Long Live the New Flesh: Double as a Simulacrum

Long Live the New Flesh: Double as a Simulacrum

  In the last scene of David Cronenberg’s 1983 film Videodrome; the main character Max Renn encounters an image on the television screen that perfectly looks like him. The screen as a threshold of reality, as the harmless outlet of its viewers’ fantasies and frustrations no longer appears to be harmless or safe. It is literally weaponized. Max is taken control by video cassettes in such a way as if the representation, the look-a-like took his place. His individuality seems to be shattered between his mortal being and his immortal representation.

Max says “Long live the new flesh” to salute his shivered immortal electronic double on the television screen. While at the same time his original self is infected, fragmented; completely disappeared in images incapable of encapsulating his reality and only obeys the rules of his copy. “Long live the new flesh” traditionally refers to “the [old] flesh is dead.” It celebrates the arrival of a new master, a new bearer of the potency that replaces the human flesh. Yet, what is replaced with is not human at all, rather a mirror-image belonging what appears to be an another existence from an unearthly region.

The double-motif is here with us since the primitive man. Otto Rank asserts that: “folkloric investigations has shown without any doubt that primitive man considered his mysterious double, his shadow, to be an actual spiritual being.” (Rank and Tucker, 1971, 58) Visions of oneself, initially as a shadow or an embodied reflection were the foundation of some of the superstitious notions spread across centuries and different communities. Likewise, one’s body and soul considered by various beliefs to be a duality, a spiritual double of self-perpetuation; assuring both immortality to one and also announcing one’s own death. Rank’s extensive research on the subject shows that these notions concerning the motif varied from being our guardian spirit to an uncanny imitation that most dangerous to us which we cannot escape from, nor get rid of in a rational way. For that reason, we need to go into the area of irrational, of Freud’s concept of “uncanny” which describes a particular type of anxiety in the subject. According to Mladen Dolar it is “the emergence of something that shatters well-known divisions and which cannot be situated within them;” (Dolar, 1991, 6) a key element of a double. With this kind of emergence, the power of the dreams, as Baudrillard indicated, cannot be destroyed by forcing it into the real, it is remanent. (1994, 95) The objective reality itself is called into question. It absorbs both the real and the imaginary in an imploded state, manipulating in all directions at once.

In the final scenes of the film, as Max seems to be escaping to an abandoned harbor, to shelter; one realizes there is no liberation from the message-signal of the medium, from its terror mechanism. It is unlocatable, deminiaturized in hyperspace without distance or limit. Max’s gradual merging with the media is finally coming to an end: a total absorption. His reality no more renders anything unreal, and also anything as real, this state only opposes to its own. He looks at the television, to his lover Nicki on the screen that is inextricable from her image, which looks back to him; she is literally a person on the screen, she is the person, she is real. She is there to help Max, to show him that death is not the end. Death is manifested as something to be exchanged and she is the proof, the demonstration. This is the phantasy of our technology, of our systems. This is why we have been trying to give technology a heart for centuries; to arise the new bearer, the perpetuator, the new flesh.

It is no surprise that the debut of the twenty-first century gave us the active media storytelling, computer generated narratives, the game simulation, experiential marketing, the social media, even a new photographic style called “selfie” which only includes the photographer oneself in a trivialized space. Similar to what Baudrillard suggested for a map and its territory, it is the person who is losing its form and meaning across the extent of the photograph. (1994, 1) It was the desert of the social that the social media had abandoned. Physical space had lost its early importance for us, it had lost its original meaning. Max talks with the screen, with Nicki; he says that he doesn’t know where he is, that he is having trouble finding his way around. That said, finding a way around is no longer possible for him. The film shows that it can also be possible for the physical to lose all of its references. The pataphysicality is not just evident but also inevitable. It is the side of the double, without the division or preservation or pretending, the mode of irruption, the death of the death, the universe without a mirror-image.

