It’s embarrassing enough for New York Times reporter Lisa Lerer, who covers "campaigns, elections and political power,” to publicly admit she has no idea what “red-pill” signifies. A reference was recently tweeted by technology entrepreneur Elon Musk, who is fighting California’s coronavirus restrictions on business, and Lerer was on it, in her political rundown in Tuesday's edition.
(“Red-pill” originated in the sci-fi movie The Matrix, where the hero Neo learns he's been living in a simulation and is offered a choice of a blue or red pill. The blue pill offers a return to blissful forgetfulness, while the red pill opens the door to the unpleasant truths of reality.)
Lerer added to the embarassment by turning over the description to colleague Taylor Lorenz, who offered her own crazed vilification of the widespread meme, which has roots in an aggressive strain of the men's rights movement but which has evolved, like Internet things do, to contain a variety of meanings. It generally means things that aren’t politically correct or that conflict with the prevailing liberal narrative.
Lerer set the scene:
On Sunday afternoon, as many of us were enjoying some self-quarantine downtime, a little internet mystery began. Out of the blue, Elon Musk, Tesla’s chief executive, tweeted “Take the red pill,” followed by a rose emoji, to his more than 34 million followers....
I have to admit, I didn’t quite get what was going on. But I knew it was all quite bizarre and quite politically loaded.
I called one of our resident internet culture experts, Taylor Lorenz, to (try to) explain.
The rest of the Musk section is apparently all Lorenz, and things escalated quickly.
The concept of being “red pilled” has been widely adopted by the incel community, neo-Nazis and right-wing extremists to signify that they’ve become awakened to these fringe ideologies....
(“Incel” is an internet term for lonely, troubled men rejected by potential sexual partners.)
“Elon, who is extremely online, is leaning into this because the right wing push to open the economy benefits him and his businesses,” tweeted the BuzzFeed journalist Ryan Mac, who has covered Mr. Musk extensively....
Reporter Nellie Bowles followed up with an anti-Elon story on Wednesday, “A ‘Red Pill’ May Be Hard for Musk Fans to Swallow.”
The idea of taking the red pill later grew to mean waking up to society’s grand lies. It was embraced by the right, especially by members of its youngest cohort who organized and spent their time in online forums like Reddit and 4chan....Red Pill forums were often filled with deeply misogynistic and often racist diatribes....
Bowles at least came to a less scare-mongering conclusion than Lorenz:
As these conversations seeped into the mainstream, pulled along by a host of other internet language from message boards to establishment Republican conversations on sites like Breitbart, the meaning broadened and got watered down. To be red-pilled can now mean being broadly skeptical of experts, to be distrustful of the mainstream press or to see hypocrisy in social liberalism.
One can see people who think they're "establishment Republicans" freaking out to see Breitbart described as an "establishment Republican" site.