Channelling Bruce Lee

Lisa Nakamura was here this week talking about ethnic ambiguity and celebrity outting sites like I had the pleasure of guiding her around campus and to her hotel as well as taking her to lunch with some other students. She was very encouraging to those of us interested in pursuing technoculture studies. I don’t know if I would go as far as she did to say that English as the study of literature is dying out, but it is still good to hear from a pretty well-known academic that your field has a future.

Anyway, we had been talking about her book Cybertypes and in particular about her discussion of The Matrix. One point of discussion was about whether or not Neo’s character is marked in the film. Of course it is commonly known Matrix trivia that Keanu Reeves is mixed race [middle of the page]; but the question was raised whether or not the film itself marks him as mixed. I think we decided that it didn’t matter if he could ‘read’ that way or if the surrounding media suppliment that reading.

I was watching the film today, thinking about our discussion and noticed a couple things. Neo, though often identified as white, like when the guy with the white rabbit lady takes him to the club and says he looks whiter than normal, however, he also channels Bruce Lee at times, as in the fight scene with Agent Smith when he does the dust scatter thing.

There is also all this talk about him being “the one” which is a common kungfu movie trope.

Morpheus, though he also does some Bruce Lee gesturing, is more distinctly figured as black. Nakamura talks about his invocation of Bootsy Collins’ “free your mind [and your ass will follow]”, but there is also a little feet shuffle move he does when sparing with Neo that recalls both Muhammed Ali and Kareem Abdul-Jabaar from when he was in a Lee film. Thus, i would argue, Neo and Morpheus retain, in the movie and the matrix, generic identity positions; Neo, the asain kung-fu star a la B. Lee, and Morpheus, the black brawler a la Ali and Abdul-Jabaar.

I’m sure i’m not the first to point this out, but i thought it worthy of comment.