Perception is not reality. Reality, is an unchangeable state. It just is. It is pure unadulterated fact. When things happen, they forever have happened, and nothing can ever change that. Perception, is reality through a personal filter. How we interpret it in a personal context. Perception, as it exists in all of us, is a flawed system. We can only perceive things as far as we can understand them, or in other words, as far as our collected information allows us. The problem here is that information is given to us in the context of the perception of whoever “reports” it. To believe in a piece of information, is to have faith in the perception of who, or where, you get it from. This is something we struggle with everyday. Well, it’s something we should be struggling with everyday, but I digress. Where we get our perception of reality is something to be taken seriously. Too often do we accept the perceptions of people we have never met, never will meet, and that, to put it bluntly, don’t really care about us personally. They only care that you believe them so that you may serve a larger agenda. This is what is at the heart of David Cronenberg’s Videodrome. The film’s framing device may seem like an extreme one, but the concept of “perception control” has been around since the first man opened his gob. In this essay we are going to focus on two concepts. Stimulation, perception as a function, and how they relate to Videodrome(The actual concept, not the film title.). So, here’s my “perception” of Videodrome.
Our protagonist, Max Renn, runs a small broadcasting station, Civic TV channel 83. From what we can see in the film, the station seems to air mostly soft core pornography, and Max is always looking for the next titillating piece of footage to air. He wants to propel his little operation into relevance, by offering his audience things that they can’t get anywhere else. Max’s entire life is saturated with pornography. The first thing we see Max do is look through pornographic stills from a potential dirty movie that he’s looking into buying. Max is in a state of constant stimulation, and the things that were once stimulating don’t quite do it for him anymore. The soft core nature of the smut he peddles to the masses, isn’t enough. He’s reacting to the effects of over-stimulation. Just like any stimulant, mental or physical, a tolerance begins to build when used in excess. One is required to do more, or go further to acquire the same feeling that was once easy to come by(Nobody starts off smoking two packs a day). The thing is, Max doesn’t conscientiously realize this, he only knows that he is bored by what he sees. Until he sees Videodrome. Harlan, a tech head at Civic TV and probably the closest thing Max has to a confidant, comes across a pirate signal that is broadcasting something called Videodrome. It looks like torture/snuff porno, and in it, Max has found what he’s looking for. Something new that will give Civic TV the edge that it needs, or at least that’s how he justifies his desire to find more of it. Max watches the tapes incessantly, and develops a need to know everything about them. He’s become, in a way, addicted to them, but at this point it’s only on a superficial level. It isn’t “real” for him yet. He hasn’t admitted to himself the power that Videodrome has over him. He hasn’t become conscious of the effect that it is having on his perception. It’s still all just fantasy for him. He needs something to push him a little further. He needs a gateway, if you will.
An idea is a purely intellectual thing. Until we implement it into some sort action, it only exists in our thoughts. Now, this doesn’t mean ideas don’t mean anything, but until we implement them in some tangible way, they are purely intellectual, and are really only usable in hypothetical discussion. For an idea to actually accomplish anything some type of action is necessary, and sometimes a point of inspiration is needed for action to take place. Max is in need of some form of “inspiration”. Videodrome has given him the ideas, but now, for lack of a better term, he needs a muse to throw him further down the rabbit hole. Enter, Nicki Brand. Nicki is a “pop” psychologist of the Dr. Phil variety. You know, the kind of psychologists that say a lot of superficial things that have no real meaning. Anyways… The first time Max meets Nicki is on an “Oprah esque” talk show. They are debating the effects of TV’s presentation of sex and violence. During this debate, Nicki reveals that she lives in a constant state of over stimulation. She has a dark side. Nicki is sexually adventurous in a sadomasochistic kind of way. She brings Max into the fold of her disposition. She allows, and pushes, Max into acting out some of his sadist thoughts. Idea becomes tangible. Max is encouraged by Nicki to mix pleasure and pain in ways he never has, and probably would never have, if not for meeting her. They do these things while watching the bootleg tapes of Videodrome. It’s almost as if it is encouraging them take things further, until they eventually are inseparable from mysterious program itself. In a way, adopting it’s ideology. They make the dangerous assumption that they know what Videodrome is. What makes this assumption dangerous is that they are viewing it in a completely superficial manner. They are not looking any deeper than the bondage/torture scenarios that are presented on the surface. It has an agenda, and without realizing it they are succumbing to it. They are being programmed to perceive things the way Videodrome wants them too, but that’s not all it’s doing to Max.
Sometimes, when ideas are deemed to be a detrimental avenue of thought, a variation on the term “cancerous” is used to describe it. They use this term because they fear that it will grow, and infect a larger part of the societal “body”. In a very literal way, Videodrome has this effect on those that watch it. A tumor of the brain begins to form, but this is no ordinary tumor. In the film, it is described as a new organ of the brain. One that will eventually take president, and completely control the viewers perception of reality. They become a vessel, in a way. They internalize the seemingly ominous nature of Videodrome’s ideology, and by doing so become it’s programmable servant. The war for perception is about to begin and now Max is it’s pawn.
