Ktismatics

3 February 2008

Videodrome by Cronenberg, 1983

Filed under: Movies — ktismatics @ 10:05 pm

“I live in a highly excited state of overstimulation.” Nicki Brand

“The television screen has become the retina of the mind’s eye. That’s why I refuse to appear on television, except on television. O’Blivion is not the name I was born with. It’s my television name. Soon, all of us will have special names, names designed to cause the cathode-ray tube to resonate.” Professor O’Blivion

videodrome o’blivion

“It’s just torture and murder. No plot, no characters. Very, very realistic. I think it’s what’s next.” Max Renn

“You know, in Brazil, Central America, making underground videos is considered a subversive act. They execute people for it. In Pittsburgh, who knows?” Max

“Watching TV will help patch them back into the world’s mixing board.” Bianca O’Blivion

“I am my father’s screen.” Bianca O’Blivion

“My father has not engaged in conversation for at least 20 years. The monologue is his preferred mode of discourse.” Bianca O’Blivion

“The battle for the mind of North America will be fought in the video arena, the Videodrome. The television screen is the retina of the mind’s eye. Therefore the screen is part of the physical structure of the brain. Therefore, whatever appears on the television screen emerges as raw experience for those who watch it. Therefore, television is reality and reality is less than television.” Professor O’Blivion

“I had a brain tumour. And I had visions. I believe the visions caused the tumour, and not the reverse. I could feel the visions coalesce and become flesh, uncontrollable flesh. But when they removed the tumour, it was called Videodrome.” Professor O’Blivion

“It bites. Isn’t that what you said? What kind of teeth do you think it has?” Bianca O’Blivion

“My father helped to create Videodrome. He saw it as part of the evolution of man as a technological animal. When he realised what his partners were going to use it for, he tried to take it away from them and they killed him, quietly. He became convinced that public life on television was more real than private life in the flesh. He wasn’t afraid to let his body die.” Bianca O’Blivion

“I believe that the growth in my head, this head, this one right here… I think that it is not really a tumour, not an uncontrolled, undirected little bubbling part of flesh, but that it is, in fact, a new organ, a new part of the brain. I think that massive doses of Videodrome signal will ultimately create a new outgrowth of the human brain, which will produce and control hallucination to the point that it will change human reality. After all, there is nothing real outside our perception of reality, is there? You can see that, can’t you?” Professor O’Blivion

videodrome video slot

“Hi. I’m Barry Convex, chief of special programmes. I’d like to invite you into the world of Spectacular Optical, an enthusiastic corporate citizen. We make inexpensive glasses for the Third World and missile guidance systems for NATO. We also make Videodrome, Max. As you know, when it’s ready for the marketplace, things will never be the same again. It can be a giant hallucination machine and much, much more.” Barry Convex

“It won’t hurt you. You might slide in and out of a hallucinatory state afterwards. If you do, just relax and enjoy it. It will soon go away. But for now, you might find a little S&M will be necessary to trigger a good healthy series of hallucinations. That’s why our show is so strange. It’s the effects of exposure to violence on the nervous system. It opens receptors in the brain and they allow the signal to sink in.” Barry Convex

helmet.png

“You’ll forgive me if I don’t stay around to watch. I just can’t cope with the freaky stuff.” Barry Convex

“Well, here we are at last. Right where we ought to be. On Videodrome. What are you waiting for, lover? Let’s perform. Let’s open those neural floodgates.” Nicki Brand

“North America is getting soft, patrón, and the rest of the world is getting tough. Very, very tough. We’re entering savage new times and we’re going 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 and your viewers… who watch you do it… you’re rotting us away from the inside. We intend to stop that rot.” Harlan

“Videodrome is death. That’s better. So much better. It’s always painful to remove the cassette… and change the programme. But now that we have… you’ll see that you’ve become something quite different. You’ve become the video word made flesh.” Bianca O’Blivion

“Death to Videodrome. Long live the new flesh.” Max Renn

videodrome suicide

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19 Comments »

  1. I was going to write a really long-winded essay about this film and then realized somebody on Senses of Cinema had done the exact same thing: compared Baudrillard’s Seduction with the film. Still, one of my favorite films (if not a bit overstated at times).

    Oh, my favorite moment tongue-in-cheek moment is when Marsha resists Max coming on to her, spurred by her own pornographic sensations for younger men.

