Adviser to the president Ivanka Trump reached out to leading business executives and representatives from the entertainment industry on Sunday to convene an impromptu summit, as the federal government continued its difficult work of stemming the spread of the novel coronavirus while keeping the economy from collapsing. As unemployment soars and American deaths from COVID-19 near the 90,000 mark, Trump is leveraging her years of experience in entrepreneurship to forge bold new alliances between the government and the industrialists and cultural leaders whose support—and tax dollars—will be necessary to minimize deaths and keep the country running until this unprecedented—wait, wait, I’m being told Trump was actually spending her time tweeting at Elon Musk about either 1999 action movie The Matrix, the so-called men’s rights movement, or some yet-to-be-identified conspiracy theory, until one of the film’s directors came by and told both of them to fuck off. Must have been a glitch.
Anyway, like many of the worst stories of 2020, this one starts with a tweet from Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk. On Sunday afternoon, Musk tweeted, “Take the red pill,” followed by a red rose:
Musk’s meaning here was even more unclear than usual, but he has been speaking out against measures taken to control the spread of the novel coronavirus and, last week, reopened his factory in violation of a stay-at-home order. The idea of a “red pill” comes from a scene in The Matrix in which Keanu Reeves’ character is told that everything he knows is a lie and given the choice to either take a blue pill and continue living in blissful ignorance, or take a red pill and discover the truth:
The scene is tailor-made for conspiracy theorists and the grifters who prey on them, and in the years since the film’s release, it’s been adopted by a variety of fringe movements claiming to hold the secret key to understanding the world, from 9/11 truthers to men’s rights activists. Most of the causes associated with “red pill” rhetoric are extremely right wing, but the rose is usually used online as a symbol for the Democratic Socialists of America, who are not. Musk hasn’t specified which red pill or socialist movement he was advocating—the whole point of this kind of trolling is gleefully claiming you have plausible deniability—but that didn’t stop Ivanka Trump from endorsing either the DSA, the MRAs, or the general concept of taking unidentified pharmaceuticals:
Donald Trump Jr. got in on the fun too, although, again, it remains unclear exactly which ideas or policies anyone involved in this conversation thought they were talking about:
The vagueness here is entirely deliberate on all sides: None of these people are committing to any particular idea—“my workers should willingly go to their deaths so that I can become richer,” for instance—so none of them can be asked to answer for anything they have said. Meanwhile, the entire pantheon of right-wing fringe movements will get a morale boost from the implicit support of a leading industrialist and the president’s children. Harnessing The Matrix to those ends didn’t sit right with the film’s co-director and co-screenwriter Lilly Wachowski, and at this point in the story, we strongly encourage you to listen to “Spybreak! (Short One)” by the Propellerheads.
Now that the mood is right, here is Wachowski’s brief but eloquent statement on the matter of Ivanka Trump and Elon Musk using a metaphor from her film as a way of endorsing unspecified but undoubtedly terrible ideas:
Wachowski went on to encourage donations to the Brave Space Alliance, an LGBTQ center in Chicago. As BuzzFeed’s Ryan Mac noticed, the director wasn’t the only one unimpressed by Elon Musk’s winky, bad-widdle-boy tweets. The eccentric plutocrat’s girlfriend, singer Grimes, gave birth to their first child on May 4, and Grimes’ mother, National Observer columnist Sandy Garossino was not pleased to see Musk giving aid and comfort to misogynists, as these since-deleted tweets show:
Meanwhile, the Democratic Socialists of America stayed focused on the material conditions of Musk’s workers:
Please plug me back into the simulation; I’ve had enough.