A Guided Videodrome Review using ChatGPT

I’m in the midst of preparing for AI106, and I wanted to finally dig in a bit on ChatGPT using some of the advice proffered by Middlebury’s prompting poetry exercise “It’s Not Magic, It’s Math.” I wanted to start with a very basic review of David Cronenberg’s Videodrome (1983), and then try and ask the machine to get more topical and eventually theoretical by invoking Marshall McLuhan. The prompting is increasingly more biased by my own sense of the film (or things that I’ve read elsewhere), so the responses were not necessarily revelatory—I was in many ways asking it to give me what I wanted. That said, it is able to bring together a bunch of cogent ideas around the film quite quickly, and holds up as a basic summary review/reading, which does make you wonder if math and magic don’t overlap a little bit 🙂

GIF of Dr Oblivion as an 80s AI chatbot

My final question was more of a fact-finding mission to see if there is any evidence that Cronenberg studied with McLuhan at the University of Toronto, something I believe I heard, but may have hallucinated. Turns out McLuhan was teaching there while Cronenberg attended the university, but Cronenberg never took a course with him, which a quick Google search also confirms. I’m not sure exactly what this establishes, maybe that the machines can compile and regurgitate a lot of summary information very quickly. Or perhaps that I am obsessed with Cronenberg and Videodrome? Maybe both, but the fact that Videodrome was about a shifting sense of consciousness due to the rise of mass media and the resulting hallucinations certainly tracks on what a lot of people are talking about with AI. The idea of Dr. Oblivion as the VHS-based AI from the 1980s is fascinating to me in this regard, and gives the genius that Michael Branson Smith created with Oblivion University yet another layer of metaphorical richness. Once you give the chatbot a voice and a bit of a persona/attitude, the power of those responses enters new territory of Uncanny Valley.

Can you write a short review of David Cronenberg’s 1983 Videodrome?

Certainly! “Videodrome,” directed by David Cronenberg and released in 1983, is a mind-bending exploration of the intersection between technology, media, and the human psyche. James Woods stars as Max Renn, the CEO of a small television station searching for edgy and provocative content. His quest leads him to “Videodrome,” a mysterious and disturbing broadcast that blurs the lines between reality and hallucination.

Cronenberg’s film is a surreal journey into the dark recesses of the human mind, where the boundaries between the real and the imagined become increasingly blurred. The narrative is filled with surreal and grotesque imagery, embodying the director’s trademark body horror aesthetic. The film’s prophetic take on the dehumanizing effects of media and technology feels even more relevant in today’s hyper-connected world.

The performances, particularly James Woods and Debbie Harry, are compelling, adding a layer of authenticity to the unsettling narrative. The practical effects used to bring the bizarre and nightmarish visions to life are a testament to Cronenberg’s mastery in creating visceral and disturbing cinematic experiences.

“Videodrome” is not a film for everyone, as it delves into challenging and thought-provoking themes. It’s a cult classic that has gained a reputation for its bold and unconventional approach to storytelling, pushing the boundaries of both horror and science fiction genres. If you appreciate films that challenge conventions and explore the darker corners of the human psyche, “Videodrome” is a must-watch that continues to resonate with audiences for its daring and visionary storytelling.

Can you ay more about the use of television and VHS in this film as a kind os substance abuse?

Certainly! In “Videodrome,” David Cronenberg uses television and VHS technology as a metaphor for a kind of substance abuse, exploring the addictive and mind-altering effects of media consumption. Max Renn, the protagonist played by James Woods, becomes increasingly obsessed with the mysterious and disturbing content he discovers on Videodrome, a pirate television broadcast. The film presents a narrative where exposure to this extreme and provocative media has a transformative impact on the viewer, akin to a drug.

Much like substance abuse, the characters in the film experience a loss of control over their own perceptions and realities. Max Renn’s descent into the dark world of Videodrome is marked by hallucinations, blurring the lines between what is real and what is a product of his altered mental state. The film suggests that the constant exposure to graphic and violent imagery has a profound and deleterious effect on the human psyche, akin to the destructive consequences of substance addiction.

The use of VHS technology, a popular medium for home video consumption in the 1980s, adds another layer to this metaphor. The accessibility and ease of replicating and distributing VHS tapes parallel the idea of a dangerous and contagious influence spreading rapidly, much like a drug epidemic. The film reflects concerns about the potential harm that unregulated and extreme media content can inflict on individuals and society as a whole.

Cronenberg’s exploration of the addictive nature of media and its potential to reshape human consciousness is a central theme in “Videodrome.” The film serves as a cautionary tale about the power of mass media and the psychological toll it can take on those who immerse themselves in its most extreme and distorted forms.

Can you use Marshall Mcluhan’s theories of media to offer an analysis of Videodrome?

Certainly! Marshall McLuhan’s theories of media, particularly his famous phrase “the medium is the message,” can be applied to analyze David Cronenberg’s “Videodrome” in a thought-provoking way.