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    Comment by seyfried — 4 February 2008 @ 4:16 pm

  2. Thanks Seyfried — through strategic Google keyword searching I tracked down the article — here’s the link.. I’ll read the article later, at which time I’ll be prepared to disagree with it (winky smiley). I haven’t read Seduction though, so I may have to resort to bombast.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 4 February 2008 @ 6:37 pm

  3. Maybe you can construct your polemic through movie quotes and screen captures. ;)

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    Comment by Seyfried — 4 February 2008 @ 8:48 pm

  4. I read this essay and found myself out of my depth — or perhaps deluded by the simulation of depth. I’m still trying to parse the plot. So: Professor O’Blivion collaborated with Spectacular Optical in developing Videodrome. But Spectacular wanted to use the technology as a way of reversing the perversion and weakness of North American culture, ironically by using porn and snuff to lure viewers into an unconscious reprogramming operation that would resist the corrupting effects of porn and snuff. So Spectacular uses a seemingly transparent video image as a seduction, luring viewers into a covert operation that counteracts the transparency. On the other hand, O’Blivion regards the ability to transmit and receive images as an extension of the human organism. He believes that humans will develop a new organ for manifesting their own fantasies in the real world. Presumably he things this is a good thing, in part to counteract the political subterfuge of agents like Spectacular Optical. So Bianca O’Bliv redirects Max to destroy Spectacular’s key operatives. The last scene, where the image of Nicki persuades Max to destroy the old flesh in order to release the new flesh — is she acting as an agent of Spectacular, trying to kill off Max, or of O’Bliv, trying to get him to transcend himself?

    I noticed parallels of Videodrome with Eastern Promises in its depiction of the East as the source of the West’s moral corruption. The first porn video Max previews in Japanese; the Videodrome signal is presumably being transmitted from Malaysia (Malaise-ia?); Masha is probably Eastern European; she and Max have lunch at a Near Eastern restaurant. Spectacular Optical doesn’t just make Videodrome: it also runs its optical business in the third-world and produces missile guidance systems for NATO. Harlan then makes the speech about how the West is getting soft while the rest of the world is getting tough — Spectacular is a Western counterforce of global neocon. If so, then where do the O’Blivions fit in the East-West matrix? By the end of the movie only Bianca (= white) is left alive. She looks kind of Teutonic I thought.

    Seyfried do you have a blog? The link on your name doesn’t work.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 5 February 2008 @ 9:29 am

  5. The last scene, where the image of Nicki persuades Max to destroy the old flesh in order to release the new flesh — is she acting as an agent of Spectacular, trying to kill off Max, or of O’Bliv, trying to get him to transcend himself?

    I think there’s several ways to look at it: In many ways I think Nicki’s deprived agency has her working as an (un)intentional sexual object; men see her subservient acceptance of limitation, objectification. But in the final scene we realize that she’s had a form of erotic agency, I guess, all along, using her own willingness to objectified and dominated to ‘tell’ other men to do things that she wants. So, I think one reading is that she’s more of an agent of her own accord; spurred by her own selfish fascination with Videodrome, she needs the ‘new flesh’ to develop into another depth of pornography. And another reading would be it ridding of a ‘tumor’ in Max’s head. I still think the representation of Nikki, Max’s ultimate sexual object throughout the film and one consistently attached to the Videodrome signal, points at something more of a Videodrome/pornographic defeat.
    I really like your reading of parallels between East and West. Wasn’t it Masha’s proposed video that was too softcore – too Eastern? As if the East was the much maligned origin of exploitation and sexual semiotics. One of the recurring themes in the film is the thinning demarcation between corporate enterprise and individual consumption; video and various forms of visual representation create a falsified intimacy. And as you suggest, “Spectacular is a Western counterforce of global neocon” at the same time being able to ‘reach out into the streets’. I’m not really sure where the O’Blivions fit in, other than to be some sort of disruptive, counteractive force against Western pornographic proliferation. I’m not sure what Bianca is…wasn’t her ‘office’ surrounded by historical figurines/ statues?

    (In a bit of a rush. No blog, yet; school is taking up too many chunks of time. Since you’re a Lynch fan, too, I’ll try to upload a really cool dissertation I was reading the other day involving him, Lacan, and New Sincerity.)

