October 11, 2020

Drome

“The television screen has become the retina of the mind’s eye,” says Professor O’Blivion in Videodrome. “Therefore, the television is part of the physical structure in the brain.”

David Cronenberg’s Videodrome is a fever dream that’s tough to shake, and it’s impossible to watch this film from 1983 without mapping it onto today’s internet. How it has colonized our minds, steadily rewiring the real world until every snapshot, thought, and interaction conforms to its logic. Lurking beneath videotaped sleaze and torture porn, a mysterious signal infects James Woods’s brain, warps his body, and transforms him into something ruthless and inhuman. It’s a vivid blend of body horror, sci-fi, and media critique. But now it reads like a heavy-handed metaphor for online radicalization. And like a weird feedback loop, the internet has claimed the mind of the real-life James Woods, transforming him into a pitiful troll who traffics in paranoia and spite.

Would it be possible to update Videodrome for the digital age? Television is unidirectional and, in the end, it’s an object in the room. But how do you make art out of something as omnipresent as air? More and more, it feels like trying to critique the sky.

A childhood fear inspired Cronenberg to make this movie. After the stations had gone off the air for the night, his television would pick up strange signals from Buffalo, and he worried he might see something upsetting. That’s how I feel each time I open a screen. As one of the film’s characters says before he hustles out of the room: “I just can’t cope with the freaky stuff.”


Legowelt – Videophone to Space

Los Alamos Motel | PPU, 2014 | Bandcamp
Each night in 2020 I'm writing a short post for a series called Notes From the End of a World because I want to etch these days into my memory before I forget them. Before the world changes completely.
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