Last edited Thu Dec 22, 2011, 02:10 PM - Edit history (2)
The Matrix movies were Hollywood action blockbusters that tried to support a veneer of philosophical depth and failed to carry it through. They were roundly panned with each iteration for not following through on their promise of producing any real insight into the human condition but rather falling back on vague elliptical expressions of existential angst. The first movie was, philosophically speaking, the best not because of any insight it might have offered, but that it playfully tinkered with the movie viewing experience. That plot device was much more effective in creating a vehicle for martial arts special effects than any deep philosophical insight. I enjoyed all three movies and consider them well done but they are not good art.
African Americans also figured prominently in the casting of the films, and the symbiotic relationship between Hollywood and academia as manifest by West and the Warchoski brothers revolves, as it usually does, more around marketing than philosophy. Actors are cast in no small part for their demographic appeal and the presence of African Americans in the movie had little to do with the plot and much more to do with marketing. The inclusion of West no doubt served to help add a veneer of gravitas and depth to a movie that had none but used the history of racial problems in this country for easy emotional kitsch. As for West, I doubt he agreed to appear in the films without knowing how it was being demographically cast, and appearing as a powerful political figure in a culture of embattled African Americans fighting for survival against machines whose designer is a white guy with a white goatee and a white suit and whose nemesis is a black woman whose role in the system is to destabilize it with free will was no doubt an interesting choice for a black theologian.
If he feels that academicians are insufficiently involved in the culture at large surely he could find some segment of the culture with more gravitas than Bill Maher and the Warchoski brothers with which to engage. Of course it might be argued that the culture is such that the only way to involve oneself in it is to use avenues like that I daresay Ken Burns would return his phone calls. While his methods leave room for discussion regarding his motives, they are beyond doubt lucrative. He has written enough scholarly books to try his hand at a screenplay but chose instead to work in front of the camera and the microphone. Say what you will about politicians and actors, one trait they both share in abundance is narcissism, a trait not necessarily admirable in a theologian or an academician.
Central to the issue is not the career of Cornel West. If he wants to cash in that's fine with me, that's the American way. What is at issue here is an awareness of divided loyalties. The value of introspection and cultural structures that foster that impulse is to help people understand why they do things and who they do them for. When those structures begin to conflate their own self interest with the interests of those they are designed to serve devotees wind up serving the systems themselves rather than people. Thus, when a religious organization involves itself in politics the members of that organization have two conflicting objectives: management of a government that should fear them and fealty to a religion that demands their respect. The end result is that the religion gains tremendous power over government and by extension the people it governs.
The confusion regarding the motives of Mr. West are emblematic of the problems of the relationship between religion and government. While we may argue that the direct involvement of academia with the public may or may not be a good thing, his methods certainly seem to be emotionally self serving and lucrative. And as with the motives of Mr. West, the motives of religion are controversial because they depend less on any easily discernible benefit for all, but rather on a sort of plausible deniability that is also self serving and lucrative.