In “Videodrome,” McLuhan’s ideas about the impact of media on society are mirrored in the film’s exploration of the symbiotic relationship between technology and human consciousness. The concept that the medium itself shapes and influences the message is evident in the film’s narrative, where the Videodrome signal becomes a transformative force, altering the perceptions and realities of those exposed to it.

McLuhan also discussed the idea of media as an extension of the human senses. In the case of “Videodrome,” the television and VHS technology act as extensions of the characters’ sensory experiences, blurring the boundaries between the virtual and the real. McLuhan’s emphasis on the immersive and participatory nature of media finds resonance in the film as characters become not just passive consumers but active participants in the dark, hallucinatory world of Videodrome.

Moreover, McLuhan’s exploration of the global village, where communication technologies shrink the world into a more interconnected and immediate space, can be seen in how the Videodrome signal spreads and connects individuals on a mass scale. The film suggests that the media, in this case, has the power to create a shared, albeit disturbing, experience that transcends traditional boundaries.

Additionally, McLuhan’s ideas about the numbing and desensitizing effects of media are reflected in the film’s portrayal of the characters’ gradual acceptance and normalization of extreme and violent content. The medium of Videodrome becomes a kind of drug that desensitizes its users to the moral and ethical implications of their actions.

In conclusion, “Videodrome” serves as a cinematic exploration and critique of McLuhan’s theories, particularly regarding the transformative and participatory nature of media. The film engages with the idea that the medium itself, in this case, the Videodrome signal, is a powerful force that not only communicates a message but fundamentally shapes the consciousness and behaviors of those who engage with it.

Can you find any research to establish Cronenberg was a student of Marshall Mcluhan?

There is no credible evidence or research to suggest that David Cronenberg was a student of Marshall McLuhan. Cronenberg is a Canadian filmmaker and director known for his work in the horror and science fiction genres. While both Cronenberg and McLuhan are prominent figures in Canadian cultural history, there is no indication that Cronenberg studied under McLuhan or had a direct academic connection with him.

Marshall McLuhan was a media theorist and professor, best known for his influential work on media studies, particularly his ideas about the medium being the message and the global village. His academic career was centered around his work at the University of Toronto, where he taught from 1946 until his death in 1980.

David Cronenberg, on the other hand, attended the University of Toronto but pursued a degree in literature. He later shifted his focus to filmmaking and gained recognition for his unique approach to the horror genre, incorporating elements of body horror and psychological tension into his films.

While both Cronenberg and McLuhan have made significant contributions to Canadian culture, there is no evidence to suggest a direct mentorship or academic relationship between them. Cronenberg’s filmmaking style and thematic choices may have been influenced by cultural and intellectual currents of the time, but any connection between Cronenberg and McLuhan appears to be more indirect and contextual rather than academic.

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4 Responses to A Guided Videodrome Review using ChatGPT

  1. Scott Leslie says:

    Fwiw Americans may not fully understand McLuhan’s status in Canada in the 60s and 70s. Whereas globally he is significant and notable but also one amongst MANY who are notable and significant, in Canada he was our rockstar, and at a time when Canadian national identity was in high gear (our centennial was 1967.) All of which is simply to say – Cronenberg need not have studied directly under him to have still been incredibly influenced, there was little that wasn’y in the 10-15 year period of his heyday.

    • Reverend says:

      Scott! How cool to see you here, and thanks for the comment. That totally makes sense, and I guess that question was more related to a detail to see if Cronenberg studied with McLuhan and then based Brian Oblivion on him (which was just as useful as a Google search, so no real sense to the AI piece). And your point that Oblivion would be based loosely on him regardless of their direct relationship given his sway on the broader culture points to how I am missing the forest for the trees a bit.

      Fact is, I have torn quite a bit about the rise of AI, I have deeply mixed feelings about building a web based on auto-tuned responses like this, but at the same time I am trying to organize a course around some of this stuff to help make sense of it. We’ll see how that goes,

  2. Alan Levine says:


    Oh ChadGPT is such a chipper persona.

    I remain gobsmacked that it can quickly churn out a quite thorough and smoothly written response, all from having word occurrence statistics from the corpus it read (including all of Wikipedia.

    At the same time, I find the “voice” nauseating, a bit snooty as knowing everything and responding like a formula perfect essay — like the second response having the last three paragraphs open with “Moreover…”, “Additionally”, and “In conclusion”

    I keep feeling impressed at what it does and bored with the way it writes (and it’s not really writing”

    So it is the perfect engine for Dr O

    • Jim Groom says:

      The voice is very 5 paragraph essay, and the ease in which humorless content can fill the web definitely highlights the Dark Forest of the web effect you have referenced recently. I almost feel cheap copying and pasting so much easily gotten text from the content machine, but at the same time the fascination with these nuggets of statistical serendipity can transfix my imagination, and your use of the images for the 50s scene with Aunt Nora and the matchbox was so powerful, but not because of the AI image, but the story that got you there, part of what’s missing here for sure—-videodrone, McLuhan, and Cronenberg can just become data points with a sense of excitement and passion. I think the shortcomings in poems seem to capture this most for me

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