North America's getting soft, patrón, and the rest of the world is getting tough. Very, very tough. We're entering savage new times, and we're giong to have to be pure and direct and strong, if we're going to survive them. Now, you and this cesspool you call a television station and your people who wallow around in it, your viewers who watch you do it, they're rotting us away from the inside. We intend to stop that rot.
- Harlan, presaging Tucker Carlson or Alex Jones or Ben Shapiro.
Most people view Sydney Lumet and Paddy Chayefsky's Network as the greatest, most prescient film about the destructive power of television. It is a masterpiece; a perfect picture of the rot that TV spreads. How it infects everything and everyone that it touches. It predicted the insidious nature of "reality TV" decades before Brig Brother or The Real World. It predicted the way news, once a public service, would become Infotainment. Most importantly, it showed how television could harness rage and unrest in service of capitalism.
Five years after Lumet and Chayefsky told us everything we would ever need to know about television with Network, David Cronenberg would invent the internet. He called it Videodrome.
Videodrome centers around Max Renn (James Woods before he went entirely off the rails), the president of a seedy local access TV station. Max has an illness that he isn't even aware of: he is desensitized, jaded, cynical. He has become infected with the filth that he traffics in for the airwaves. His station caters to the lowest common denominator, peddling smut and violence, shock and titivation. Jus like his audience, Max has built a tolerance, and needs an ever stronger dose.
It is easy to see a bit of Max in a certain species of American. The gateway drug might be Fox News, but soon that it isn't strong enough and they are imbibing from the White-Nationalist spigot of Ben Shapiro, until even that doesn't give them the rush they need. They have to get the pure stuff right in the vein; the Alex Jones dose. Max and our neighbors are on the same path, but Max gets an extra bump.
Harlan, the video pirate Max employs to find the really nasty stuff his audience craves, shows him a show called Videodrome. The signal appears to come from Malaysia, and depicts people being tortured and murdered. There's no plot, no characterization, just snuff.
Max becomes instantly obsessed. He needs to find the source of the signal, so that he can have the show for his station. He also needs to see more and more and more.
In the meantime, Max appears on a talk show with Brian Oblivion, a media theorist who appears on tv only when he in on TV. They have a television set on a cart in the studio, and he appears on it. Also on the program is Nicky Brand (Debbie Harry of Blondie fame), a radio personality that trucks in empathy and new age woo but is a serious sadomasochist underneath. "Take out your Swiss army knife and cut me here, just a little" she says to Max while in bed.
Nicky sees Videodrome and also becomes obsessed. She wants to be a "contestant" on the show. She was made for it, she tells Max.
Max uses his seedy contacts to try to find the source of the Videodrome signal. Since starting to watch, Max has been hallucinating. Just a bit at first, like waking dreams, but as he gets closer to the source, his hallucinations become more powerful and more prevalent. By the time he goes looking for Brian O'Blivion, he is having trouble telling reality from his fevered mind.
Oblivion, it turns out is dead. His appearances have been pre-recorded. He helped create Videodrome, which in reality is a specialized signal that effects the human brain, alters it, makes it pliable.
Max goes back to see Harlan. There he learns that Harlan is an agent for a company called Convex, which makes eyeglasses and weapons of mass destruction. Videodrome is their newest product, and Max is their guinea pig. Videodrome will be used to radicalize a subset of the populace, they want to end the "cultural decay" of North America. Whether this sounds frighteningly like the Nazi appeal to destroy degenerate art and create a strong, pure volk or if it sounds to you like the Christian-Nationalists in the Republican party may depend on which parts of Twitter, Reddit and 4Chan you have visited recently.
Max, fully radicalized and ready to serve Videodrome, assassinates his partners so that Convex can control CIVIC-TV and start the process of spreading Videodrome.
By the end, Max is ready to let his body die. "Long live the new flesh" he says as he shoots himself in the head.
Max isn't that different from the Incels on 4Chan, or the retirees reading email forwards. One grup terrified of women and filled with hate, being groomed and shaped into lone gunmen. The other terrified of migrants and filled with hate and being groomed to vote party line and hand over their social security check to PACs that will spread the signal, and radicalize the next group in service of further spreading the signal.
The internet is very good at finding frightened, lonely, isolated people left behind by a changing world, or left behind by their own toxic personalities and bringing them into groups so that they can reinforce their worst beliefs and tendencies.
The internet is Videodrome, and we are all living in its ascendancy. We are seeing the birth of the new flesh.
LONG LIVE THE NEW FLESH!
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