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by Greg Lindberg

The scene in The Matrix where Neo meets the Oracle can be seen as deliberate camp with the intentions of showing highly exaggerated multitudes of perception in the "reality" of the Matrix itself. On the surface, one could even go as far as to call the computer program of the Matrix an ideal representation of pure camp. People suffering from the post-modern condition within the Matrix are all designed into a false art of life. When seeing that putting quotation marks around the word reality in relation to the matrix program it makes sense that, "Camp in objects and persons is to understand Being-as-playing-a-role" (Sontag 280). Susan Sontag is absolutely right in saying that camp sees everything in quotation marks as the matrix itself is a perfect example of camp, for it projects, "the metaphor of life as theater" (Sontag 280). Before his awakening, Neo saw everything for its face value and material representation. In his first time back in the matrix, before he actually meets the Oracle, he is confronted by a boy who is seemingly bending a spoon with his mind. Along with Camp sensibilities and the post-modern condition, Neo comes to terms with the fact that the spoon does not exist. The boy says, "It is not the spoon that bends, it is you." No longer does the simple, everyday object hold such sustainable purpose as Neo does learn to break from the logical constraints of what is "reality". What is important though is that this scene does set up the narrative for deliberate camp and naive camp. The Wachowski brothers are aware that, to the audience, they are making the spoon not just a spoon, but a "spoon". This initial scene sets up the notion of intentional camp sensibilities mixed with a kitsch scene between the Oracle and Neo, the pivotal point in the film where one would think that total seriousness would be most necessary to purposely drive along the narrative. That is also were the Wachowskis' have created a scene that in itself is both pure and naive camp. The quote from the boy who bends the spoon is smug in deliberate seriousness, but the quote can also be viewed as "cheesy" or "corny". The inconsistencies in camp best goes along with Sontag's point, "Camp is art that proposes itself seriously, but cannot be taken altogether because it is 'too much' (Sontag 284)," and this exaggerated seriousness takes form into a series of disconnected pastiche in the scene with the Oracle and Neo.

In her notes on camp, Sontag begins with, "Camp is a certain mode of aestheticism/ It is one way of seeing the world as an aesthetic phenomenon" (Sontag 277). As soon as Neo walks through the door of stringed beads, he walks into an entirely new aesthetic world that is unlike anything else that the viewer witnesses in the film. At first sight, the Oracle's kitchen can be described as having a retro aesthetic, with cabinets and counters in 50's and 60's era decor and color. There are alphabet refrigerator magnets, bright multi-colored wicker plates, and an old looking radio seen on the refrigerator that Neo stands by. These are some of the most normal objects that are seen in the film, yet in this scene they become almost fantastical in their presence as the scene interrupts the consistent style of the film. Up until this point in the film, the style that the Wachowkis' chose could be viewed in with political subtext (i.e. the androgyny, distortion of the Warner Brothers logo, the use of blue and green colors, etc.), but in the scene with the Oracle, the style is depoliticized or apolitical. Other elements in the scene that fit into the realm of camp sensibilities include the urban setting and the fake-looking plant that Neo knocks off of a ledge. Sontag states that, "Nothing in nature can be campy.... Rural camp is still man-made, and most campy objects are urban" (Sontag 279). The scene is consistently stylized in a faux urban setting. The idea of the Oracle's home being fake is presented through the idea that the Oracle is aware of all, most importantly that she is living inside the matrix knowingly. Yet, beyond her wisdom she takes pleasure in baking cookies and living in the stereotypical setting that would suit her "character" best. Suddenly, we are presented with questions like, "Why would the Oracle choose to live here of all places?" What best fits an answer for such a question is the underlying fact that the Wachowskis are playing with satire and wit in ways to be intentionally camp. If this stylized scene was in any other film it may bring forth political connotations concerning the lower-class and minorities, but the Wachowkis decide to be playful with such content as a way to relieve the viewer of the straining seriousness that the film presents itself in. Also, it's important to note that the plant that Neo knocks over is possibly a fake plant and holds no real sentimental value to the Oracle. The only sign that leads us closest to the idea of nature is destroyed by Neo in a seemingly predestined action. The Wachowkis most likely made it intentional for the object to be a plant, but especially a kitsch-looking plant that represents how nature is really fake materializations in the matrix, and is capable of being destroyed by man. This idea fits well with the notion that, "Today's Camp taste effaces natures, or else contradicts it outright" (Sontag 280). Sontag adds that, "Camp art is often decorative art, emphasizing texture, sensuous surface, and style at the expense of content" (Sontag 278). This statement by Sontag could easily fit the scenery the audience is given in this scene, but most importantly is the fact that the style does take precedence over the serious content.

