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Ye Olde Matrix

 

Remember back before every dog park was a Wi-Fi hotspot, when google meant you had bad eyes not iPads, when a Tumblr was a dyslexic gymnast, when you could have movies like The Net?

If you donít remember The Net, it was a bit of pop paranoia from 1995, in which Sandra Bullock plays a computer programmer who has her identity not only stolen but replaced, wholly, with another. Beware the Web! If you go in . . . you may never be the same!

This was back before the most commonly encountered evil of the Internet was trolls flaming your blog with insults in acronyms you mostly donít get.

Even with an understanding that online privacy abuses can have far worse consequences than can unregulated comments sections, The Net doesnít age well. Today, the disparity between the effectiveness of the ďInternetĒ evil and the dated clunkiness of the tech is laughable. But itís a fun example of the Fearful Technology conceit in film:

The threatening, neon, interior world of video games in 1982ís Tron; the brain-damage-inducing, cable TV programming of 1983ís Videodrome; the chilling ease of computer-assisted mutually assured destruction in 1983ís War Games; the specter of Austrian Republicans from the future in 1984ís The Terminator, are all milestone examples from my own youth. But itís a time-honored and durable theme that began long before and will continue long after these cherry-picked samples.

Because change is frightening. So, innovation, as change, scares the pants off some people. The pantsóand probably, once, the knee breeches.

The ĎLet

 

INT. EVENING

A humble residence in Norwich, late 17th-century England. Thomas Cooper is stage right, close to the door, pleading emphatically with brother, William, who sits reading a pamphlet by candlelight.

 

Thomas: Would that thou leavest off thy study for the nonce, brother. It leadest thou to melancholy.

 

William: Wither leadest thee, Thomas? No farther than the ale-bush.

 

Thomas: The ale-bush, indeed! Why contentest thyself with mere scribbled leaf, when thou mayest suckle the very sap of life!

 

William: Off, then to thy roaring boys, to cast thy barred dice for bits. I wilt attend my pamphlet, for the dice of movable type are never cheats!

 

Thomas: William, thou growest pale. Once werest thou a chopping lad. Verily, I may chop a card or bar my dice for bits, but, mark me, it is with thine own dice thou wilt be bitten!

 

INT. ALE HOUSE, SAME EVENING

Thomas sits with a crowd of young friends. Evidence of gambling is scattered on the rough table, as are a great many tankards.

 

Charles: Still, doth he persist?

 

Thomas: Till ďpersistĒ itself be bending and be-moiled. He wearies the very patience of patience.

 

George: This fellow, once fond, hath become pamphlet foolish.

 

Thomas: Caution, sirrah! Fig not my wayward kinsman or we shall swap this deck for daggers!

 

George: Peace! Have thou not seen this pamphlet nigh arrived from London? Subjected so to type, thus hast thy brother become its subject in sooth!

 

Thomas: Its subject? Speak not in riddles but read yon tract!

 

George: Oh, cousin, I would speak neither riddles nor such infamous characters as here contained!

 

Thomas: Read! My own scholarship is less nimble than thine.

 

George: In Norwich doth reside a discontent/An elf-skinned, mewling varlot born of wench/and sired by haughty, flap-mouth, artless, boor/whose hockey served best the tavern jakesí floor . . .

 

Thomas: What vile personage is herein invoked?

 

George: A reader of pamphlets, to growing fame/more cooper by gift, as cooper by name/lips bussing the type, in autumn till spring/lips suited better to kiss copper ring . . .

 

Thomas: Cease, calumny!

 

Charles: Thy brother! I would not credit it, but for it appears here, before us, in type!

 

Thomas: Nay! Not but a slanderous shade cast unto my brotherís true character by Londonís pustulant presses so like an infernal loom, weaving an unclean matrix enclosing in filth that which once glowed! To London, I hie, to London, to puncture that cloacinal falsity and to restore my brotherís name!

 

End Act I.

Sure it seems silly, now. But the program typeface was awesome.

óJohn Rodat


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