The mythos of Trump’s wall and MAGA’s attempted coup

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The Alamo. Photo by Barry Vacker (2019).

One last look at his Wall. President Trump could not resist. Philosophically, no final journey could be more fitting. January 12, 2021, Trump’s last stand in a border town called Alamo, Texas. The Wall and “Alamo” have clear symbolic meaning and are deeply related. No doubt, Trump’s MAGA followers see themselves as heroic defenders of an American Alamo. “Remember the Alamo”—it’s a powerful mythos.

Trump’s last presidential trip was to rally support for building more of the Wall, but the underlying philosophical purpose was to put one last stamp on the myth of the Alamo for MAGA America. Of course, the actual Alamo is located in San Antonio, 240 miles north of the Rio Grande. But, this is not about mere reality.

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Image courtesy of the Utah Department of Public Safety, copyright 2020.

“I don’t believe in any of Earth’s monotheistic religions, but I do believe that one can construct an intriguing scientific definition of God, once you accept the fact that there are approximately 100 billion stars in our galaxy alone, that each star is a life-giving sun and that there are approximately 100 billion galaxies in just the visible universe. — Stanley Kubrick

As the world knows, a silver monolith was found in the remote deserts of Utah, discovered accidentally via helicopter by the Utah Department of Public Safety during a routine count of bighorn sheep. Tall and sleek, the monolith seems to be an obvious reference to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, the 1968 philosophical and cinematic masterpiece. …

It Starts in the “Chill” Gaze

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The Milky Way above the Rio Grande and Big Bend Ranch State Park in far west Texas. Photo by Morteza Safataj, Big Bend Conservation Alliance website; used with permission.

Looking Out and Away

What if the “Dark Skies” movement might be the most important long-term idea for our civilization and life on Planet Earth? What if a new philosophy can generate new dreams, desperately needed amid the waking nightmares haunting our lives and civilization: climate disruption, environmental destruction, anti-science worldviews, conspiracy theories, and racism and nationalism? What if Dark Skies is the natural light we need, if only we will look out and away from ourselves, away from our species?

“Dark Skies” refers to the worldwide movement to protect the Milky Way from light pollution, efforts which have many practical benefits for humans and wildlife. To me, the Dark Skies Movement suggests much more, precisely because its effect is to re-orient our civilization within nature and the universe and reestablish the human connection to the starry skies. Dark Skies is about looking out and away from humanity, casting our gaze into the Milky Way and beyond. …

Bond, Nietzsche, and Sartre: Double 0s of “the Future”

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Sean Connery’s 007: the would-be “Ubermensch.” Promotional image for “Goldfinger,” Eon Productions, 1964. Image in the public domain.

Sean Connery’s 007 stood astride the abyss of the 1960s, the fears of nuclear annihilation of the Cold War and the rising technological fetishism of the Space Age—between man and Superman, between rockets and sleek cars, between now and the future. That abyss is still present in the 21st century, for tomorrow always comes, but “the future” never arrives.

Sean Connery was a sexy and uber-masculine megastar, an icon of 20th century cinema. But, he symbolized much more as 007 in the 1960s. Embedded in the sleek cars, sexy assassins, evil super-villains, and immortal cinematic imagery were the deep existential challenges posed by the Space Age, Cold War, and two great philosophers—Friedrich Nietzsche and Jean-Paul Sartre, the double 0s of “the future.” …

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L-R: “Vanitas,” Barthel Bruyn the Elder (1524); Kröller-Müller Museum. The fly on Mike Pence’s head during the 2020 Vice Presidential debate. Posters for the 1958 and 1986 versions of The Fly. All images in the public domain.

The fly. The future. What’s the connection? It’s much more than the buzz of internet memes featuring the fly on Mike Pence’s head. If film, art history, and philosophy have any meaning, that fly is a warning from the universe. The future of America hangs in the balance.

“The Fly” in Film

Last night on Saturday Night Live, the opening skit featured Jim Carrey as Joe Biden, transformed into a fly on Mike Pence’s head. The skit is referencing David Cronenberg’s The Fly, the 1986 remake of the 1958 sci-fi classic with the same name. In both films, a scientist invents a chamber-like machine to transport objects and humans from one place to another. It’s like the “transporter” device in Star Trek, which beams people down to planets and back up again to the Enterprise. …

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The Texas state flag and movie poster for “Giant,” the epic Hollywood film about Texas. Poster from 1956 and in the public domain.

