Videodrome is dangerous.
I’m talking literally and metaphorically. The Videodrome signal, within the confines of the narrative film Videodrome, is a dangerous, flesh mutating, life-changing broadcast. Videodrome the frame, the movie by David Cronenberg, is dangerous in a far more ephemeral way.
Videodrome is a hallucination, a series of subjective dreams and nightmares experience by Max Renn (James Woods). It could be argued nothing about the film is real, as it begins with full-screen television static (anticipating the similar, albeit bleaker and less fulfilling, Benny’s Video by Michael Haneke) which returns intermittently to fill the entire screen, indicating to us, the viewer, that everything we are seeing is un-reality. A program– not necessarily “a movie”. It could be argued, using the same post-modern lense, that the ultimate producer and distributor of the Videodrome signal is David Cronenberg himself, tormenting his protagonist Renn and his universe.
Videodrome is a sick set of programming and Cronenberg is a sick programmer. Never before has a Cronenberg movie (or perhaps any movie) so thoroughly and easily dismantled the viewer’s worldview and sense of place. “I don’t know where I am anymore,” Renn mumbles at the end of the film, as he sits alone on a dirty mattress in a condemned boat. Neither do we. The scant preceding 89 minutes, when properly received, can de-center almost any worldview. There are movies that dismantle rationalism, there are movies that dismantle humanism, and there are movies that dismantle pragmatism– Videodrome dismantles all –isms.
The true power of Videodrome, both the signal and the frame, is not in indoctrinating you into a world of frightening hallucinations– it’s in deprogramming you of the ones you already have. And the deprogramming is always more painful, as Bianca O’Blivion warns.
When Barry Convex (Leslie Carlson, in a role modeled after televangelist Jim Bakker) explodes into a mass of mutated flesh (in surely one of the more horrific sequences in film history) it is not simply a painful death but an explosion of a lifetime of artificial beliefs, coalescing and devouring the flesh. It is a lifetime of artificial slogans, simplistic morals, and deplorable binary philosophies, breaking through his skull and torturing the still-conscious Convex. The Videodrome signal, after all, turns the viewer against himself more than it does against others– ultimately Convex is devoured by his own body and mind.
But yet, it is not simply that Convex, Harlan and their beliefs are “bad”. No Cronenberg film is ever so black and white. When Renn is de-programmed he must then be immediately re-programmed, this time by the “New Flesh”. Both philosophies are sloganeering, hierarchical belief systems that work best through direct control and manipulation, and both ask Renn to kill for them. Neither Renn nor the audience truly believes or understands either of the philosophies. Renn is simply asked to sacrifice himself for them.
The most disturbing and dangerous thing about Videodrome is not the imagery, the idealized fuckscape, or the famous Croenberg mutations. The most disturbing thing about Videodrome is the presentation that every thought you have, have ever had and will ever have, every philosophy you subscribe to, is a program someone else is playing. Videodrome presents this insidious, terrifying idea that the entire system is something complex and unstoppable, something you will never understand, and that is controlling you. Call it “philosophy”. No matter what channel you’re on—the capitalist channel, the Christian channel, the atheist channel, the Marxist channel, the Dada channel—they’re all programming. And, as we all know, the medium is the message. Whose program are you playing, and how and when did they fuck you? Videodrome is dangerous because it deconstructs, among other things, philosophy. Full stop. Not just a philosophy, but the concept entirely.
“I don’t know where I am anymore.”
Neither do we, Max.
By Britta R. Moline 9/22/2011