If I must live the film fantasy I’ll live it as Neo, the guy who grudgingly discovers he’s been looking at the world from the wrong end — it’s the concrete things that are illusions and the intangible matrix that is real. We live in a version of that world now, one in which image, expectation and wish fulfillment move people to action far more than fact or substance, and protesting all this is about as futile as protesting the existence of the Internet. This created world has a huge built-in margin of error in which lapses of fact or taste or judgment don’t even count as errors yet — this is a movie with a plot and characters that can always be redeemed in the end, whenever that comes. We all deny thinking like this, but the truth is we want the fantasy terribly, and we want it both ways — maintaining it can’t hurt us because it’s just a movie or a game or entertainment, while increasingly letting all these things set the template for our lives. By the way, How Arnold Became Governor is already being made into a movie by the cable channel A&E, which means that California history will very soon have a perfectly parallel film universe up and running even before Arnold takes office and history is actually made. Art doesn’t imitate life so much as coax it along, and then pull ahead of it.
Speaking of matrices, there’s always been an overlap of black reality and its commercialized counterparts — Lindy Hop and jitterbug, jazz and swing — but there was often open acknowledgment on both sides of what was “real” and what was the dilution. In the millionaire hip-hop age, what used to be a cautious intersection has become a hostile takeover, with the counterpart not only trumping reality but sucking blood from a marrow of black reason and aesthetic integrity that appears to be getting weaker by the generation. As the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist pointed out, blacks are often as complicit as other Americans in the fantasy department, even if they suspect it goes against their self-interest. They can rationalize Ghettopoly with the worst of them, which actually isn’t hard to do when you have the likes of 50 Cent and Snoop Dogg insisting they’re no role models for black youth while knowing full well it is black youth, individually and in the pernicious abstract, that started and sustains their careers. It isn’t hard to do when Nelly, a rapper known for not having a hard edge, debuts a new energy drink called “Pimp Juice” and then defends it as merely a reflection of reality that the oft-distorted black community is entitled to. If David Chang is looking for a business partner, one who might lend him a superficial credibility he lacked the first time out, he doesn’t have to look far. Governor Arnold might even have a space in his cabinet for a good fabulist or two.