Living in “The Matrix”

Author: Jill Torrey Emmons

Time: 1 class period
10 minutes to reserve TV/VCR
Materials: TV/VCR, film excerpt from “The Matrix” (edited)


Now that students have seen persuasive advertising in “The Merchants of Cool”, they need an opportunity to discuss and explore the information they have acquired. This class will be the vehicle for that exploration, allowing students to share their ideas and debate their questions in a whole class discussion. The teacher’s role will be to facilitate with probing questions and carefully guide students in digging out the methods of persuasion used by the media. The teacher will also show a 5 minute clip from the film “The Matrix”, encouraging the class to think about the ways in which the pervasive media influence tries to control the actions and thoughts of teens. This film is very popular with teens, and is part of the marketing machine aimed at them, but it also serves as a fantastic analogy for the media influence in our society.

Purpose – The goal of this lesson is to allow the class to explore issues raised by the film, and to analyze how persuasion is used by the media to influence the public.

Students will be able to:
1. Identify, in a discussion mode, the ways in which the media uses persuasion to achieve their desired aims.
2. Analyze, also in a discussion mode, the media’s influence on our society by comparing media advertising to concepts presented in the film “The Matrix”.

National English Education Standard
Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and non-print texts.

Teacher Background
Teachers should be familiar with the persuasive appeals used in advertising and the media, such as the bandwagon appeal, snob appeal, sex appeal, testimonials, etc.

Resource Websites




Day One
1. As students arrive, ask them to take out their reaction writings from the previous day. Ask the class to share what they thought about “The Merchants of Cool” in order to begin discussion. In the first half of the discussion, pose the following questions to the class as needed:

  • To what degree do you think the media influences teens? (Ask students to refer to specific examples from the film to prove their point)
  • What are the goals of the marketing companies that target teens?
  • Why are teenagers targeted more often in advertising than other groups?
  • What images are presented to teens in order to capture their attention? Why are these images persuasive? Are they appealing?
  • What persuasive techniques are most commonly used to entice teenagers? Are they successful? Why?
  • Do you agree with Rushkoff’s conclusions that teens and the media are caught in a “feedback loop”? What does that mean?

2. After about 20 minutes of discussion, or when a comfortable midway point is reached, show the class a short clip from the film “The Matrix”. This film is rated R, however the clip which you will be showing contains no violence or inappropriate language. In this scene, which is approximately 30 minutes into the film, the main character “Neo” is taken to meet a man named “Morpheus”, who offers a chance to understand the computer generated world in which Neo lives. Cut the clip as soon as Neo makes a choice and swallows a pill, deciding to break free from the influence which binds him. Be sure to preview the clip before showing it in class.

3. After showing this film clip, ask the class to think about and discuss the following questions:

  • Why would I show you this clip? What does it have to do with the topic at hand?
  • How did the matrix affect Neo and the other people living under its influence?
  • Why does Morpheus tell Neo “You are a slave”? In what ways is Neo a slave?
  • How is the media like the “matrix”? How much does it affect our thoughts and decisions?

Continue with discussion until the end of the hour, and then pose this final question: Can the media use persuasion in ways that are dangerous? How?

Embedded Assessment
Assess student responses during discussion, and ensure that the class understands the ways in which the media presents information persuasively in order to achieve its’ main goal, which is most often to sell a product.

If you run out of time to finish discussion, you may wish to assign another reflective writing based on one of the discussion questions, such as: Explain how the media operates like “The Matrix” in our society.

Embedded Assessment




PULSE is a project of the Community Outreach and Education Program of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center and is funded by:

NIH/NCRR award #16260-01A1
The Community Outreach and Education Program is part of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center: an NIEHS Award


Supported by NIEHS grant # ES06694

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Last update: November 10, 2009
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