Doomed by Genius

Gregory Halenda '08, The Cyborg Self, Brown University, Spring 2005

American television rarely innovates; it serves as an opiate to the masses rather than as intellectual stimulation. Even more rarely does television explore the very existence of its own self, or the implications of its prominence. However, one sadly brief television series attempted to boldly go where none had gone before--Max Headroom.

Max Headroom, considered nothing short of genius by its cultish following, truly changed the face of television (no pun intended). Max Headroom, TV host extraordinaire, permeates Network 23 broadcasts as a virtual floating head. Born when kid genius Bryce attempted to extract information from Edison Carter after a tragic accident, the virtual self of Max Headroom acquires both sentience and a personality-a common theme in many cyberpunk novels. Max causes Network 23's ratings to skyrocket.

Max's popularity even carried over to the "real" world. Coca-Cola featured Max in a popular ad, viewable here. While Coke tried to compared their cola's innovation to Max's, the new coke was forgotten as many still regard Max Headroom as the definitive cyber-punk television show to this day. With a bleak future, ruthless corporations, computer hackers, and a blind dedication to technology--Max Headroom had all the makings of an excellent exploration into cyberpunk theory. Unfortunately, Max may have been too far ahead of his time, producers cancelled the series long before it reached its prime.


Many episodes of the series involve TV network corporations devising new ways to control the viewer, regardless of potential harm. Have the producer's fears largely been realized, when compared to the influence television holds today?

While features of Max's character such as his stuttering, blocky appearance, etc., may make him more plausible to us, how do they compare to the perfect, all-powerful sentient programs such as in Neuromancer? Which sort of cyber-reality has greater appeal to the viewer or reader, and why?

Why has the only cyber-punk television series failed, whereas the novels flourish?

Consider Edison Carter transformed into the digital being Max Headroom. Does Max relate to Carter as a simulation, simulacra, or a hyper-real being?

Cyborg OV Max Headroom

Last modified 14 March 2005