From the Editor
After attending a 35mm screening of Canadian-filmmaker David Cronenberg’s Videodrome (1983) last weekend, my relationship to the screens in my life has become a little more uneasy. Cronenberg’s hallucinatory look into the pervading—some might say dehumanizing—influence of technology and its eventual symbiosis with our bodies managed to retain its theoretical poignancy in spite of its inescapable eighties aesthetic. Discovering the videodrome signal in a pirate television broadcast of plotless torture and murder, the films protagonist Max Renn (played to perfection by James Woods) begins having violent psychosexual hallucinations that mark his slide into a complete mental and physical breakdown. Reality becomes nothing more than a television induced mirage.Throbbing VHS cassettes are inserted directly into abdominal orifices, flesh merges with the metal of a pistol and television sets pulsate and respond to Renn’s loving caress. Amongst the Sci-Fi horror genre’s many staples—melting bodies, misogyny, hyperreality—that populate the film, Videodrome is saturated with familiar Postmodern ideas. Questions of what constitutes the ‘real.' Media overstimulation, simulacra, technological determinism and media as the core of our very being, are just a few of the now infamous theories promoted by Jean Baudrillard, Harold Innis and Marshall McLuhan present in the film.
A caricature of our theorists, Brian O’Blivion is one of the films most compelling characters. With a name like that and choice lines such as, ‘the television screen is the retina of the mind's eye,’ how could he not? The metaphysical media-guru appears only on video screens. Like Renn, we eventually discover that O’Blivion was killed by the videodrome signal, but lives on in technological immortality through tapes he recorded while alive and that are played back by his daughter Bianca; who herself is out to prevent the tumor-inducing evils that videodrome inflicts. Sitting in the darkened theater I couldn’t help but to think of all of those people I know only through my computer screen—though their Facebook profiles and social media output; over Skype video calls and e-mail threads. It seems that there’s a little bit of O’Blivion in all of us these days.
It’s not difficult to find contemporary evidence and parallels for any number of Videodrome’s many prophecies. Endlessly proliferating news media, rampant political demagoguery, social media, violent video-games, internet porn—take your pick. While our experience of reality, defining the ‘real’ and by extension truth, via television, photographs and the internet, may be an overworked issue it is no less relevant now. At a time when everyone has their own set of ‘facts’ and a virtual-community in which to perpetuate them, notions of how we identify what’s ‘real’ and what’s propaganda take on new importance. How do we freely form educated opinion, address our history and imagine new futures in this landscape? Media and technologies role in helping to mold the current state of affairs is clear enough and Videodrome follows this logic (that of technological determinism) to its unflinching end. At that end—as Renn submits to the seductions of his hallucination, killing himself and embracing the ‘new flesh’—we’re not shown a favorable alternative. However bleak this reality seems its still one in which we ultimately get to choose how we give our lives value. Whatever technologies influence on our bodies and progress as a culture might be, we are still responsible for imbuing our lives with meaning, and no insidious technological bogey-man can change that. How we choose to do so is the real question.
Our issue this week gives you a number of meaningful avenues to pursue. With an exhibition currently on view at DiverseWorks in Houston, New York-based artist Marina Zurkow engages in conversation with writer and Rice PhD candidate Rachel Hooper on topics ranging from digital animation to West Texas oil fields. The Austin Cinematheque recently screened James Benning’s 16mm film El Valley Centro (2000) in its native format. Its poignant observations regarding landscape and finding our place in the world are one of the many topics covered in Austin-based filmmaker and writer Caroline Koebel’s insightful review. From Dallas, artist, writer and teacher Andy Amato spends time standing (physically and theoretically) with Nick Barbee’s exhibition at Plush Gallery. A New York City staple, Exit Art, will be closing its doors May 19 and its final exhibition, Every Exit Is an Entrance: 30 Years of Exit Art, receives writer Marie-Adele Moniot’s thoughtful attention. Albany, Texas-based artist and curator Patrick Kelly contributes a video to our Project Space that humorously addresses coming to grips with changing notions of reality and time through the ex-planet Pluto. As always we have recommendations for you, this time a pair from Houston: Brad Tucker’s Pressing News at Inman Gallery, and SnackProjects.
Let us know how you’re doing deciphering reality from hallucination by emailing us at: email@example.com.
Eric Zimmerman is an artist and Editor of ...might be good.