The Matrix turns twenty years old next month. Nine out of ten doctors agree that it is the pinnacle of 90s scifi awesomeness. I still remember watching the movie trailer during the Super Bowl a couple of months before and my jaw hitting the ground when I saw Neo’s gravity-defying bullet ballet. Twenty years later, it’s still a pretty sweet movie, and although it’s politically incorrect to say the Wachowski “Brothers” anymore, movie lovers will be forever in their debt for giving us this classic.
Despite all of its amazing moments, one part in the movie always made me chuckle. It’s the scene were we get a rotating view of the crew on board the Nebuchadnezzar. Everyone is seated and plugged into the ship’s computer. While drum-and-bass music pulses in the background, we also get a rotating view of a ringing phone, and behind it are the same crew members dressed in pseudo-Goth finery and fancy shades. It’s a scene made purely for the movie trailers, and it personifies a statement made by Morpheus to a confused Neo earlier in the film, where he explains that who we are in the Matrix is the projection of our digital selves. Essentially, we can look however we want in the Matrix, and of course, everyone chooses to look as cool as possible.
This concept plays out in real/virtual life every day. Look at any game with customizable characters or any online message board with a buffet of avatars to choose from. People spend countless hours (and countless dollars) making their “digital selves” as cool and unique as possible. Girls often try to strike a balance between tough and sexy, and guys usually go as macho as possible. Form-fitting outfits to show off curves and/or muscles, cool gadgets and weaponry, tattoos (wink wink), jewelry/accessories, etc. are irresistible catnip to fans of all gaming genres. Best of all, it doesn’t have to make sense in the real world. Did Neo and Trinity ever stop to think about how dumb it is to wear sunglasses indoors? Or how bulky and cumbersome trenchcoats are, except for the purpose of concealing weapons? No; sunglasses and trenchcoats are cool, and that’s that.
There is nothing wrong with indulging in virtual wish-fulfillment when it comes to avatar creation (as long as one doesn’t neglect their real world responsibilities by spending excessive amounts of time choosing the right hairstyle). I doubt there is a person on this planet who is 100% satisfied with their physical appearance, and I guarantee you that every avatar or playable character is sexier, stronger, or generally more attractive than its real-life counterpart. Sometimes, though, this can morph into an unhealthy perspective, where a person identifies more with their avatar than with the person in the mirror. They see themselves as the young, slender, popular, fashionable Sims character, rather than the mother-of-four who struggles with her weight and gray hair or the obese kid who gets teased at school and has trouble making friends.
It’s easy for our imaginations to outpace reality. It’s a blessing and a curse of being human. Naturally, we imagine what we crave, but what if it’s far out of reach? It seems that the more society tries to ingest ideas like body positivity and loving the skin you’re in, the more hyper-conscious people become of their bodies, and more aware of their personal flaws in comparison to the barrage of models and celebrities they are pummeled with every day. Creating an awesome avatar is a temporary escape, but only as long as the computer is turned on.
While our current bodies will eventually die and decay, it’s necessary to realize the important role our bodies play in God’s plan for us as believers. Our bodies are literally temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19) and are intended to be living sacrifices that please God (Rom. 12:1). So instead of thinking about what is wrong with our bodies or dwelling on a cheap substitute, let’s find ways to honor God with our bodies, which can mean using our muscles to help someone in need or going to the gym to increase our health and fitness. What matters is that we all have a body, but it’s not who we are. It is simply a tool to be used during our short time here on Earth.