“My well came in big, so big. And there’s more down there. Bigger wells. I’m rich, Bick. I’m a rich’en. I’m a rich boy. Me, I’m gonna have more money than you ever thought you could have.”—James Dean to Texas rancher Rock Hudson (Bick) after striking oil in Giant (1956)


James Dean’s epic line sums up the Texas attitude toward oil and fossil fuels, all of which made the Lone Star State so wealthy. In Giant, Dean plays “Jett Rink,” a poor ranch hand who strikes it rich in oil. …

For now, all secular culture has to offer for a shared destiny is the 24/7 consumer-entertainment-narcissism society

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Promotional image from “Spectre” (2015); copyright Sony Pictures. Text added by Barry Vacker.

Crashing into the Future

After six decades of cool cars, sexy assassins, evil super-villains, and immortal cinematic imagery, the above scene from Spectre (2015) might be the most existentially profound in all the James Bond films. That’s because 007 is flat wrong. “It” didn’t stop “right here.” “It” keeps on coming, building momentum, a huge “unstoppable force.” Blofeld is spot on.

“It” is nihilism—the sprawling spectre that confronts 007 and humanity as it searches for a meaningful and hopeful narrative in the awe-inspiring universe revealed by its own science and technology. Nihilism was always the secret agent inside modernism.

Earth. Alone. Amid the stars. Silent. What of our species in this universe? What of the future? …

Trapped in our skyglow metropolises, who looks at the night sky with awe and wonder?

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For this essay, I added a red circle to mark the location of the largest International Dark Sky Reserve. The map of light pollution is a portion of “Electric Vanishing Points,” my mixed-media installation (6 feet by 10 feet) currently in development, 2020.

In the remote regions of far west Texas and northern Mexico, plans are underway to create the largest “International Dark Sky Reserve” on Planet Earth. The Dark Sky Reserve will span approximately 15,000 square miles of Texas and Mexico. That’s almost the collective size of Vermont, Connecticut, and Rhode Island.

Of course, this may seem like an irrelevant topic to the 90% of humanity living in the electric skyglow, far removed from the starry skies that surround our planet. …

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Counterclockwise from top left: 1947 Roswell newspaper headline announcing the flying saucer; the UFO poster in The X-Files; Covid-19 virus; logos for The X-Files and Q Anon; still from the Zapruder film of the JFK assassination; and the red pill born in the Matrix. Graphic by Barry Vacker, with images in the public domain; protected under the Fair Use Doctrine.

In conspiracy theory, the true believers are millions of copies of Neo, consuming red pills as they break free from the Matrix. Copies of copies of copies. The new Neos were born in the desert near Roswell, shocked on the streets of Dallas, made heroic in Hollywood, validated on the History Channel, and now many feel empowered by the prophecies of Q—yearning to be born again in “the desert of the real,” to quote from Morpheus in The Matrix.

“Flying saucers”—“single bullet theory”—“the truth is out there”—“the Matrix is everywhere”—“where we go one we go all”—these are concepts and slogans that accelerated conspiracy into pop consciousness over the past seven decades. For many millions of people, on the left and the right, conspiracy theory has become an entire worldview, with its own cosmology and structure that satisfy deep philosophical needs. …

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Red Pill hovering above “Badwater Basin” salt flats, 282 feet below sea level, Death Valley. Photo: Barry Vacker, 2007..

Red Pill America. On May 17, 2020, Elon Musk tweeted “Take the red pill.” Soon the same day, Ivanka Trump tweeted “Taken.”

Flashback. Exactly seventeen years earlier, on May 17, 2003, I was interviewed by Anderson Cooper on CNN about the meanings of The Matrix.

Flash-forward. Elon’s tweet has 554K hearts, while Ivanka’s has 91K hearts. Red pills are proliferating—copies of copies of copies!

As Morpheus said to Neo at the philosophical climax of The Matrix: “Welcome to the desert of the real.” Now it’s a desert littered with red pills.

Flashback: “Mapping the Matrix” in 2003

So why was I being interviewed by Anderson Cooper about The Matrix? The occasion was the opening weekend of The Matrix Reloaded and a symposium called “Mapping the Matrix,” which I hosted on a Sunday morning at the university where I was a professor. What happened that morning is much like what is happening around America now.


Barry Vacker

Theorist of big spaces and big ideas. Writer and mixed-media artist. Existentialist w/o the angst. PhD: Univ of Texas at Austin.

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