Our “protagonist” Max Renn (played by the outstanding James Woods) is the president of a small Toronto-based television network and is obsessed with obtaining more ratings. He is completely fine with the normalization of degeneracy and degradation of sociopolitical norms if it leads to building a larger fanbase; Even positing that the audience craves this kind of entertainment.
After a co-worker keys him into a rogue pirate signal called Videodrome (that showcases nothing but narrative-free, ultra-violence) he becomes intrigued by this, and attempts to find the source of the signal so that he can begin broadcasting it as a regular program on his station.
He then realizes that Videodrome is a new technology that can, if used properly, supplement the evolution of the human species by giving them a more direct experience with the media that they are consuming. Of course in typical capitalist fashion, there are greedy business interests who hope to use this technological breakthrough to make the masses more receptive to hardcore violence.
The way the violence is presented here is suitably over the top, but it adds an extra layer to the film’s narrative, acting as a mirror through which we can view ourselves. Is senseless savagery that blurs the line between fiction and reality truly entertaining?
In a climate where television is becoming increasingly violent and sexual, we have to wonder if Cronenberg was on to something here. While rogue pirate signals and VHS tapes have essentially vanished from the contemporary zeitgeist, they have been swiftly replaced by the internet (most notably social media and viral content), a never-ending stream of reality shows, and gratuitous primetime savagery.
What the film does exceptionally well is point out and fortify it’s hypothesis on the impact of media addiction. By incorporating these themes directly into the narrative, it manages to stay brisk and focused without being overwrought and preachy. It also makes very interesting assertions about how media itself shapes the way in which we view experience. Max has several hallucinations throughout the course of the film as result of his overexposure to this signal.
At one point, there is even a scene where people that are addicted to television visit a mission doubling as a treatment center so that users can get their daily fix.
While I don’t personally know anyone enamored with television to that degree anymore, this is a very, very common phenomena when it comes to cell phones and tablets. With people becoming more and more glued to their smart devices, it is hard to believe that certain interests wouldn't use these outlets to maximize the effectiveness of their particular agenda.
It may seem odd, but what if media can change our perception so that certain individuals or groups appear differently? I think this is what the film was hinting at. That the mass media would ultimately shape what we see and how we see it. It is becoming increasingly likely that this is a possibility with patents like this one in the hands of corporate interests.
While the vehicle Cronenberg used to deliver this examination of society and technology may have changed, the message remains largely untouched. It is cautionary tale for the current generation of would be reporters who only see their audience as numbers, not receptive individuals who internalize the information they are digesting with each viewing session.
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