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Film Essays

VIDEODROME MARATHON: Opening the Neural Floodgates – Part II

(continued from Part I)

As for the reality to this fiction, sex plays a big part in the film’s ideology. It seemed to me at first glance simply  a misdirect for the bigger plot points. I had assumed that Cronenberg wanted the audience to think the film was about the horrors of snuff films, and trying to define the line between pleasure and pain, only to surprise us all the more with the TV drugs and assassinations. I was wrong.The sex was important.

Famous singer, Deborah Harry, plays Nicki Brand, Max’s lover. Ten or so minutes into the film we see healing cuts on Nicki’s shoulder, and soon after, during a sex scene, we watch Max piercing Nicki’s ear with a pin and lick the blood off of it.  The sexual experiments of these characters and the nature of their professions (both, in their way, make money off of the extreme needs and emotions of many people at a distance from them), make them the perfect characters for this scenario.

In an article by Kat Mcgowan called “The Neuroscience of the Seven Deadly Sins,” she has interviewed a research consultant at Northwestern University, Adam Safron, about pornography’s relationship to the brain. He hypothesizes that watching pornography calls upon the brain’s regions associated with reward and sensory interpretation and visual processing. It also enlists the amygdala and the hypothalamus, which deal with emotional information. “The most notable thing about lust is it sets the whole brain buzzing,” he writes.

This is why the combination of sex and torture are used to distribute the viral signal into the victim’s brain in Videodrome. It is the most efficient way to ensure the reception of the signal. The video content and the signal are “toxic together”, much in the way studies show when heart disease and depression are combined, the risk of death doubles. The emotional and reward centers of the brain are the same that are activated with other addictive drugs, as well as sexual urges. As Nicki says in one hallucination, “What are you waiting for lover, let’s perform. Let’s open those neural floodgates.”

The brain has a complex set of checks and balances and what makes the case for Videodrome all the more real are the hallucinations. Its not just a frivolous excuse for cool make-up and blood effects, it is useful to the video virus. Studies of fiction and poetry and their effects on the brain show that metaphors combining the body and the mind demonstrate that the mind uses the body as an extension of itself to help make sense of abstractions. Several studies show one of the many variables to agreeability in a social situation can be as simple as temperature. Drinking a hot beverage makes you feel more ‘warm’ about the people around you then a cold drink. Other abstractions include loss of control, say, of an arm lost in an accident. A victim such as this experiences Phantom Limb pain. Yet, that pain will subside if a mirror can trick the eye to think the body is whole.

To quote Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch, “An unconscious agent is an effective agent, Bill!” Max can excuse control over to his hallucinations in a similar system that beats the brain’s checks and balances, making his addiction transitions more efficient and making it easier to control him as Videodrome calls out, “Kill your partners and give us channel 83!”

The simple science of television’s sway has been well documented. Now with the Internet, and social media formats, Kaiser Family Foundation has reported that on average children between 8-18 spend 7 hours and 38 minutes a day using entertainment media. Then, when you separate the multitasking aspects of the statistic, like texting while watching TV, the number jumps to nearly 11 hours a day. Studies have experts now looking to excessive television or computer use to indicate psychological problems in preteens. Even these rates were once only predictions and fiction. Computational power in 2023 is predicted to surpass the power of a human brain, based on the current rate of expansion. What tools will arrive with that sort of expansion? What are the application possibilities? Sensory technologies of all kinds relate on some level with the ideas of the film. Sound has been militarized and is used to distribute frequencies that quickly disperse riots. Graphic realism is practiced in special effects and Photoshop. 3D televisions are now distributed all over the world. Everything I’ve said up until now has been explaining away different aspects of the world of Videodrome, but what other items are in the toolbox of control?

In recent years, what we’ve learned in studying the brain about sexual stimuli, perception alteration, and media’s effects on the wiring of neurons, is nothing new. It’s what Cronenberg was playing off of to begin with. However, the data of sex can now be seen in the brain, perceptions can be altered to ease distress, and with hackers and bloggers plugging in on one side and computers rewiring users on the other side, technology is moving towards (buzz word) a singularity. As these different aspects of science begin to apply to each other, Videodrome approaches possible. The accelerating pace of change as displayed in Time magazine in February showed 8,000 years between Agricultural Revolution and Industrial Revolution, 120 years later came the light bulb, another 90 years passed and we landed on the Moon, only 22 years before the World Wide Web, and 9 years later the Human genome was sequenced.

Somewhere between the moon landing and the web is Videodrome.


Concluded in Part III – The Viewer’s Visceral Floodgates

By Ben Olsen  9/13/2011

VIDEODROME MARATHON: Opening the Neural Floodgates: Part I
For more on sadism in film, check out Sadism and Indifference: Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Salo

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