Cyborgologist Nathan Jurgenson on the 30th anniversary of Videodrome:
Over the course of the film, Max comes to know a “media prophet” named Professor Brian O’Blivion—an obvious homage to Marshall McLuhan. O’Blivion builds a “Cathode Ray Mission,” named after the television set component which shoots electrons and creates images. The Cathode Ray Mission gives the destitute a chance to watch television in order to “patch them back into the world’s mixing board,” akin to McLuhan’s notion of media creating a “global village,” premised on the idea that media and technology, together, form the social fabric. O’Blivion goes on to monologue,
“The television screen is the retina of the mind’s eye. Therefore, the television screen is part of the physical structure of the brain. Therefore, whatever appears on the television screen appears as raw experience for those who watch it. Therefore, television is reality; and reality is less than television.”
This is Videodrome’s philosophy. It’s the opposite of The Matrix’s (1999) misreading of Baudrillard’s theories of simulation, and it goes completely against the common understanding of the Web as “virtual,” of the so-called “offline” as “real.” O’blivion would agree when I claim that “it is wrong to say ‘IRL’ to mean offline: Facebook is real life.”
This logic—that the Web is some other place we visit, a “cyber” space, something “virtual” and hence unreal—is what I call “digital dualism” and I think it’s dead wrong. Instead, we need a far more synthetic understanding of technology and society, media and bodies, physicality and information as perpetually enmeshed and co-determining. If The Matrix is the film of digital dualism, Videodrome is its synthetic and augmented opponent.
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Although I agree with Nathan’s rejection of digital dualism, I do find that the internet, or rather particular parts of the internet create a “place-like” experience — much the way reading a book or watching a movie does. Except other people are there. Place metaphors have been common since the beginning, besides cyberspace we have chat “rooms” web “sites.” Of course these spaces are real, and enmeshed with the physical, but they are also ethereal — they are unplaces. That’s part of their appeal. You can enter them from anywhere, your phone at a bus station, a cybercafe in Bangkok or your new apartment in a new city. And when you enter, you are someplace more than the place that you are physically.
(FWIW, both Neuromancer and Matrix include some concept of entanglement between meatspace and cyberspace: when you die in them, you die for real.)