16.1.16

Videodrome

Videodrome is ostensibly a comment on the fear that exposure to sexual or violent imagery can infect people's reality and influence their behaviour. Crudely, that horror films provoke murders, or that pornography encourages rape. The plot boils down to the protagonist watching a snuff film and becoming a schizophrenic, unable to tell reality from a hallucination. But the film doesn't stop there. It turns out that those hallucinations are 'directed' by two clandestine organisations at war with each other. One is a quasi-fascistic outfit worried that North America has lost its 'purity' and 'strength' and will be unable to withstand menacing foreign powers. They plan to broadcast the virus and exterminate those perverted enough to watch it. The other organisation is a cult fighting the fascists under the slogan of the 'new flesh'. Their ideology is less clear, but seems to involve an abandoning of the physical for total immersion in the artificial. Its prophet has died and made himself into a work of art, and something similar can be said to happen to the protagonist at the end – he is transfigured into the film we are watching.

Max is caught between these two forces, manipulated by each of them in turn. Both should be in the dock for treating human beings as puppets. The irony is that their mindless minion is a television executive, the sort of creature we imagine is there to manipulate us. In fact, Max is rakish but rather likable. He's just looking after his crappy station's bottom line, and is adorably weirded out by the S&M sexuality Debbie Harry reveals in him. I think Cronenberg is suggesting that we shouldn't worry so much about TV sex and violence, but we should be paying closer attention to the twin powers of politics and religion – particularly in their more extreme manifestations.

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