Looking at the character of the Oracle herself, it becomes even clearer that the Wachowkis, at least on some level, had intentions for deliberate camp. When examining people in camp, Sontag writes, "As a taste in persons, Camp responds particularly to the markedly attenuated and to the strongly exaggerated" (Sontag 279). The heart of the character of the Oracle is much more than just the Wachowkis fooling with our expectations, but instead the Oracle is presented in a flashy style without really being flashy. The Wachowkis could have made the Oracle a male who appears as an almost monolithic creature of divinity, where knowledge is understood by appearance and stature. Instead, the focus is on an older, African American woman who is dressed as if she just walked out of the early 20th century with kitsch eye glasses and earrings. Social commentaries could be made, but they are lacking as the character truly is strongly exaggerated to the point of comical idiosyncrasies. It is possible to argue that with the Oracle the Wachowkis create an "instant character", which Sontag says that camp responds strongly to (Sontag 286). It is true that even after her introduction, the character of the Oracle is still mysterious and intriguing, even in her state of normalcy. Camp is not entirely considered with the development of such instant characters. The Wachowkis simply give us a minor character that possesses both wisdom and comical flair, in order to push along the narrative as a necessity. The Oracle can also be seen as a mother figure to Neo, just as Morpheus can be viewed as a father figure. However, the characterization of the Oracle being motherly is highly exaggerated. She starts off by saying to Neo, "Well, let's have a look at you." She continues by examining Neo's face and making him open his mouth wide, saying "Ahh". This action that the Oracle takes in this interaction is most commonly doctor-like, but is also seen as motherly. The fact that the Oracle is baking cookies and proceeds to offer Neo a cookie is also viewed in terms of motherly gestures. To simply say, the character of the Oracle is reduced down to stereotypical behaviors and her character is hardly developed, which makes her appear quirky in the resonating sense of camp sensibilities. On the subject of character, Sontag also adds, "Character is understood as a state of continual incandescence - a person being one, very intense thing" (Sontag 286). In favor of her underdevelopment, the Washowskis use the character of the Oracle to add to the effect of deliberate camp as well as to downplay the serious tone of the philosophical dialogue. ...continued in the second column...




It's a thin line to understand whether camp should be taken seriously or not, especially as camp sensibilities change over time. What was strictly intentional and serious 10 years ago could be viewed as camp and unserious today in several ways. Sontag points out, "The pure examples of Camp are unintentional; they are dead serious" (Sontag 282). This makes us question the motivations of the film makers, and whether they are in fact continually serious; or if in this scene with the Oracle, they are deliberating giving us a taste of camp sensibilities. It is most likely that the Wachowkis were strongly aware of the break of style in the Oracle scene, and that the scene and character would feel so over-the-top in many ways that it would present itself more than just kitsch or nostalgia. The results of the interaction between the Oracle and Neo, at times, do feel forced and heavy-handed, but due to the innocence of the Oracle's character, the audience is relieved from the heavy handedness. Thus, in a sense, the audience is told to enjoy the comical elements of such a character and interaction. The Oracle is funny because her character seems out of place in this film, but the lack of seriousness on her part makes the philosophical dialogue appear campy as well. The scene does not seem to, "Reek of self love," as Sontag would put it, but instead the selfawareness of the deliberate camp sensibilities creates yet another thick, post-modern layer into the ever-growing context of the film. As Sontag writes, "What is extravagant in an inconsistent or an unpassionate way is not Camp (Sontag 284)," she would most likely struggle with the Oracle scene as to whether it is truly a representation of camp. Possibly, the scene could be read as just that: a representation of camp, but not pure camp. Sontag claims that without passion that one gets, "Psuedo-Camp - what is merely decorative, safe, in a word, chic/ On the barren edge of camp." So, to call this scene entirely camp could be debatable for our time period, or also change in time as to how it's perceived in the future. However, the Wachowskis do deliver passion into this scene, as nearly all scenes in The Matrix, and they are fully aware of how their use of deliberate camp disrupts the seriousness of the film.


The Matrix: The Oracle


Overall, the Oracle scene fits perfectly in the sense of postmodern criticism. Fredric Jameson says, "Postmodernism is what you have when the modernization process is complete and nature is gone for good/ It is a more fully human world than the older one, but one in which "culture" has become a veritable 'second nature' (Jameson ix)," which genuinely represents the infectious atmosphere of the Oracle scene, as nature is nowhere to be seen in the details. However, even with these post-modernistic readings, the fact remains that the Wachowkis are being self-aware of their film and, thus, decide to relieve the audience of the overall seriousness of the film by adding a scene full of camp sensibilities. The Wachowskis successfully, "dethrone the serious," as Sontag writes is the whole point of camp. In this scene, the Wachowskis have absolutely become self-aware of the serious, philosophical dialogue, and basically tell the viewers to "Enjoy!" Of course, the whole film has many elements of purposeful enjoyment, but the scene specifically is a moment for the audience members' mind to alleviate thinking. Of course, such philosophical dialogue is still spoken between Neo and the Oracle, but it is taken less seriously. This is something that also has to do with taste. One may be able to take the dialogue of the young boy who bends the spoon seriously, but at the same time snicker at the certainty of voice in the delivery. The Wachowkis want the audience to think as hard as possible, but here is the best example that it is okay to be entertained; a reminder that we are, in fact, watching a film. Sontag writes, "Camp is playful, antiserious/ More precisely, Camp involves a new, more complex relation to the "serious"/ One can be serious about the frivolous, frivolous about the serious" (Sontag 288). The disconnected form of kitsch and camp sensibilities are fitting for a film that brings art and philosophy in the vehicle intended to deliver entertainment, but ultimately make money. As the Oracle is serious when she tells Neo that he will enjoy the cookie, she means it, and the Wachowkis are doing the same for intellectual viewers; they are offering us a cookie in the form of camp and asking us to enjoy the simplest commercial qualities of the post-modern condition. The End of this section



Works Cited and Referenced

Jameson, Fredric. Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism). Durham: Duke UP, 1991.

Sontag, Susan. Against Interpretation and Other Essays. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1964.

The Matrix. Dir. The Wachowski Brothers. Perf. Keanu Reeves. 1999. DVD. Warner Bros.

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Agent Smith's license plate in Reloaded is IS 5416, a reference to Isaiah 54:16: 'Behold, I have created the smith who blows the coals in the fire, who brings forth an instrument for his work; and I have created the spoiler to destroy.'
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