Max Headroom: Blanks
The 1987 to 1988 US Max Headroom series is in my opinion the TV series which has perhaps best predicted the world in which we now live. Remember that time Facebook went down and nobody could get into the office to sort it because all their access was linked to their log ins? Not a word of a lie, that happens in this episode, which also includes so many other prescient things of relevance to our time. As always I prefer to blog my own opinions than descriptions but if you want a summary of this wide-ranging plot I honestly don't think you can do better than the summary at TV Tropes: https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Recap/MaxHeadroomS1E6TheBlanks
You wouldn't believe the trouble this blog post has given me, though, and I'm just going to deal with certain themes which strike me an interesting. I'm afraid I'm going to have to do this in bullet points, because I have rewritten this blog post about eight times and it just won't work except as a list!
- The episode includes a theme of choices being made by people either to maintain or resolve a situation of injustice. This is reflected in other choices people make: what TV to watch, whether to conform to society or not, etc.
- People are either on the side of the 'system' (the TV networks) or outside: this episode particularly deals with many such outsiders. We see some of the ways people either choose or are forced into living outside the system in the Fringes.
- The 'Blanks' are people who have chosen to scrub their own records and become nameless and recordless characters, here targeted for arbitrary punishment, the chief injustice at the start of the show.
- You either blame the computer when technology doesn't work or you blame the human involved at some point. I personally have more sympathy for the idea of blaming the human because computers can't think at all, but this is a point returned to several times during the episode.
- The show embodies a possible criticism of capitalism, particularly its more deceptive aspects and illusion of choice. In the show television is used for social control, just as we are somehow persuaded that resources which grow naturally all over the earth should be paid for by us spending forty years on 9 to 5 in an office.
- Even though consumer choice could be seen as capitalism's Achilles' heel and in the show the TV networks are shown as being in competition, this is largely illusory because the real fear is that the population will become ungovernable if not continually controlled by TV.
- The show depicts the classic dilemma of whether you can change an oppressive system from the inside using its own resources or whether you have to be outside it to see it clearly. If outside it you usually lack the resources to change it, even though you can see it. In the show the key characters are all employees of Network 23, and even though they do cause social change in this episode, they do it using the resources of the network.
- The episode does not lack depictions of outsiders who are still capable of causing change: Bruno manages to bring everything to a standstill by hacking into the city's computer systems. There is also the depiction of the 'alternative' television run by Blank Reg, Big Time Television.
- The episode doesn't come completely down on either side of the argument, and change is effected by people both inside and outside the system.
- One of the reasons Edison Carter has to stay within the system is that he represents the tradition of the fearless reporter reporting the truth about the system. It seems trite to say that a show essentially about a reporter and his electronic alter ego deals with things in a rather journalistic way, but I actually think it does.
- Yet Carter also uses disinformation in a report here to make change happen. This is perhaps the moment in the show which feels most like today. I particularly like the way the image of the Trojan horse is used to represent the way things can be changed to look different, building on its original meaning of something which isn't what it looks like.
- Bryce is maturing somewhat from what we would then have called his whizzkid role and at various points co-operates with Edison in ways that would probably not have been appropriate for the pet whizzkid he was obviously intended to be. But best of all I love the way Bryce obviously has a raging teenage crush on Theora and stares at her open mouthed. It's so sweet.
- You have to watch this episode just to see Max Headroom do an impression of Bogart: 'Of all the computers in all the world...'.
- The show's journalistic inspiration means that it also provides a depressing commentary on human nature: specifically that humans will not see past the line they are fed and will happily go back to their television or the office 9 to 5. This show provides an utterly depressing commentary on the world in the 21st century.
- In the show Blank Reg redeems himself by making yet another choice, this time not to proceed with the plot in case it would endanger Edison Carter's life. This is a kind of resolution where the 'goodies' are the people who are for humanity, whichever side of the system they are on.
- My only real criticism would be that the plot device of the Trojan horse in a show about hackers crippling a whole network can get confusing. In this show it means the fake edited video they use, however given that the show is partly about hackers you could be mistaken for thinking it's about a computer Trojan horse.
I was going to say that this may or may not be one of a further series of posts on Max Headroom, but even though I love the series I have strangely found this blog post incredibly difficult to write so I may not be able to continue at length with it. Nonetheless I definitely think you should watch the whole series - it's available on region 1 or region 4 DVD and I'm sure you can find it pirated on the internet if you try hard enough <grin>.
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