By: Meredith Paajanen, Staff Writer

Videodrome (1983), by David Cronenberg
Image Source: Guardian Trust Company

It’s time to bring out the horror classics because Halloween is close at hand. If you’re a U of T student, you may be compelled to browse through the works of University College alumni David Cronenberg. Cronenberg is primarily known for his mastery of body horror and frequent themes of transhumanism. Upon my October rewatch of his 1983 film Videodrome, these elements all held true. However, I also found a compelling perspective on modern imperial violence and the ways in which our economic structure necessitates it. 

The film centers its critique around Max Renn, whose only loyalty is to (financial) capital. At the start of the film, he is a conquistador, the owner of the controversial television channel CIVIC-TV. He sets his sights on Videodrome, a mysterious video broadcast, which appears to have supernatural effects on its viewers. The broadcast themselves are unpalatable. They depict torture and murder in full detail, and it is not made clear whether this content is “just acting”, or something more sinister. Max is unconcerned with this moral ambiguity. The sheer novelty of Videodrome is something he benefits from, a new way for him to be ahead of the commercial curve. However, his opportunism does not stay an asset for long. The character Masha warns him of this early on, stating that Videodrome  “… has something that you don’t have, Max. It has a philosophy. And that is what makes it dangerous.”

This philosophy is a well-known secret. The creators of Videodrome are stated to be NATO weapon manufacturers, as well as cheap eyeglass producers marketing to developing countries. This creates an entity that expresses military control, then a subtler financial control. Researching the history of the United States’ foreign policy makes the connection between these two forms of control more clear. There is a historical pattern of US-backed military takeovers that are orchestrated primarily for the purpose of maintaining commercial influence. The 1954 Guatemalan coup, for example, was retaliation against agricultural land seizures by the Guatemalan government. It was pushed by the United Fruit Company, which had lost a significant amount of financial capital due to the seizures. A parallel can be drawn between the United Fruit Company and the explicitly developing country reliant business model of Spectacular Optical eyeglasses. 

By making Max’s financial motivation his reason for getting involved with Videodrome, the film makes a firm comment on the relationship between capitalism and politics. The suggestion is that capital cannot be ideologically neutral when the presentation of ideology itself is a financial pursuit. It is absolutely natural for Max to become a weapon on behalf of Videodrome, as he is an empty expression of financial interest, and all financial interest leads to Videodrome eventually. If Max sets out to conquer every corner of television, eventually he will have to conquer Videodrome. It does not matter how the content in Videodrome was created, just as it does not necessarily matter to a commercial giant whether their employees are given acceptable working conditions. What matters is financial success. Max has naturally accepted Videodrome as the future and thus becomes its foremost benefactor. Videodrome has now conquered him. 
There is the ultimate suggestion that Max’s logic of endless expansion necessitates the violence displayed in the film. Even the most disagreeable acts must be done if they are necessary for this expansion. Even the most disturbing videotapes must be put on play if they will increase viewership. Even legality can be ignored if it puts CIVIC-TV ahead of the curve. Max’s logic is the logic of imperialism: it is the logic of dominating and controlling any land in sight. It is the logic of a single, tyrannical conversion. Everything must be under the rule of the market, just as everything must be under the control of one state. Any casualty is acceptable so long as this goal is accomplished. Max is responsible for the violence of Videodrome. He is not simply taking advantage of Videodrome’s existence, he is the very reason for its existence. And thus, the expansionist tendencies of capital itself are implicated… 

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