Cinema can often be a reflection of society. It can inform audiences of the troubles, pitfalls, and social issues in contemporary history in an entertaining and thoughtful way. Cinema can also be a vision of the future. Well-made science fiction movies can offer audiences both conceits. Films like The Matrix and Avatar can serve as warnings to humanity that we may become too dependent on technology, whereas movies like Star Trek can expand the role of technology in society.
Co-founder of PayPal, Facebook early investor, and billionaire Peter Thiel has denounced Hollywood for making movies that subscribe to the idea of technology as evil and dangerous. As reported in THR, Thiel told a sold-out audience at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills that sci-fi movies like The Matrix and Avatar contribute to the high-tech industry’s “deceleration” and make technological innovation seem “destructive and dysfunctional.” He added that it will be a “very good sign” when Hollywood stops making movies about horrifying and alarming new technologies.
Thiel praised Star Trek for the role of technology in its vision of the future, stating that “communicators and tablets used by the characters in that old show about the distant future are already a reality.” But The Matrix didn’t hamper technological innovation, but rather embodies it. The filmmaking technology the Wachowskis used in 1999 to make The Matrix was used in countless films thereafter. Ten years later, James Cameron revolutionized science fiction again with Avatar in 2009. In fact, most of Cameron’s films have pushed technological boundaries forward, especially his films in the last two decades or so.
Where movies like The Matrix or Avatar portray the dangers of unchecked technological innovation, it’s because those issues are complex and do have a negative potential as well as a positive one. Thiel’s comments just seem like a cheap shot.