He can’t clearly differentiate between his own perception of reality and that of Videodrome’s via the growing tumor in his brain. He doesn’t know what to trust or what is actually happening. Now, this is a very extreme representation, but in a more “realistic” context this isn’t unlike television as we know it today. Especially when we consider what mainstream news, and “reality” television has become. They both have some disturbing similarities. They only present a distorted reality, and as a result, a false perception of what goes on in the world. “Opinion” panels seem to dominate the news cycle these days, but here’s the thing, facts given through opinionated means are not facts. They are that persons perception of the facts, and when we take these things in at face value, we diminish our ability to form our own perceptions. We instead are in a constant state of “adopting” the perceptions of others. This is what Videodrome does to those that watch it, ultimately. Through the creation of the hallucinations in the viewer, it is putting the effected in a vacuum. They are not able to view any subjective reality to form their own perceptions. They think they are, but they’re not. This is Videodrome’s(And TV’s in general) greatest accomplishment. It makes the viewer think that the perceptions they are given are their own, but in “reality” they are part of a controlled experiment of sorts.
Now, like the embedded video says, “The battle for the mind of North America will be fought in the video arena. The Videodrome.”, notice that I drew your attention to the word “battle”. To engage in battle there must be two conflicting entities, enter The Cathode Ray Mission. The Cathode Ray Mission, has the appearance of a soup kitchen for the homeless, with a seemingly religious slant in it’s aesthetic presentation, but they aren’t just serving up food. Vagrants are shuffled in and sat down in front television sets while being fed. Bianca O’Blivion, the administrative presence, describes it as something akin to “plugging” them back into societies mixing board.
The ideology of the Cathode Ray Mission is that of Brian O’Blivion, Bianca’s father. Later on in the film we discover, along with Max, that Brian O’Blivion is dead, and has been dead for the better part of a year. Bianca keeps his ideologies alive through thousands of prerecorded video cassettes. The collection of ideas on these tapes is so vast that Bianca has been able to keep up the illusion in the public eye that Brian is still alive. Through the medium of video, Brian O’Blivion could ostensibly live forever. Given this description, the Cathode Ray Mission and Videodrome have, in terms of conceptual implementation, quite a bit in common. They both are, in a way, selling “perceptions” to the unwitting viewer. They both require the viewer to acquiesce to it, even though it happens under false pretenses. In Videodrome’s case it is presented under the guise of a snuff film. In the case of the Cathode Ray Mission, you are promised a meal. Different strokes for different folks. On both sides, unbeknownst to the viewer, they are being recruited. They don’t ever make it really clear what the agenda of either “group” is. It seems like they are concerned with controlling people. Which, I guess, is an agenda of sorts.
Videodrome, and the Cathode Ray Mission are after the minds of two groups of people. Videodrome, is after the viewership of Civic TV. The Cathode Ray Mission, seems to be focusing on the down trodden and the homeless. These two groups are part of the same sub group of humanity. They are on the fringes of social society and of societal thinking. Because of this, they are susceptible to alternative modes of thought. Now, this is not necessarily a bad disposition, but when a person is actively looking for alternative “answers” there is always a danger that those “answers” could be co-opted by persons with less than noble purposes.
Even with these similarities, there are still some fundamental differences. The viewership of Civic TV are made up of people, just like Max Renn, that are in a constant state of over-stimulation. This is important, because, if we can make the assumption, an element of that viewership will be desiring something more “hardcore”. Max has been priming these people for what, on a superficial level, Videodrome has to show them. I don’t think that it would a stretch to say that the average person would have little to no interest in actually watching Videodrome. It’s something you would have to be built up to, and just like Max, they have been. Just like all ideologies, one has to be actively seeking it out for it to really have any effect, or to be accepted.The Cathode Ray Mission is doing the same thing, they just go about it differently. The “viewership” of the Cathode Ray Mission are that of the dependent and under-stimulated. This state of under-stimulation creates within the effect that is something like being an empty cup waiting to be filled, and because of their state of dependance, they are actively seeking out “something”. Both groups are ready and willing to some degree. Which in turn makes them complicit in their fate.
There are so many things to talk about when it comes to Videodrome, but when you get right down to it, it wears it’s sub text on it’s sleeve. It’s about the dangers of technology, and how it is used by those that would seek to control our perceptions, but it also to speaks to something else that is very important. We are complicit in our own “brainwashing”. Perception control only has as much power as we allow it to have. So the next time you hear someone say, “There’s nothing I can do about it. So, what’s the point of even discussing it?”, just remember this simple fact. You don’t actually have to do anything. You need only be aware.