Red Pill, Blue Pill – Is Engagement An Either/Or Thing?

What if our audiences are confined by our predetermined ideas about what they are? A professor who began to get hundreds of thousands of views online wonders why he confines himself to a classroom with only a few dozen students…Watch the video.

About Diane Ragsdale

Diane Ragsdale has written 3 posts in this blog.

Diane is currently working as at Erasmus University in Rotterdam, where she is lecturing, researching the impact of social and economic forces on US nonprofit regional theaters since the early 80's, and pursuing a PhD. For the six years prior to moving to Europe, Diane worked in the Performing Arts program at The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, where she had primary responsibility for theater, dance, and technology-related strategies and grants. Before joining the Foundation, Diane served as managing director of the contemporary performing arts center On the Boards in Seattle and as executive director of a destination music festival in a resort town in Idaho. Prior work also includes stints at several film and arts festivals and as a theater practitioner and teacher. She is a frequent panelist, provocateur, or keynote speaker at arts conferences within and outside of the US. You can read her blog, Jumper, on and follow her on Twitter @DERagsdale.


  1. Blue pill = blissful ignorance
    Red pill = facing painful reality, escaping from the Matrix

    Fantasy and reality are two of the principle functions of art. Art that reveals existential truth is thought to be better. Verdi, for example, is considered by some as a better composer than Puccini because his music is more emotionally realistic. The most popular art forms, like most Hollywood movies, lean strongly toward fantasy and escapism and are considered low art. We thus see another formula:

    Blue pill = low art
    Red pill = high art

    This series of blogs focuses on the fact that people are more willing to engage in art as blue pill fantasies than red pill art that reveals existential truths. The discussions in this series of blogs are also directed toward a community that generally values the red pill over the blue one.

    This situation is further complicated because postmodern theory has suggested the differences between the blue and red pills are merely self-serving constructs of power. The red pill that was supposed to free us from the Matrix, was all along just one of the Matrix’s dirty tricks. As a result no one knows which damned pill to take. Some even try to create a pomo Mickey Finn cocktail to cover all bases, and with the usual bad morning that follows.

    We hold red pill art to much higher aesthetic standards than blue pill art, and yet red pill art almost always fails because truth in art is very elusive. It also requires engagement from the audience which most people are not willing to give. It might even be that on rare occasions those R&D artists you mention create profound red pills, but we describe it as experimental simply because it is unappreciated. Only cats, chimps, and dogs are allowed into those galleries for testing.

    History illustrates that at least some artists should strive to create red pills even if no one wants to take them. Humanity has survived because at least a few people in dark times made truth an end in itself. We sometimes forget this in our current cultural climate where truth is difficult to define and it is fashionable to relativize almost everything. Administrators end up in long discussions that end up in even greater perplexity.

    Baudrillard, whose thought formulates many of the philosophical perspectives in the film “Matrix” took yet another approach. He felt resistance against power only strengthens it, because it is just a mirror image of that system’s delusions. He said the Matrix could only be destroyed through “singularities” – forms of thought so completely outside the norms of society that its conventions are shattered and the illusions created by blue pills come crashing down. These singularities are extremely rare in the history of art –those new perspectives that transform human existence without even intending to– and perhaps represent the most extreme manifestations the red pill. We know that there have been artists who created red pills and the history of humanity was never the same afterwards. I wonder if we are living in a time that needs a red pill, or just a bigger supply of more engaging blue ones. Thanks for the interesting thoughts.

  2. Can we extend this forum by a few days? I’m on a campaign to extend this so i’m posting this question everywhere!

    • Douglas McLennan says

      Hi Sandra: We’ll leave open the comments for the next several days so the conversation can continue…

    • Entirely agreed with Sandra – it would be great to give the debates more time. They didn’t get much (or any!) advance publicity – I, for one, only realised the existence of these discussions when they were nearly over.

      They’ve been immensely valuable! I hope the intitiative will continue!