Notes on Videodrome

This post is titled "notes on" Videodrome because it's the type of movie that I feel like I wouldn't be able to truly do justice without writing a long, thought out essay on it, which would all but guarantee that I wouldn't get around to writing it anytime soon. But I rewatched it recently after several people in the same night were coincidentally talking about Cronenberg, and I take notice of coincidences like this when they happen. On this rewatching of it, I felt compelled to try to at least say something about it instead of letting these thoughts uselessly leak out in an ephemeral channel like social media. It's a film that, in my opinion, demands more attention than it's gotten.

I've always liked pretty much everything I've ever seen by David Cronenberg; I don't know what a normal person's comfy movies are but for me it's Cronenberg and body horror in general. But I've not yet written anything about his films or talked about them anywhere because whenever I think about it I'm surprised at how underrated he seems to be within the accelerationist sphere. The Ccru as an entity never talked about Cronenberg as far as I know except maybe in one of the Hyperstition Blog posts, although k-punk talked occasionally about Cronenberg's films, including Videodrome. I don't really think his interpretation of what is interesting about Videodrome gets it quite right, however.

I am, to be clear, a critical supporter of the position that k-punk talks about in "Constant Craving". I cite a related essay, "Psychedelic Fascism", on a pretty regular basis. But what I think k-punk got wrong about Videodrome is that depictions of sex and violence in media and their ambiguous intermingling in pornography is really the least interesting thing about Videodrome, especially if one isn't coming at it from a Dworkinite radfem analysis of porn. What's interesting about the role that sex, violence, and snuff porn plays in Videodrome is the line where Barry Convex explains why Videodrome uses sex and violence to transmit the signal: It's because for some reason, the human brain is more susceptible to its signal when it's put in an excited state by seeing sex and violence.

This is pretty much a single throwaway line in the movie, but it's one of many instances of completely casual brilliance in it. Videodrome's overall setting is one that I would describe as "analogue cyberpunk"; it was made a year before Neuromancer was released and a decade before the internet was a thing that anyone outside of the military and universities were using, but it creates a world that has an understated near-future sci-fi vibe exactly like what we now understand cyberpunk to be. It's all very rough and told through somewhat vague metaphor, but all the pieces are there. People like Prof. Brian O'Blivion use "TV names" in the same way that a decade later users on the internet would come up with handles – "you don't have an identity until you have a handle" to paraphrase Hackers (1995). There's a Cathode Ray Mission, a church where people go to engage in something like a communion with television. Pirate radio signals get picked up by Channel 83 where an unknown group is broadcasting snuff, and it's treated with very little fanfare despite also being what gets the plot of the movie started, as if it's a regular occurrence in the world for there to be so much information being transmitted using technologies that are relatively cheaply accessible. In the world of Videodrome it seems to be possible to organically stumble upon a signal that you're not meant to find, as if ordinary people are already starting to become participants in creating new realities rather than merely being fed them by mass media.

All of these things work together to suggest a bigger world than what we see in the movie, one where even when networking technologies are still limited to broadcasting media over UHF and VHF frequencies, already they're becoming enmeshed in the everyday lives of normal people. Reality isn't merely being fed top-down by TV in the world of Videodrome but rather is something that people are beginning to take part in themselves, and through the point of view of an executive for a small TV station we're able to see that on the cutting edge of this with Prof. O'Blivion, the very idea of our real embodied existences is becoming meaningless. Prof. O'Blivion lives on in a state of unlife by having so much of himself recorded onto tape that he can say anything, be anything, for any particular context that he needs to exist in, even though his body has long since died. Brian O'Blivion is no longer a person in the text of the film but rather has become an actual hyperfictional carrier whose image is merely being cut-up and reassembled by his daughter to propagate new hyperstitions. This is a process that he, being a "media prophet", willingly participated in, perhaps being the first person in the world of Videodrome to let his body die so that he would be worthy of the future that seems to be just about to arrive.

Having set up this world where media has begun to mediate reality in a way that makes the concept of reality increasingly meaningless, where humanity is beginning to shed its physical body and where there is a vast network of different circuits for transmitting information, the throwaway line about sex and violence in media being a useful way for opening up the mind to being influenced by Videodrome becomes incredibly interesting because it indicates that the movie is also accidentally talking about a kind of magik. In the world of Videodrome, different systems through images and media all exist in a hypersea – forming, dissolving, and being transmitted, in the same way that cyberculture theorists a decade later would talk about the internet. All of these different systems have the potential to propagate themselves in the same way that the purpose of magik is to create a system that can propagate itself, to summon a demon.

This is in fact what Max Renn is chasing after, using the logic of the market as the driving force for this; he states in his TV interview that it's just economics that his TV station shows people what they can't get anywhere else. This is, effectively, what doing "low magik" is: Tap into the flows of desire and use them to carry a signal or system. Max Renn is searching for something gritty and "real" but doesn't yet know that he's actually becoming a participant in the war between the old top-down systems of control to get a grip on the powers they've unleashed and everything that is escaping their control. Magik tends to work by requiring some kind of "life force" for lack of a more precise term as the "fuel" (again, an imprecise metaphor) to power on the system that the magikal ritual creates. This is why some of the most famous and powerful examples of magikal practice involve either Thelemite sex magick or sacrificing a living thing – sex and violence.

This is why I have some disagreements with k-punk's comments on Videodrome, because he reduces this to merely being a commentary on the spectacle of mass media, where sex and violence are used to control people by keeping them in a state of constant intensity – or to put it in less Deleuzian terms, in a state of being a malebrained coomer. He ignores that the way Videodrome ends is with one of my favorite lines of all time in a movie: "don't be afraid to let your body die." The real meaning of the movie that k-punk couldn't see is that the only thing that's holding us back is an unwillingness to become worthy of this process, an attachment to a concept of being human, a fixed idea of what our flesh and our bodies are. Once we let go of these things, Videodrome has no power over us.

These systems that the New World Order/One God Universe/Architectonic Order of the Eschaton are using to control us are also systems that they don't have control over, because they have tapped into the same processes that are how magik functions. They haven't created a perfect system of control but merely tapped into a reservoir of power that most people aren't aware of yet, where systems can be created and propagated, used to reshape reality and control people's minds. They've already given us the weapons to tear down their Black Iron Prison, which is why Videodrome ends with Max Renn being deprogrammed by Bianca O'Blivion. His body which has been reformed by Videodrome to be a weapon for Spectacle Optics ("the new flesh") is now a weapon acting for itself, and in the last scene when he sees the future played for him on a TV where he shoots himself in the head, the body dying is in fact setting it free beyond the confines of mere flesh. As Nicki Brand instructs, by letting his body die, he can ascend; to paraphrase Spinoza, he's going to see what his body can really do.

It's no coincidence after all that the first scene where Renn's body starts to be warped into something new is when a vagina appears in his torso that he then sticks a gun into. For me in particular this is the movie's greatest flourish of casual brilliance, by summarizing the entire thesis of gender acceleration: Technocapital, by feminizing our bodies, also makes them into weapons that we can use against it.

Author: n1x (n1x@katak)


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