Red or black pill: how the far right appropriated the metaphor of the matrix

“Blackpilling” has taken on a violent misogynistic meaning among the incels and “redpilling” has an authoritarian meaning for the far right. How did we get here?

Photo by Sasha Freemind on Unsplash

Beatriz Buarque is a PhD student at the University of Manchester studying the legitimization of alt-right conspiracy theories in digital spaces. She is also the principal investigator of the independent research group MAFTI (Mapping the Far-right Truth Industry) and CEO / founder of the award-winning NGO Words Heal the World.

In early August, a 22-year-old man carried out the worst mass shooting unrelated to terrorism on record in the UK since 2010 after describing himself as a ‘blackpillard’ in reference to a mutated version of the red pill displayed in the film . The matrix. In digital spaces, being blackpiled means having discovered “the truth” behind the difficulties in having sex and / or love with individuals of the opposite sex, especially women.

Similar to the Red Pill offered to Neo (played by Keanu Reeves) in the movie, the Black Pill opens the door to a painful truth. However, the story of the black pill found on the Internet has acquired more fatalistic tones. According to her, whatever you do, you will be left alone and only two options are on the table, accept your plight (and suicide is often encouraged in some digital communities) or try to change society through violence by killing members of the community. ‘opposite. sex.

Although British police have discovered no connection between the Plymouth assailant and far-right groups, narratives about the Black Pill are as easy to find in far-right speeches as those on the Red Pill, and they are both powerful instruments of radicalization. In fact, the black pill is often described as a transformation of the red pill.

The origins of the appropriation of this concept of pop culture by far-right narratives can be traced back to the emergence of the neo-reactionary movement (NRx) at the turn of the century with the publication of a manifesto describing ten red pills “capable” of awaken people to illusions about democracy. The pills were presented in the form of small texts, pitting common conceptions of democracy against reality.

Since then, the red pill has acquired different meanings but all with strong conspiratorial tones: democracy is a scam produced by a small group of people; equality is not a universal value (it was fabricated as such by a global elite); orchestrated mass immigration exterminates the white race; The Jews control the banks and the cultural industry; feminist theories reduced women’s interest in romantic relationships, leading to the White Genocide.

The truths offered by the Black Pill story appear to be more limited. They suggest that women are only attracted to a particular type of man, for biological and / or sociological reasons, and that the logic of affective relationships follows rules similar to those of the financial market in the sense that attractive and wealthy men tend to be more naturally successful in dating women than those who are perceived to be of low value in the sex market.

However, the black pill story can also be directly associated with the red pill story when, for example, it conveys the message that there is no point in trying to find a female partner, or because feminist theories have narrowed it down. women’s interest in relationships, or because Disney and Hollywood films have already set expectations for what male beauty should look like. In this sense, the red pill can function as a door to truths that can motivate the Internet user to take the black pill and to adopt a more fatalistic view of the world – and it is precisely there that we will find the mystique of the red or black pill. .

What made these red and black pill stories so appealing? Why do individuals who engage in Red Pill stories tend to isolate themselves, jumping from one community to another? The pursuit of truth is at the heart of the mystique of the Red and Black Pill and, despite its importance, it has been largely ignored in the literature.

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“I offer the truth. Nothing more”

In The Matrix, Neo is offered the Red Pill as a way to see the truth, painful as it is. In the minutes before swallowing the pill, Neo says he doesn’t like the idea that he’s not in control of his life. He wants to feel in control and the red pill is the way to do that.

Revisiting the Enlightenment dialect is particularly helpful in understanding how this scene regained its popularity after more than two decades of the film’s premiere. According to Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, the cultural industry has encompassed all of our lives, bringing society to a stage of “constant likeness”. The pleasure of successful formulas and clichés has led the masses to ask for more.

When they wrote their famous essay, the power to produce cultural goods was still in the hands of a few who mastered audiovisual and editing techniques. Today anyone can deliver pleasure to the masses through independently made videos of reasonable quality and this accessibility seems to have made the reappearance of the red pill easier with one more detail: the masses no longer need going to the movies or watching television to access the red pill.

The Internet has maximized individual experiences, offering individuals the possibility of effectively becoming the protagonists of their own lives. By producing red / black pills or engaging with them in digital spaces, internet users can independently embark on a personal journey to truth – a journey that seems to be associated with a sense of pleasure (characteristic of the artifacts of pop culture). They can either play the hero, Neo, or the master, Morpheus – two characters who try to change the world after their awakening moment.

Boost the mystique of the red and black pill

Considering only the appropriation of the archetype of the red pill presented and reinforced through the film The Matrix, references to it already have a strong appeal with the public. However, the narratives conveyed by the metaphorical take of the red and black pills commonly found in far-right spaces seem to further potentiate their mystique as they very often consist of authoritatively produced conspiracy theories.

As a result, in addition to the pleasure of seeking the truth, the red and black pills also provide a feeling of regained agency indicating the root of the problem which has caused great anxiety in the individual. And, what is also important is that the explanation is not given by an ordinary Internet user or communicated in an amateur way. Usually, the Red and Black Pill narratives are presented by self-proclaimed intellectuals or through audiovisual genres which are also associated by the audience with the truth – i.e. journalism and documentaries.

Overall, the quest for truth is central to the three elements that make up the mystique of the red and black pill that tore families apart: references to a pop culture archetype, a conspiratorial nature, and authoritative claims. Repetition plays a big part in the mental associations audiences make, and sadly, the pill mystique could be amplified even further with the premiere of The Matrix 4, which is slated for release in December. In addition to the millions of people who already see the Red Pill as an instrument for uncovering hidden truths, a new generation of truth seekers may appear in a context where the path to truth has been facilitated by digital media. Old and new generations can exchange experiences on the Internet and this interaction could naturally lead to a widening of the market of truth that has emerged around the red pill and the black pill.

This article is brought to you by the Center for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). Through its research, CARR intends to conduct discussions on the development of radical right-wing extremism around the world. Rantt has been a CARR partner for 3 years. We have published over 150 articles from CARR’s network of doctors, historians, professors and experts analyzing extremism and combating disinformation.

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About Florence L. Silvia

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