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    Comment by Seyfried — 5 February 2008 @ 11:42 am

  6. “I still think the representation of Nikki, Max’s ultimate sexual object throughout the film and one consistently attached to the Videodrome signal, points at something more of a Videodrome/pornographic defeat.”

    I think so too. Even if Max became the new flesh after he pulled the trigger, he would then have transcended imagic porn and have become able to make his unconscious fantasies real — kind of like encountering Tarkovsky’s Solaris.

    Masha’s porn was classical — Apollo and Dionysus. Maybe this points to a kind of gnostic source for all porn, or all images, or for that matter of all people as images of the gods. As you say, Bianca’s office also contained classical statues. Professor O’Blivion said “there is nothing real outside of our perception of reality.” This too could be a Greek idealist stance. So maybe the O’Blivions and Mash represent some sort of classical idealist position on the relationship between image and reality that, in its corrupt Eastern manifestation, turns to porn and in its corrupt Western version turns to propagandistic manipulation.

    “New Sincerity”? WTF? Sure, happy to see the diss.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 5 February 2008 @ 1:15 pm

  7. The more I think about it, the more it seems that the lure of nihilism is at the bottom of this movie. The link between porn and S&M is made explicit right from the start, where sexuality is diverted exclusively to the drive toward o’blivion. So the move from direct encounter to image, from real to virtual, is to be regarded as a manifestation of the death drive. Also, I think the last scene, where Max watches Nicki telling him to kill himself, is pure projection by Max, which by the end becomes indistinguishable from pure projection by the image. Watcher and watched are in a death embrace.

    Here’s another curious thing. In David Foster Wallace’s magnum opus, Infinite Jest, there’s a subplot involving a cadre of Canadian (!) terrorists attempting to destroy the USA. Their secret weapon is a video that renders the viewer catatonic. Hmm, isn’t Cronenberg Canadian?

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    Comment by ktismatics — 5 February 2008 @ 2:52 pm

  8. “I think the last scene, where Max watches Nicki telling him to kill himself, is pure projection by Max, which by the end becomes indistinguishable from pure projection by the image. Watcher and watched are in a death embrace.”

    This could very well be it. Although the film’s grotesque literalization takes place during the entirety of the film; projections are ostensibly inseparable from reality, and in many cases are MORE real. I think the films intertwining with violence and S&M points to this ultra-reality – whereas Max’s suicide becomes just another form of ‘getting off’. Wasn’t it Cronenberg vouching for a beauty contest for the inside of the human body where people would unzip themselves and show you the best spleen and the best heart?

    “Here’s another curious thing. In David Foster Wallace’s magnum opus, Infinite Jest, there’s a subplot involving a cadre of Canadian (!) terrorists attempting to destroy the USA. Their secret weapon is a video that renders the viewer catatonic. Hmm, isn’t Cronenberg Canadian?”

    Yes, he is. And you might be surprised to learn that he was a Literature major, I believe.

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    Comment by Seyfried — 5 February 2008 @ 6:08 pm

  9. What a great film, thanks for reminding me to watch this again.

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    Comment by jeremy — 6 February 2008 @ 8:26 am

  10. Clysmatics, I finally adumbrated what I wanted to say on Eastern Promises. Since this is another Cronenberg post I will put it here, maybe it relates to Videodrome:
    I get the impression that Viggo is this Whitehedian either/or and neither/nor deity who by virtue of being ”flexible”, for want of a better term, is able to dominate the Russians, whose old-fashioned patriarchalism is presented as rigid in that it represses the feminine side of the proverbial ”sexuation graph”. Literally speaking he is able to present himself as a bottom while acting as a top. That this representation doesn’t quite match the reality of Orthodox culture is another question, but in the film’s universe, it seems like this is what C. wanted to say. The question that arises then is at what price does he establish this neutral status: does he lose humanity in the process, is this loss negative, what is its meaning… et cetera. Same questions one could ask of Max Renn’s fate in Videodrome.
    The CPC is undergoing a major refashioning for that academic application’s sake (I sent it BTW) so expect that I will hide most of the juicier comments for a while while adding a lot of ”normal” sounding material.

