Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Welcome To Bill O'Reilly's Videodrome

FOX News commentator Bill O'Reilly is back in the news, I see, as a self-styled crusader against the current trend of "torture porn" horror movies. That's right: the conservative advocate of our country's "harsh interrogation" methods in the real world finds all the Karo-syrup gore flooding our neighborhood multiplexes troubling and objectionable.

This is obviously a publicity ploy, just as it was when Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel did something similar with the slasher films of the early '80s. Sad to say, it seems to be working; every message board I frequent, as a participant or lurker, seems to have a posting or thread on the subject. Unlike Siskel & Ebert, who actually saw the films they were criticizing (even if they overlooked the fact that the MPAA had disembowelled most of them before granting an R rating, as well as the strong feminist statements later discerned by Carol Clover and other writers), O'Reilly is proudly crowing that he hasn't actually seen any of these films -- but since when have informed opinions been his strong suit?

Earlier this week, Bravo ran a special called 30 EVEN SCARIER MOVIE MOMENTS, a sequel to their previous 100 SCARIEST MOVIE MOMENTS. Because these moments were culled largely from movies made since the last sequel, a lot of them were gruelling torture highlights from SAW, SAW II, WOLF CREEK, HOSTEL (the #1 choice), and others of their ilk. The #4 choice was David Cronenberg's VIDEODROME, a 1982 movie about an imaginary cable channel that allows a privileged class of people to watch scenes of torture and murder. While watching 30 EVEN SCARIER MOVIE MOMENTS and seeing VIDEODROME placed within this context, I had the sudden realization that Cronenberg -- whose intentions in writing the movie were largely satirical -- had in fact predicted this recent turn of events in the horror genre, much as his early "venereal horror" movies SHIVERS and RABIDS had anticipated the rise of the AIDS virus.

After all, what is 30 EVEN SCARIER MOVIE MOMENTS but a concentrated form of VIDEODROME? And how bizarre that it was shown on a commercial cable network with all the R-rated gore intact but with the details of a couple of naked women's bodies digitally opaqued in the film clips, which is actually what I found most offensive about the program! What is wrong with people that all this violence against the human body is acceptable but the body itself is an unacceptable offense? (That's a whole other discussion, right there.)

Personally speaking, I don't care for these films either, even if they are well crafted; I've never been a gorehound, and furthermore, I don't like what these films say about our society (however true) and wouldn't like what they said about me if I enjoyed them. That said, I still grudgingly respect and appreciate them for providing the mirror which they hold up to our very sick society; that's what the horror film has always done. If we don't like what they're showing us, that should be our cue to change.

After the 30 EVEN SCARIER show ended, I remembered that, in Cronenberg's film, VIDEODROME was eventually revealed to be a program circulated by arch-conservatives to transmit cancer-causing agents into the brains of the "scum" who are titillated by that sort of "entertainment." So maybe Bill O'Reilly has better reasons for not seeing these films than you think.

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