By L.J. LEWIS
Not too long ago, I had the very distinct pleasure of rewatching David Cronenberg’s VIDEODROME. I was working on a retrospective article at the time and, as such, giving it another viewing was practically mandatory. I hadn’t seen the film in at least ten years, but I remembered liking it when I did. So, filled to the brim with anticipation, I went down to the local movie rental place and set about attending to the task at hand.
Needless to say, despite being done out of necessity, I enjoyed the experience immensely. It rekindled my love of Cronenberg’s work and of VIDEODROME, in particular. The 1983 film is a horror masterpiece. In my opinion, everything about it is damn near close to perfect. The acting is spot on, the effects are fantastic, and the story is as captivating as they come. You really couldn’t ask for much else in a picture. I wrote my review and gave the film a perfect score: 5 out of 5 stars. Easy peasy. Or at least, so I had thought. Although I was finished writing about the movie, it turns out that I wasn’t done thinking about it. Not by a long shot. There was just something to Videodrome that struck a chord with me. That rolled around inside my skull for a long time after the credits cut to black and the main menu reappeared on the screen. It was almost impossible to ignore. I couldn’t help but notice how eerily prophetic the film was.
I made a point to briefly mention this in my other piece, but didn’t have the opportunity to fully explore the concept. To properly examine VIDEODROME through a modern lens. It was relevant to the culture when it was first released in 1983, but is arguably even more so by contemporary standards. In a world that is gripped by a viral pandemic, it would seem that face-to-face human contact is quickly becoming a thing of the past. The practice of social distancing has forced us to retreat ever further into the comfort of virtual spaces. Many facets of life are slowly being integrated into, and eventually replaced by, items on a screen. It is a situation full of haunting parallels. The dreams of Brian O’Blivion (Jack Creley) have seemingly come to fruition, although the medium differs slightly, the vision ultimately remains the same.
Are you looking for romance? There’s an app for that. How about entertainment? There’s an app for that, too. As technology has evolved, so have our lives right alongside it. It seems almost inescapable. The two are on the fast track to becoming one. Every day there is some bold, new innovation; a way to make the human condition just a little bit easier. Unsurprisingly though, convenience comes at a terrible cost.
“Where our concerns once revolved around exposure to over-the-top, stimulated violence, it is now real violence that permeates our newsfeeds.”
As a society, we are painfully aware of the toll that technology has taken on us, particularly in regards to social media. Depression, anxiety, addiction, sexual dysfunction – the list of possible side effects goes on and on. Our screens are making us sick and, much like the ones that are featured in VIDEODROME, they were designed to do exactly that. While it may not have been done with the intent of wiping out societal degenerates, there is a definite, underlying reason for it all. An unquenchable thirst for power and profits. It’s a tale as old as time. The media has a tremendous impact on us. It can make or break elections, influence policy, and bring entire careers to a grinding halt. Sure, it has brought about some good things as well. That is undeniable. However, this doesn’t take away from the fact that it has also been utilized for nefarious purposes over the years. For political motives which are, at times, more blatant than they are subtle. It is an ongoing problem, and it only seems to be getting worse. In the words of Masha (Lynne Gorman), one of the content suppliers of Max Renn (James Woods) in the movie: “It has a philosophy, and that is what makes it dangerous.”
We see this demonstrated in what is perhaps the harshest comparison between our set of circumstances and the plot of VIDEODROME. I’m talking, of course, about the violence. Where our concerns once revolved around exposure to over-the-top, stimulated violence, it is now real violence that permeates our newsfeeds. We are absolutely saturated with it. No matter which walks of life we happen to come from, seeing it boils our blood and fills us with outrage – just as it was intended to. It’s simply another case of our screens making us sick. The bloody cost of hardcore content, that causes us to be mired in an ever-deepening cycle of stress, anger, and fear. By the time the day is over, all most of us want to do is hide beneath the covers and pray that tomorrow will be slightly better.
And then there are those who take it one step further than that. The Max Renn Manchurian candidates, who actually go out and do something about it. It’s a familiar, albeit unfortunate, story. The lone maniac, fueled by bad actors working behind the scenes. You know the type – you’re already composing a picture of him in your head. The bitter, alt-right loser, who emerges from his basement after years of being programmed with a steady diet of inflammatory videos, wielding a gun and somebody else’s agenda. Sure, while the concept may have seemed psychedelic back when VIDEODROME featured it in the ‘80s, it isn’t one that is foreign to us now. And that is precisely my point. None of these ideas are. To us, this isn’t a work of science-fiction – this is everyday life.
VIDEODROME is a fascinating picture to watch for many different reasons. Like any truly great work of art, it manages to remain relatable on some level throughout the generations. Watching it again, through the eyes of somebody who is living in 2020 rather than 1983, is an interesting experience, to say the very least. I mean, who would have guessed that a film released nearly four decades ago would end up being just as powerful today as it was back then? I don’t know, perhaps I’m just grasping at straws and seeing connections where there aren’t any. It is a distinct possibility. Still, the specter of VIDEODROME looms over my head and causes me to cast an increasingly suspicious eye towards my devices. To sit in my darkened living room, bathed in the static light from the TV set, while whispering…
“Death to Videodrome: long live the New Flesh.”