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    Comment by parodycenter — 6 February 2008 @ 9:38 am

  11. In a straight reading of the story, Viggo is feigning to be a bottom whereas in fact he is a top — the usual sort of undercover cop scenario. However, does it take a certain sort of psychosexual ambiguity to assume this dual role successfully? He seems to succeed in the end, whereas you’d have to believe something beyond death happens to Max at the end in order to regard him as successfully navigating the ambiguous world of images. In Videodrome the pornographic consumer assumes the role of top — male penetrator and sadist — whereas he’s actually getting fucked and manipulated by the controllers of the Videodrome signal. Somehow O’Blivion seems to think that yet another organ grows inside the viewer’s head, a tumorous excrescence rather than a hole, that will allow the feminized viewer to regain control of his own fantasies. And maybe it works for Max for awhile — maybe his phallic brain tumor allows him to create the fantasized hand grenade that his vaginal interior affixes to Harlan’s hand while Harlan is hand-fucking Max. But then his tumor turns his top-imaginative powers on himself, so he winds up fucking himself to death in the end. Viggo resolves all these dilemmas in a way that allows him not only to fake it as a bottom in the Russian mafia, but to maneuver the Western law in such a way that he’s able to grab power in the mafia as well. I don’t have any conclusions to draw here — just thinking along with the ideas.

    I see Parody Center went over the 100,000 views mark during its current dormancy phase. Congratulations on the education job, and best wishes on the academic job. I tried sending another test email yesterday but it appears you haven’t paid the service provider yet. I was going to ask you why your father got so depressed, and what he would have needed to do or know in order to get out of it.

    Seyfried, what sort of academic situation are you engaged in? Student or faculty? What field of study?

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    Comment by ktismatics — 6 February 2008 @ 5:27 pm

  12. (This is me rambling…I haven’t seen Eastern Promises/AHOV since the summer, so I’m a bit shaky)

    “In Videodrome the pornographic consumer assumes the role of top — male penetrator and sadist — whereas he’s actually getting fucked and manipulated by the controllers of the Videodrome signal.”

    It’s funny: I think this sort of ‘reading’ suggests the film as a better companion to AHOV – where the true ‘position’ of the protagonist is lost among the penumbrous filtering. With AHOV it’s the ontological constrictions of the genre, and in Videodrome its the ulterior motives of corporate enterprise. The thing that continually fascinates me is that just like the way AHOV is glossed over with a serum – the same sort of ‘tonal virtuosity’ that Rosenbaum’s review praised – Videodrome’s refraction comes from its overly asserted superficiality of videotaped images. VHS, in spite of its inherent grittiness, has a sort of understated density that projects facetious representations of financial jurisdiction; Spectacular Optical feels quite accurately like what it is: a communal business and an outreaching, global corporation. In Videodrome there’s no difference between the streets and the front office. And the DVD, post-film (that’s a Shaviro wink) cursory feel of AHOV feels like the inevitable antipode Cronenberg was towards for the last decade. Both films, as you kind of suggest, feel like they’re convulsing amidst the weight of the water beneath them: Joey comes in-and-out of self-asserted/assumed “bottom” Tom and subservience comes in-and-out of self-assumed/asserted “top” Maxx. Or maybe, I’ve mixed them up. [/thinking along ideas]

    Oh, btw, Cronenberg’s short film, ‘Camera’ is up on Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pBOMg7SSTQU

    “The CPC is undergoing a major refashioning for that academic application’s sake (I sent it BTW) so expect that I will hide most of the juicier comments for a while while adding a lot of ”normal” sounding material.

    For shame.

    Oh, I’m just a pathetic undergrad at University of Texas, Ktis. Accounting major.

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    Comment by Seyfried — 6 February 2008 @ 7:47 pm

  13. Accounting? Well at least you’ve got film interpretation to fall back on.

    I like that Cronenberg short — that’s the guy who plays Barry Convex in Videodrome. He seems to have gotten quite a bit older since then… “When you record the moment, you record the death of the moment.” It seems that Cronenberg remains obsessed with the image changing the viewer physically.

    Yes it’s funny to think about those cheesy Videodrome images having any kind of hypnotic influence over the viewer, let alone generating new organs and new flesh. It’s like the cheesy pompous speechifying of Prof O’Blivion, as if he’s some kind of communications guru instead of a psychotic crackpot. But then there’s all sorts of interesting theory going on in the movie anyhow, just like a real art film.

    I too thought Parody Center should make its abnormality explicit, inasmuch as it’s integral to the unique artistry. Or is it? I think the selection committee should be forced to decide whether Parody Center really is a work of genius or a malevolent tumor.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 6 February 2008 @ 10:21 pm

  14. whereas you’d have to believe something beyond death happens to Max at the end in order to regard him as successfully navigating the ambiguous world of images.

