Last night my roommates and I sat down and watched the first three episodes of the DVD release of the show Max Headroom. It was short-lived (its second season going up against a little show known as Miami Vice…) but brilliant and in its way subversive.
For those of you unaware of it, the basis is this: crusading reporter Edison Carter seeks the truth despite the (television network) corporations that control the world and want people to be happy unthinking consumers. in the middle of an investigation, Edison is knocked out, and the unethically brilliant head of Network 23’s research department, the teenage Bryce Lynch, uses an experiment to copy his mind into a computer. The copy of Edison’s mind, which calls itself Max Headroom (the past thing Edison saw was a sign with those words on it), becomes alternately friend and jester to Network 23 and helps Edison in his investigations.
The thing that makes the how subversive is this: they show you, flat out, that Network 23 will cheerfully do things for money and to hell with ethics until and unless someone holds their feet to the fire. Edison is loved because he does this… by the people. His show gets the highest ratings on the network, so they keep him on, but it’s made clear that when it stops, he’s gone from the network… and possibly they’ll kill him and sell him for parts. (There are ‘body banks’ where you can take a corpse and sell it, no questions asked. Two recurring characters, Breugel and Mahler, have this as their living – and sometimes they won’t wait for the person to die outright in order to take them in for sale.)
What I’m thinking about, now, is the fact that there is, in our culture, this ridiculous media machine that spews opinions and sometimes outright lies, and has been pushing to separate this country into these politically-based tribes…
…and what we really need is an Edison Carter and a Max Headroom, one to tell the truth and one to get your attention about the truth.
Wouldn’t that be something?