[UTA Magazine]


Pop Culture meets philosophy

An essay applying the ideas of Karl Marx to the movie The Matrix recently landed English Professor Martin Danahay on The New York Times best-seller list.

Dr. Danahay and then-Ph.D. candidate David Rieder co-wrote the piece for The Matrix and Philosophy: Welcome to the Desert of the Real, which hit No. 10 on the best-seller list for nonfiction paperbacks in June.

The movie portrays a world overtaken by artificial intelligence machines that draw power by sapping humans of their energy. Danahay says the movie comes closest to giving a visual image of Marx’s ideas in the scene where Morpheus, a resistance leader against the machines, tells new recruit Neo that the computers have reduced him to nothing more than a battery. Morpheus then holds up a battery to illustrate his point.

“Humans in The Matrix must produce electricity to run the machines that enslave them, just as workers in Marx’s analysis must produce surplus value through their work,” Danahay explained. “Also, the rebels in the movie liberate Morpheus from an office, and they rescue Neo from his white-collar job. The rebels are trying to get workers to wake up and realize they are being exploited, which is one of Marx’s aims, too.”

The Matrix and Philosophy is the third book of essays edited by William Irwin, a philosophy professor at King’s College in Pennsylvania, that fuses popular culture and philosophy. The others examined the TV shows Seinfeld and The Simpsons. In all of the books, professors take the viewpoint of a noted philosopher and explain how the movie or TV show illustrates that person’s ideas.

“The books are a great way to introduce students or anybody else interested in philosophy to some of the major ideas in the field,” said Danahay. “The essays are written in a very direct and accessible way, and the hope is that they will inspire people to read more philosophy as a result of exposure to these ideas.”


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