“To become the new flesh, you first have to kill the old flesh,” Nicki says. On the television appears the Max, the TV image, his double; lines of the TV screen reappears, one last indication of its medium; a total transformation of reality, a total intrusion is awaiting. We are unable to ascertain this image’s nature or its almost mythical hidden dimension. The mediating power of media, between one reality and another, between one state of the real and another, is no more. (Baudrillard, 1994, 82) The apparition of Max kneels before the bonfire in the same harbor, puts the deformed gun (the extension of Max’s hand) to its head and looks at the screen, at Max; it is the only gaze, circulating. We still don’t know if it could be the Max himself, if there was still Max. It is a body-horror over the absence of the body along with its references, a postmodern nightmare. The image utters: “Long live the new flesh,” and pulls the trigger. All of a sudden screen shatters, gushing out blood and viscera from inside. An alien organic material ejects itself from the television. The shot in the head seems to be enabled this collision, what is biological must die as another division shatters, an aftermath of his own dematerialization from old flesh to the electronic entity. A secret dimension of everything opens up for Max, to absorb him, to take him to its underworld—it offers both the infernal machine and the infernal region. He exactly repeats what his double on the TV did, it turns out his double brought death for him. He kills himself, while looking at our screen.

Savages believed that the person’s soul is embodied in his image reproduced by glass, water, or by a shadow; they feared that the foreign possessor of this image can have a harmful or deadly effect upon it. (Rank and Tucker, 1971, 65) This is what is recreated, coupled with the Western wager on representation, on the exchange of meaning. The concept of the double is rather versatile, we need to regard the double-image as a self-apparition that eventuates from both inner or exterior forces; an operational mode that opposes to its own. It can directly threaten the ego of an individual and it can cause strong contradictions as an extension of one’s own image and soul. In Videodrome, the double signifies an ineluctable future of shattered divisions, the disappearance of meaning. It is the ghost of oppression, of hypersimulation, of an obsolete death, of a nihilistic ego. Something repressed is now in an indifferent form, artificially resurrected and liquidated. The oppression in Videodrome is unlocatable: “it is fluid, adaptable and always available for redistribution.” (Hampton, 1993, 73) The positions of transmitter and receiver are no more of use. The moral order is emptied. The lost of the mirror equivalent is evident, which threatens to deprive person of identity; but now by the simulation, by the hyperreal. The Freudian theory of narcissism and the permanent structure of subjectivity are annulled by it. Max, TV and Videodrome are in a single nebula whose truth is indecipherable; a single model that simultaneously generates the message, the medium, and the real. (Baudrillard, 1994, 82) Max exactly repeated what his double did; importantly, there was nothing playing on the TV, neither Max was a spectator; they are in an indistinctive mode. And this is the real torture and murder of the Videodrome.

A transgressive real reigns; more real than the real, more destructive of the order of the real than its pure negation. (Baudrillard, 1994, 108) We have another example, the first victim of the Videodrome: Prof. Brian O’blivion, a McLuhanite figure who as it turns out only exists on videocassettes. The video assumes his full meaning. It is the representation, not nature, that has depth in this film. (Roth, 1997, 58) The representation, once cheerful mediator, has become transgressive. “Television is reality,” O’blivion says to Max. Reality TV is no more, it is now the representation that is overly simulated on reality; O’blivion continues: “reality is less than television.” Prof. O’blivion doesn’t live in the genetic code, he lives in a matrix. He is a clone, a hologram that materialized in space by the cathod-ray tube, a mutation. In this medium only the instructions of the original exists and the original is murdered; he is the double of immortality, the double of all lost referentials; a pure non-meaning. Otto Rank’s double now has a new kind of materiality, new realm: a matrix.

