“Red pill” is a term that comes to us from the film The Matrix. The hero is given the option between the blue and the red pill, and if he takes the blue pill, life will go back to normal, and if he takes the red pill, he’ll see the world for what it is, a hideous dystopia.
The idea has had a weird afterlife, starting with pickup artists who conceived of red-pilling as the idea that, if you understand how women supposedly think, then you’ll be able to manipulate them and you’ll be able to score. Men’s rights activists started using it as a term for a conversion in worldview, specifically a conversion against feminism. And eventually, you started to see people on forums talking about being “red-pilled on the JQ,” the Jewish Question, meaning believing the Holocaust was a lie.
The notion that interests me is that of a screen reality and an actual reality. I think that’s a common formation for people of all sorts of political persuasions. The notion that the world is an illusion and that underneath the surface lies some kind of deeper truth is a very deeply rooted notion for radicals of all kinds who are attempting to break through an established frame for viewing the world.
I wanted to play around with the idea of a complete breakdown and transformation of perspective. So I decided to create a fairly typical Brooklyn writer character whose frame of reference broadly fits with the acceptable New York Times opinion page version of the world, and to have him encounter an outside to that. First, this encounter with the outside takes the form of an anxiety that his assumptions don’t match up with reality. And then he has a much more direct confrontation with a cultural figure who is a propagandist for far-right views.
The writer assumes he will be able to dismiss this figure out of hand, but he realizes he doesn’t have as much ammunition as he thought. This failure to provide answers precipitates a deeper breakdown in perspective alongside a mental breakdown.