Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Subverting the Medium is the Message, or Thoughts on David Cronenberg’s Videodrome

David Cronenberg, the Canadian David Lynch crafted Videodrome (1983), a provocative, and surreal erotic sci-fi thriller that is still thematically relevant today though the tech is a little dated. It’s similar to Ringu (1998) or The RIng (2002), in that how scared can you get about a haunted VHS tape when you don’t even own a video player anymore?  But like that old quote by Marshall McLuhan, what happens when the message becomes the medium, in the form of organic television sets and digital hallucinatory dreams?
James Woods stars as Max Renn, the managing director of a sleazy Toronto cable TV station searching for new content to titillate his late night viewers when he discovers Videodrome; a pirate TV station broadcasting what appears to be real scenes of scenes of sexual sadism in an ominous red room with walls made of meat or clay.  Debbie Harry, in a signature red dress that contributed to the overall vision of the movie, portrays masochistic radio psychiatrist Nicki Brand.  Both of the main characters are in media, connecting with audience over the airwaves, which concurrently creates intimacy and distance.  Both characters become obsessed with the Videodrome, Max wants to produce it and Nicki wants to star in it.
David Cronenberg is literally filming the last days of Rome as Max passes on a TV series about Roman orgies and chases what the filmmaker calls “the subterranean market” and explores the nature of realism; what is real, and what we perceive as reality on TV. 
“The television screen has become the retina of the mind’s eye,” states Professor Brian O’Blivion (such an 80’s punk rock name, played by Jack Creley), running the Cathode Ray Mission where everyone watches television in cardboard booths for salvation.  The movie gets stranger and more surreal as it progresses, drawing the viewer into Max’s hallucinatory visions of pulsating videos, flesh guns and intestines spilling out of TV screens.  The Videodrome signal induces brain tumors in the viewer, which causes the hallucinations, and of course, this being the 80’s, is central to a government conspiracy.
But the most intriguing aspect of Videodrome is how it fetishizes media; TV screens, cathode ray tubes, video formats and videotapes just as much as the content they provide.  Thanks to special effects by makeup legend Rick Baker television becomes organic and flesh becomes machine, a theme David Cronenberg would explore in depth in Crash (1996).  In Videodrome TV is the drug, the embodiment of our digital hallucinations, all our hopes, dreams, nightmares and darkest fantasies.
The infamous cigarette burn scene and the flesh gun scene have softened over time as we have access to far more disturbing and real content online.  We live in Videodrome now, staring at our tiny screens, addicted to our phones, relating to our world and staying connected through this elaborate sequence of zeroes and ones.


my first novel? thanks for asking:) I wrote a 4 book supernatural martial arts series concerning the ongoing feud between a group of kung-fu killer witches in san francsico’s chinatown.