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In the 1999 sci-fi movie classic of the same name, the Matrix is an artificial reality (resembling the Western world at the dawn of the twenty-first century) created by sentient machines. Humans, who are grown as energy sources and wired in to the Matrix using cybernetic implants, are kept in a coma-like state — ignorant of the very existence of the artificial reality that they “live” in. In explaining the situation to Neo, the movie’s protagonist, Morpheus, a leader of a group of unplugged free humans who wage a guerrilla struggle against the machines, reveals:
“The Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us. Even now, in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work, when you go to church, when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.”
Back in Eisenhower’s day, arms dealers and mega-corporations, such as Lockheed and General Motors, held sway over the corporate side of the military-industrial complex. Companies like these still play an extremely powerful role today, but they are dwarfed by the sheer number of contractors that stretch from coast to coast and across the globe. Looking at the situation in 1970, almost 10 years after Eisenhower’s farewell speech, Sidney Lens, a journalist and expert on U.S. militarism, noted that there were 22,000 prime contractors doing business with the U.S. Department of Defense. Today, the number of prime contractors tops 47,000 with subcontractors reaching well over the 100,000 mark, making for one massive conglomerate touching nearly every sector of society, from top computer manufacturer Dell (the 50th-largest DoD contractor in 2006) to oil giant ExxonMobil (the 30th) to package-shipping titan FedEx (the 26th).
In fact, the Pentagon payroll is a veritable who’s who of the top companies in the world: IBM; Time-Warner; Ford and General Motors; Microsoft; NBC and its parent company, General Electric; Hilton and Marriott; Columbia TriStar Films and its parent company, Sony; Pfizer; Sara Lee; Procter & Gamble; M&M Mars and Hershey; Nestlé; ESPN and its parent company, Walt Disney; Bank of America; and Johnson & Johnson among many other big-name firms. But the difference between now and then isn’t only in scale. As this list suggests, Pentagon spending is reaching into previously neglected areas of American life: entertainment, popular consumer brands, sports. This penetration translates into a remarkable variety of forms of interaction with the public.
At one point in his farewell speech, Eisenhower presaged this point, suggesting, “The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — [of the conjunction of the military establishment and the large arms industry] is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government.” But only Hollywood has yet managed to capture the essence of today’s omnipresent, all-encompassing, cleverly hidden system of systems that invades all our lives; this new military-industrial-technological-entertainment-academic-scientific- media-intelligence-homeland security-surveillance-national security-corporate complex that has truly taken hold of America.