“You’re looking at the future: people translated as data.” This line from Max Headroom holds up well thirty-five years later. Every few years, I think about the 1987 signal hijacking at a Chicago television station when an unknown man wearing a Max Headroom mask took over the airwaves to mutter nonsense. (The Wikipedia entry includes this fine sentence: “The video ended with a pair of exposed buttocks being spanked with a flyswatter before normal programming resumed.”)

Max Headroom occupies an odd space in cultural memory: a tacky 1980s face on a t-shirt that hawked New Coke and music videos, as well as a glitchy Neuromancing vision of artificial intelligence that satirized a culture increasingly devoted to sitting alone in front of a screen.

Last night I rewatched the original British pilot from 1985, and it’s remarkably durable. Surveillance cameras are everywhere. Vicious advertising tactics are killing people. And wireframe graphics, joystick controls, and VHS tapes leverage the retrofitted future aesthetics of Blade Runner and Brazil, with harsh lights shining through makeshift ventilation systems and piles of televisions flickering on street corners. Strange how stacks of junked televisions became a dystopian trope, yet the logistics make no sense.

The most chilling feature in this future: off-switches are illegal.


Elecktroids – Future Tone

Elektroworld | Warp, 1995 | Bandcamp
Each night in 2020, I wrote a short post for a series called Notes From the End of a World because I wanted to etch these days into my memory. Before the world changed completely.
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