flashback of a very cringy moment in my life. I was 21, and went alone to a gig in my hometown, Perth in Western Australia. The artist performing was at that time so locally obscure that I couldn't convince any of my friends to pay for a ticket to join me. I tweeted at the artist, Le1f, a gay rapper from NYC, earlier that day to express my excitement about going. He liked and it replied (this was long before I was verified) which was a huge deal to me. When I showed up at the venue, a very hipster haunt on the fringes of our local nightlife district, I walked in to find him seated right in front of me with two people, holding a beer and wearing a gorgeous outfit. I was starstruck, but (over) confident as always. I walked right up to him and told him he had tweeted me. He lit up, jumped to his feet and wrapped me in a hug. I then hung around awkwardly for... a while. I lingered, unable to hold anything resembling a conversation, until he and his friends uncomfortably found an excuse to relocate within the venue. I've met objectively much more famous people and been generally unbothered. I am not sure why I was so very, very weird in that moment. Maybe because of all of the pressure in my own mind: a converging of two worlds, the cultural and ethnic Blackness he represented, and my deep lifelong immersion in queer culture (via allyship), coming to meet me where I was in my very isolated, conservative, Australian city. I'm now trying to reclaim this uncomfortable memory and reflect on it with more compassion for my weirdo, eager young self. And on that note, here's what was then my favorite song 'Wut' from Le1f, for you to enjoy.
A screenshot from the music video.
If you haven't already read it, Caroline Criaso Perez's book Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed For Men will absolutely blow your mind. I was first introduced to both Caroline and the topic of her research last year in an episode of the podcast 99 Percent Invisible, and she completely changed the way I view the world. The book reveals, simply and surely, how men have built the world for themselves, and have essentially ignored the needs of half of the population. It is absolutely loaded with examples, but here are just two to give you a taste. Car crash test dummies are built on cis male proportions and anatomy, which is why women are 17% more likely to die and 73% more likely to be seriously injured in a car crash than a male occupant of the same age. 90% of pharmacological articles describe studies using all-male animals, and countless drugs are eliminated after phase one trials under these circumstances. We'll likely never know if they would have worked on female animals (and by extension, human women). Caroline also has a newsletter, sent sporadically, that I am always equal parts outraged and delighted by.
My own copy of the book.
This evening I made this perfect roast chicken recipe for family dinner, and I firmly attest to this being the best method for a crispy-skinned and deliciously juicy chicken. Each instruction in the method is carefully given, and critical for the ideal outcome. In particular, cooking for 90 minutes at 425F (~220C), thoroughly drying the entire bird with paper towels before seasoning, and letting the meat rest under foil for at least ten minutes before carving. My hacks for this recipe: I use extra virgin olive oil instead of butter; fresh rosemary sprigs instead of thyme; I make a mixture of garlic powder, onion powder, salt and pepper and rub that on the inside cavity and outside of the chicken; and at the very end, I whisk the baking pan's leftover juices with a half cup of coconut flour, a sprinkling of dried thyme and one tablespoon of lemon juice to make a luscious and unique gravy. A delicious meal, 100% guaranteed.
Photo by the Food Network. I forgot to photograph mine because we all ate it too quickly.
This is basically an entire comedy horror film in sixty seconds. Master storytelling, Instagram style. I first saw it almost two months ago, and still think about it. May I present to you "Cake: The Movie" by @danbanbam.