And it says, time's up.
(Part 1: An Action Movie Fairy Tale; Part 2: What Was The Matrix?)
9-11 should have marked the end of the postmodern era, and of the cultural narcissism we were all a part of.
This was an external reality vigorously asserting that it was not going to be the setting of anyone's personal movie.
It caused three narcissistic injuries:
(Recall: a narcissistic injury is when the narcissist learns that his preferred identity is not accepted by others.)
First, it defied the size and time. Some things never get destroyed. Remember WTC bombing 1993? Shrugged off because there was a feeling that the Towers could never really fall; see? They didn't. Neither could Reagan really die; neither could we have a real war (Falklands, Beirut, Gulf I.) There were doomsayers and crackpots, of course. But the real world plodded along averagely.
Interesting: we accused the media of hyping things because what we understood is that such big events can't really happen, but the media needs a story.
We were satisfied with our postmodern explanation because for most people's life spans, nothing gigantic happened. Cold War ended: meh. It was all hype anyway, government bluster, invented to keep us scared and subservient. Not real. Not like global warming.
The narcissist says: if it can't happen to me, it can't really happen. 2500 Americans can't just die in one day.
But 9/11 was different. It didn't respect the rules.
Second, it violated the most important aspect of postmodern narcissism: story. Not only was the attack a surprise-- no warning, no buildup, no exposition, no rising action-- but even the characters were a surprise.
At least if it had been the Russians, or even aliens, it would have followed a previously understood narrative. Has anyone seen this movie before?
We didn't know they even existed. Tali what? Did anyone know the backstory? Was there a movie with them as the bad guys? Back To The Future!-- wait, weren't they Libyans?
Turns out we are just bit characters in someone else's movie.
Third: we were revealed to be powerless. No heroes. No one knew kung fu. Who was there left to fight, anyway?
Were they any heroes? Anybody? How about... firemen?
Ultimately, 9/11 contradicted The Matrix. We weren't more than we appeared, but less.
We were so psychologically paralyzed that the very first thing we did was change the language to minimize the narcissistic injury, the discovery that other people were able to affect us. We called Oklahoma City a bombing. This was just a date.
On one sunny, cloudless Tuesday, postmodernism was obliterated. Two days short of Neo's thirtieth birthday.
Narcissistic Injuries Result Always In Rage...
If you are under 23, this probably won't have the same significance: the government, the media, and the American public were seriously debating the use of nuclear weapons.
We got Iraq, say whatever else you want. Right or wrong, it would never have been possible pre-9/11.
... Or Denial
But 9/11 didn't take. I cannot explain this. Within a year, two years, we were back to the same old narcissism. "Everything changed after 9-11" turned out to be exactly false. The stock market went back into familiar bull run mode, and in 2006 Time named "You" it's Person of the year, a laughable move at any time in history, let alone post-9/11 and waist deep in Iraq. 9/11 should have changed everything. It changed nothing.
And The Matrix is Good For Another Two Sequels
So we went back to the teachings of The Matrix. Back to individualism, back to defining yourself based on what you believe rather than what you do. Self-entitlement, self-fulfillment, and until then the thousand yard stare of hope. The ideas in The Matrix should have given us ten more years of narcissism, until the "next thing" came along. And, indeed, it did.
You might say that the Great Recession we're in now should end postmodern narcissism. Nope. Amazingly, all I hear and read are calls for punishing those who got us into this mess (Wall Street), "fixing the system," "solving the housing crisis." People are waiting for things to "get back to normal." People: this is normal. The past twenty years-- easy credit, college for everyone that leads to a job at Starbucks, unemployment under 6%-- that was abnormal. We associate the word "unemployment" with steel workers, but do you think any economy not top heavy with credit can afford to pay 600 extra Starbucks stores worth of baristas $8/hr? Or computer programmers $50k? Don't yell at me-- I'm not saying they aren't worth it-- I'm saying this economy cannot, and could never, afford it.
I know, greedy companies are outsourcing to India because they want to maximize profits. You say that thinking that if they stayed in America, they'd make less profits. Wrong. They'd close.
"You don't know what you're talking about. Why would Toyota build plants in Alabama and hire American workers if it wasn't profitable?" Because it gets them two senators and a bunch of congressmen, that's why.
Instead of having that discussion, the one we're having is whether we should tax AIG bonuses at 90%. I know I'm alone in this, but someone has to say it: this is idiocy. Sure they don't deserve those bonuses, but really, is this the best use of Congress's time? Really? "But it's about perception." Isn't it time we focused on something more than perception? Isn't our obsession with perception exactly what is wrong with us?
So: two huge historical realities have had no impact on our cultural narcissism.
This is further support to my contention that meaningful cultural change can't happen to a society while it still lives. It requires a change in generation, in biology.
Thankfully, we are setting them up very nicely.