Mladen Dolar argues that “there is a specific dimension of the uncanny emerges with  modernity.” (1991, 7) If so, there must also one with postmodernity. The Age Of Reason had involved the destruction of the order of appearances. (Baudrillard, 1994, 159) Premodern societies’ sacred area of uncanny was no more. The order of moral and of puissance changed their symbolic forms. According to Dolar, the uncanny as a product of modernity itself became unplaceable. Modernity had preserved its opposition—at least until now. Now the uncanny became transparent, emerging with the postmodernity’s immense destruction of meaning. It is no longer a counterpart that arouses this animism, at least not by itself; it is the loss of the referentials, in fact, the absence of a counterpart. An automaton can now be more real than real. To Baudrillard, what remains is a fascination over the all forms of disappearance, the disaffection; the melancholia. (1994, 161) Then again, the conflict of judgement without a counterpart still exists, it is what derives the uncanny, it is the product of the hyperreal.

Max is the owner of a pornographic television channel called “Civic TV.” “It’s just a torture and murder,” says Harlan to his boss Max, describing the Videodrome. It is a snuff video series, an anti-media; the pirate broadcast that supposed to be captured by Harlan, the video pirate. It quickly attracts the Max’s attention who has been looking for something tough and more “contemporary” for his audience. Various sadistic imagery is involved in the Videodrome such as electrical shock, whipping, bondage, suffocation—always in the same room. It’s just torture and murder; but for Max, it is porn, his lover Nicki claims as well that it is sex. Max meets up with his agent, Masha, not to mention even the restaurant that they are in appears as an imitation of the exotic, along with its middle-easterner audiovisuality. She warns him: “What you see on that show, [Videodrome] it’s for real. It’s not acting […] It has a philosophy and that is what makes it dangerous.” It is hereafter starting to become something more than a spectacle: there is dangerous people behind it with a philosophy, an underground organization, a concealed view of the world. What its message could be? It will later be obvious that it no longer has one. Baudrillard makes a similar suggestion: “[we are] doomed not to invasion, to pressure, to violence and blackmail by the media and the models, but to their induction, to their infiltration, to their illegible violence.“ (1994, 30) The film notably creates a paranoia towards the media, more than to people around Max.

When Max brings the pirate tape to his home, his home becomes the center of an implosion. The decor is full of oversaturated world of juxtaposed images, everything from printed advertisements to photographs hanging from the furniture, to posters on the walls—an oversimulation without a context. The pirate tape hyperfunctions; Prof. O’blivion explains that the signal of the Videodrome causes a brain tumor for those who watch it, that it causes what he asserted as “video hallucinations.”  O’blivion himself acts as a hallucination of the same nature, he talks directly with Max through the television screen, resurrected from the underworld of images. In this universe, the representation seems to be alive, passed beyond its death and chasing. Max starts to become violent along with this torment, increasingly. “Videodrome is real” is a contradictory statement, yet it indeed becomes the only definition of the real—the raw experience. The real is hereafter less than Videodrome, its order is pierced and degraded by the order of the medium of secretive nature. It is the signal of Videodrome that captures, that is of perverse quality. In other words, everything can only happen within the expanding domain of the medium and its scope of manipulation. The real can no longer appear except locally, in a restricted horizon. (Baudrillard, 1994, 108) The world well-known collides with the unknown dimension of the representation, absorbing both poles, lacking the distinction. A tumor is in fact a malignant monoclonalition without the consideration of context or function for the organism as a whole, in Videodrome, the video hallucination concomitant with the brain tumor does a similar thing to the real. It creates a cancerous simulation. Thus creates a particular kind of anxiety which what is safe or threatening can no longer be defined; if one can think or feel the disappearance of referentials of the real as a noxious, menacing phenomenon. It arises from the loss of distinction, of meaning; which is the tension of the hyperreal, of its closed circuit injecting and reinjecting itself into the real; conceiving its own uncanniness to the mind and to the social; arriving only to its own. At this point, one can argue that a process of advanced simulation can have a direct and profound effect to our psyche—beyond the range of all poles, of all divisions, and diffusing to all directions, playing at all hands. The Videodrome oscillates between ideology and delusion; its terror is to the real, in order to control and annihilate it. The Videodrome is real. And this is its broadest message.