    If I remember well, and I did see the movie some 20 times at least since it came out, is that just before Max kills himself the tv set sort of implodes OUT, internal organs come out of it; this would suggest that there was a reversal whereby the tv ”fantasy” already became flesh while ”reality” which Max (and we) inhabit is spectral. Therefore Max’s ”suicide” is really shedding his virtual self to acknowledge his already-really-existing new corpus – the New Flesh. And we do see echoes of the Videodrome in the way the digital network of capitalism guts us like a fish, something Shaviro has written about too abundantly for me to be repeating his much-better formulated thoughts here.

    maybe his phallic brain tumor allows him to create the fantasized hand grenade that his vaginal interior affixes to Harlan’s hand while Harlan is hand-fucking Max.

    So he has a Phallus-vagina, in fact, he has both options, giving him the ”neutral” qualities of a Whitehedian deity. For me the interesting is that you have a similar idea in Christian orthodoxy, as I explained before, whereby the ”split” (what Zizek hammers on) is only produced, an illusion; God, being beyond divisions, never can be negativity, or opposition. This is the question Ive been trying to research hopelessly, but the corporate theologists at Weblog didn’t help me much. I don’t know if you saw Carpenter’s fabulous STARMAN, but there God becomes through a kind of a hauntological resurrection of past potentialities (he is the resurrection of a woman’s dead husband) and then further acts as a kind of a destabilizing force in the Symbolic Order, drawing attention to the violent intervention of language in human society… I will write about this shortly at the CPC.

    My dad’s long-term depression came out of his long-term feeling of being a failure, which to my mind comes from his rather oedipal bond with his rather suffocating mother. He was the type that never finished his business, always finding some nihilism to convince him that it’s all pointless. This was uncomfortably coupled with a really enormous musical talent, plus the fact that he stupidly chose to play the violin instead of composing (his real interest). The Serbian Commies totally destroyed musicians financially, as they never invested in the opera, so he never made any money on the business. In a long long phase he drank and ate himself to oblivion until one day he had a brain stroke, which has debilitated him for the past ten-odd years. He pretty much sank all of us with him, since in the past decade we had to take care of him (financially and otherwise). Illness in civil war conditions is not something you want to deal with.

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    Comment by parodycenter — 7 February 2008 @ 10:17 am

  15. For shame.

    Seyfried, I am applying to some animation teaching job and since I don´t know the profile of the faculty don´t know how they would respond to this rather new type of interactive parody, even as personally I find my text much more interesting in this sleazy format than as an academic undertaking. I am keeping the Parody Oscars on display because I think Jonquille´s comments are nothing short of brilliant. Speaking of which the bitch is ignoring me again!

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    Comment by parodycenter — 7 February 2008 @ 10:20 am

  16. “I don´t know the profile of the faculty don´t know how they would respond to this rather new type of interactive parody, even as personally I find my text much more interesting in this sleazy format than as an academic undertaking.”

    No, no, I completely understand. Just disappointed because, well, it’s such a great site. But inactivity and quotidian repetition can be a bitch, so obviously, I wish you the best and hope you get the job.

    Just to get it off my mind, PC, my uncle sounds just like your father, except with a few [more?] levels wedged in of self-proclaimed anxiety that kept him from working. The endless war on that side of the family has ultimately been not a matter of fixing him, but deeming why my aunt continually gives him chance after chance to stay at job after job…when he’s really not willing to acknowledge anything in the first place. Pretty messy.

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    Comment by Seyfried — 7 February 2008 @ 11:53 am

  17. What do you think would have happened if your father had focused on composing?

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    Comment by ktismatics — 7 February 2008 @ 1:11 pm

  18. What do you think would have happened if your father had focused on composing?

    Well he would have been reasonably content and possibly drink or eat less, I suppose, although I suspect the problem is never in what happens externally but what motivates you from the inside, as well you know. I am not quite sure where his feelings of inadequacy came from, because he is also very introverted, never discussing them openly. It didn’t help that NATO and the UN destroyed the country while all this was happening so even the middle class securities were gone overnight.

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    Comment by parodycenter — 8 February 2008 @ 10:33 am

  19. Interesting… its amazing what powers film can have.

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    Comment by Fingel — 9 February 2008 @ 2:49 am


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