By: Gillian MacLeod
Videodrome follows a Toronto television programmer named Max Renn as he looks for the next shocking show he can put on air. He discovers the show Videodrome which depicts a room of people being tortured and attempts to get the rights to it by sending his girlfriend Nicki Brand to audition for the show.
The movie is a comment on Canadian television at the time, specifically CityTV which aired a large amount of softcore porn after hours. Videodrome comments on the desensitization of audiences by the broadcaster, which would continuously attempt to find more shocking television to air in order to get more viewers. There are a few more clues that connect the movie to CityTV such as one of the tv executives being named Moses, a jab at CityTV founder Moses Znaimer (Toronto Film Scene, 2015) and also the company Max works for being called CivicTV (Fleischer, 2012). While this issue is not specifically Canadian, Videodrome places it in the heart of Toronto and exposes this problem within our own country.
The film also does not attempt to hide the fact that it is a Canadian film. Aside from the playful use of CivicTV to connect it with CityTV, it is quite obvious that the film is shot within Toronto as well. TTC streetcars are shown passing in the streets, as well as the CN Tower in the background. At one point when it is revealed that the Videodrome signal is coming from Pittsburgh, one of the characters comments that it is in the USA (Fleischer, 2012).
This brings out another theme that is wholly Canadian - a fear of American media and it’s pressing presence in Canada. It has always been known that American media, especially Hollywood, has been a dominant force even within Canada. Videodrome addresses this invasiveness through a character called O’Blivion, who says “The battle for North America will be fought in the video arena” (Shakes, 2012). This is also shown physically as the Videodrome invades Max, eventually destroying him. Videodrome explores the idea that American media is invasive towards Canadians as it attempts to incorporate us within their audience and destroy our own idea of Canadian culture (Balzer, 2014).
Cronenberg’s films, including Videodrome, go very much against what is typically considered Canadian cinema - realism and documentary. Instead it does something which, of itself, can be considered Canadian. Videodrome, in it’s grotesque horror and indie film feel, keeps it away from what is considered Hollywood film. It does not fit within popular convention, which makes it something outside of that. This is a kind of Garrison Mentality, which is the idea that Canadian artists will isolate their work, in this case from American film, by making it so obscurely different from the norm. Instead of appealing to a wide audience in which the film can relate to as many people as possible, Videodrome is an internal work, meaning that it relates to Canada and Canadians (Balzer, 2014).
Perhaps what helped Cronenberg in creating such a Canadian film was the availability of Canadian funding at the time Videodrome was released. Videodrome was the last of Cronenberg’s tax-shelter films, a program introduced in Canada to encourage the production of Canadian films. The institutions that funded these films were given between 60 and 100% tax-exemption. As well, in order to be considered a “Canadian film”, “it had to be at least 75 minutes long, have at least one producer and two-thirds of the ‘above the line’ creative team who were Canadian, and perform at least 75 percent of the production and post-production services in Canada” (Handling, McIntosh, & Magder, 2017). Videodrome not only dealt with Canadian themes and issues, but also supported its own industry in the process.