Monday, 29 February 2016

Max Headroom

Did you hear the Peanut Senator say that RRRRRRRRRRonald Reagan was just a tttttttttalking head? Guess what! Sssssssssso am I! Gonna run for PPPPPPPPPPresident! Yo!

I wonder how many people now remember that mid-1980s TV character Max Headroom? I actually watched the film from which the later TV shows were derived. In the film, the world is ruled by TV companies in a rather Big-Brotherish way - all of them fighting for top ratings, using some very disturbing mind-warping methods that they'd rather keep secret. But there is a fearless investigative reporter who keeps on revealing The Truth. Until one day they finally get him, and turn his brainwaves into a computer-generated persona called Max Headroom, these being the last words he sees as a living person, at the entrance to a multistorey car park. I think he is riding a motorbike in some chase, and doesn't duck in time. I can't quite recall what happens next, but I think they save his head and extract his consciousness from it. But, when transferred into cyberspace, the head takes on a life of its own, and is apt to say all kinds of zany, indiscreet things about the world in general, and becomes a kind of TV guru.

All you ever see is the head, which is not quite naturalistic, having a plasticky look. There is a constantly-moving background of strange lines and patterns, usually set at a crazy angle. Max seems to be mildly tipsy and not in full control of himself, and his computerised rendition is imperfect, so that the picture (and his voice with it) stutters unpredictably. Sometimes all he does is give you, the viewer, an odd look before erupting into a fresh series of highly original observations about contemporary political figures and the shallow, commercialised preoccupations of the 1980s. He says what he likes.

The TV series was short-lived. It was popular for a season - well, I liked to watch it - then the public got bored, as the public easily did in the 1980s, and so far as I know Max was never seen again on UK screens. I dare say he is remembered by a discerning few as a cult phenomenon. There must have been posters and T-shirts. But I doubt whether there were any Max Headroom Annuals at Christmastime.

Personally, I think the concept was engaging and could have modern possibilities. Take the forthcoming Brexit Referendum, for instance. I think one or other side should revive Max Headroom to speak for their side of the argument. So much better than letting David Cameron or Iain Duncan-Smith do it. I dare say that the 'face' of the original Max Headroom is copyrighted. No problemo. A computer-generated Boris Johnson face will (for instance) do nicely.

And if they want to avoid using the faces of real in-the-news people altogether - so that it doesn't matter what outrageous claims or insults are flung about - they could use the face of some nonentity picked at random, someone nobody has ever heard of, a person who doesn't matter, who can't afford to sue or otherwise make a fuss. I'm sure they'd fffffffffffind ssssssssssssomeone.

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Lucy Melford