Adam Mazer '08, The Cyborg Self, Brown University, Spring 2005

The television series Max Headroom aired on ABC in the 1987 season. In it, star Network 23 reporter Edison Carter uncovers wrongs perpetrated against society, usually by the network heads, even the heads of Network 23. An unstable A.I., Max Headroom, often provides aid or heckling (in about equal amounts). This show is especially interesting -- even more so than it was at the time, most likely -- to a modern audience due to the oddly, and sometimes scarily, prescient nature of many elements of the series.

Of special note is the eleventh episode of the series, entitled "Whacketts," in which the worst game show ever created mysteriously becomes the biggest show on TV. Edison eventually traces this to subliminal endorphin emitter signals embedded within the broadcast of the program, and with the aid of Max and the small team of technicians at Network 23, manages to purge the program of the subconscious codes and get it removed from the air


1. The concept of artificial intelligence permeates almost all of cyberpunk literature and film. How does Max compare to other AI's in works such as Neuromancer? Is he more or less human than, say, Wintermute, for example? Is an adjective like "human" even applicable to an AI?

2. The "Whacketts" episode presages the current glut of inane reality television shows like Fear Factor. What does "Whacketts" convey about why people watch shows that are obviously bad?

3. The character of Edison is changed substantially in the U.S. version of the show from the original British television pilot (details here). Why must Edison be more heroic for American audiences? Even with the changes, is Edison really a hero? Or does he just happen to be at the right place at the right time?

4. The world in which Max Headroom takes place employs many striking stylistic techniques, such as the juxtaposition of futuristic objects with relics from the past (like the typewriter-esque computer keyboard). Are these techniques successful? Is the world convincing and interesting, or is it merely a hodgepodge of disparate cyberpunk staples? Why or why not?

Cyborg OV Max Headroom

Last modified 18 March 2005