Max Headroom: Thirty-Year Celebration Reblog - Truth, Justice and the MetroCity Way

 There was once a disparaging comment about believing in something simply because “I saw it on TV.”  Max Headroom takes that tension and makes it a central theme.  Many episodes deal with what people see and how easily they can be duped and the cavalier attitude that people in power have toward the truth.

In a media and corporate-driven society, ratings are cash and cash is power.  If one has enough cash, one has enough power to shape truth to whatever form is most expedient to increase ratings and thereby increase revenue.

In this world, network executives realize that they are playing fast and loose with the truth, but that knowledge is of no concern. One board member of Network 23 accuses Network 66 of theft by “falsifying ratings,” to which Network 23 Chairman Ben Cheviot responds “Nonsense, its merely ethically dubious, perfectly normal practice.” [1]

The same episode focuses tightly on the role of media and its manipulation of the truth.  Theora Jones, controller for ace reporter Edison Carter exclaims that their rival has moved past simply reporting the events and on to creating them, with the dire statement that “they’re manufacturing their own truth!”[2]

Theora’s outrage is somewhat suspect when we realize that even Network 23 is not necessarily above a little manipulation in order to get what it wants.  Murray says as much when we notes that “Pictures don’t lie, at least not until you’ve assembled them correctly.”[3]  In another episode, even Edison and Theora stoop to the same practice by recording politician Simon Peller refusing to issue an order to free the Blanks he has had arrested, then using a “data rescan process” to present video evidence that Peller had, in fact, capitulated.[4]

In the season two episode “Grossberg’s Return,” the former chairman of Network 23, Ned Grossberg, has taken a position on the board of 23’s rival Network 66.  He neatly maneuvers the board into ousting its current chairman and getting elected to the position himself.  His position on matters of truth and falsehood is reflected in two statements.  The first is an observation by Edison Carter that Grossberg is a “man who regards truth as a market commodity,” in other words, as something that can be bought and sold without much thought as to its use or its consequences.  The second statement is an admission from Grossberg himself: “What, after all, is one more lie?”  Finally, we can see how this cynical attitude is pervasive throughout this episode in the following exchange between Edison Carter and the Network 66-sponsored candidate Harriet Garth:
Edison: “We’ll see where the truth lies.”
Harriet Garth: “The Truth lies, all right, Mr. Carter. We saw the pictures.”

Closely allied with truth in this series is a notion of justice.  It seems that justice is reserved in the city for those who have the power to fight (or pay) for it.  Those without the means to do so often find themselves disenfranchised, disparaged, and disengaged from any opportunity for a better life.  In the third episode of the first season (though apparently the second episode produced), Edison encounters a young man from outside the city who had come into town with his girlfriend to sell blood in order to have some money to live.  When Edison learns that the girlfriend was kidnapped, he asks why weren’t the MetroCops (local police) notified.  The young man replies “I can’t afford to buy law.” “Justice is cash flow, my son,” Blank Reg clarifies.[5]

When a Blank is arrested in the roundup ordered by Simon Peller, it is noted that she has an off switch on her TV – a criminal offense.  She is then taken to be tried in a secret court in which a computer adjudicates her crime.  She objects stating that she knows her rights and refuses to be “judged by a machine.” The court functionary rejects her plea.  “You don’t have any rights – you’re a blank!” he snorts.[6]

In another episode[7], Blank Reg is arrested for “signal zipping,” which is interrupting a network television feed, and is considered a “terminal offense.”  As he is a Blank, that is, a person whose entire history has been erased from all computer databases and are thus able to live completely ‘off the grid,’ there is no way to determine if Reg has a criminal past.  So, they upload his personality template into something called the “Career Capacity Malfeasance Program,” which matches his template with unassigned criminal profiles.  Since there is no way to prove that he is not in fact the person represented by the unassigned template, there is sufficient cause to try him. This disgusts Reg’s friend Edison Carter: “Template matching isn’t justice, its convenience.”

His trial is put on the network’s premier justice program, “You the Jury,” which allows viewers to determine the innocence or guilt of any person tried in its studios.

I am reminded that just a few years after the Max Headroom series went off the air, the nation thrilled to the criminal proceedings of the State of Californian vs. O. J. Simpson. The former football player was on trial for the murder of his ex-wife and a young man who apparently was in the wrong place at the wrong time.  This was followed by the cable channel Court TV (later renamed TruTV) and followed by criminal prosecutor-turned-TV commentator Nancy Grace.  Many cases today are tried in the court of public opinion, and justice is often subverted as a result.

Truth and Justice are inextricably linked for the Christian. In the Old Testament, we read the story of King David’s seduction of Bathsheba, a woman who was not his wife. When she discovered she was pregnant by the king, David attempted a deception by bringing her soldier husband home from the front so he could have a conjugal visit.  When that failed, he arranged for the man to be killed at the battlefront.  God’s spokesman, a man named Nathan, confronted the king with his deception and his act of injustice in the sanctioned murder of the king’s loyal subject and Bathsheba’s husband. [8]

Truth must always be the counterpart of Justice; they can never be separated.


[1] “Grossberg’s Return” (episode 203, 10/2/87)
[2] Ibid. In an earlier episode (“War”, episode 105, 4/28/87), there is some light banter between characters. One says “Since when has news been about entertainment?” “Since it was invented” was the quick response.
[3] “Grossberg’s Return”
[4] “The Blanks” (episode 106, 5/5/87)
[5] “Body Banks” (episode 103, 4/14/87
[6] “The Blanks” (episode 106, 5/5/87)
[7] “Academy” (episode 201, 9/18/87) Would this be considered a cyberpunk version of ‘racial profiling?’
[8] 2 Samuel 11:1-12:12

Popular posts from this blog

Max Headroom: Thirty-Year Celebration Reblog - Future Tense

What I'm grooving on, Summer 2016 edition

Skylab's Skyfall