Videodrome and the revenge of representation

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Author: Marty Roth
Date: Annual 1997
From: CineAction(Issue 43)
Publisher: CineAction
Document Type: Article
Length: 3,214 words

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The "videodrome" of my title has several referents: It is a special signal transmitted through television causing a brain tumor in the viewer that induces hallucinations. People so infected are transformed into human VCRs capable of playing cassettes through a belly slit. (That, however, may be their primary hallucination, or it may be a metaphor, our primary hallucination.) Secondly, Videodrome is a "snuff" series. It is also a conspiratorial organization that may be a far right attempt to arrest the degeneracy of the West, fighting moral corruption with moral corruption. Finally, Videodrome is the title of a film by the Canadian filmmaker David Cronenberg.

If contemporary horror film is inevitably postmodern, as a current line of argument goes, then David Cronenberg's films, Videodrome in particular, occupy the corner of the genre where that claim is most spectacularly redeemed. (1) The problem with the discourse on postmodernism, however, is that it is radically split: it is in the condition of the contemporary sign, both itself and other than itself; the postmodern is both a continuation of modernism and a repudiation of it (Messmer 1985: 236; Fokkema 1986: 18; Fokkema 1984: 40 and Hassan 1975: 19). The word is not useless, however, if it promises to stabilize certain stunning features of this body of film, particularly its rend(er)ing of physicality. In common with contemporary horror film generally, Cronenberg's films rupture the myth of the unitary body--a defining strategy that recalls the modernist fragmentation of the unitary self. These films also rupture the constituting unity of modernism, a critical humanist or liberal nature that had put itself in control of taste and meaning and given itself the sole authority to determine what fictions are about and whether or not they are worth the telling.

I choose to read postmodernism as a repudiation of modernism, more or less following a rhapsodic-vulgar strain of commentary by Leslie Fiedler and Susan Sontag, among others. It reads postmodernism as a celebratory movement that rejects the transcendental humanism of the culture establishment: "The best works among those that are called pop art intend, precisely, that we abandon the old task of always either approving or disapproving what is depicted in art -- or, by extension, experienced in life" (Sontag 229). Among its many affiliations, Videodrome expresses its affinities with Pop, Beat, and Punk art. In Cronenberg, however, such allusions are equivocal, neither affirmative nor ironic. In this article, postmodernism is primarily marked by an extremely unstable distinction between representation and reality, tropes of litter, garbage and the decomposing body, and pornography.

Postmodern texts are set in semiotic territory. They acknowledge the autonomy of the sign; they express a willingness to be caught up forever in the drift of signification. Videodrome takes place in a world of signs and broadcasts, and its protagonist, Max Renn, becomes (to cite Barbara Creed citing Baudrillard) "a pure screen, a switching center for all the networks of influence" (Creed 1987: 60). Victor Hugo's prediction in Notre Dame de Paris that the word would...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A30412317