Imminent Dystopia -- Max Headroom

David Ellis '08, English 65, The Cyborg Self, Brown University (Spring 2005)

The media-controlled dystopia of Max Headroom is only twenty minutes away. Although the acting and script could be better, it entertains and presents the potential for unflinchingly immoral competition among corporations for consumer's money -- and even our bodies. The series uses the cyberpunk aesthetic to parody and critique the system of media that is its source.

Max Headroom is a construct: a quirky and utterly impertinent artificial intelligence. He is a digital doppelganger of Edison Carter, a network reporter who tries to expose the corruption that permeates his world. Max is eventually given respect as a human being, and the computer-savvy youth often save the day.

Although the series is amusing in part because of some ridiculous technical details (like the AI matrix susceptible to a video-encoded subliminal stimulant), aspects of its predictive representation are disturbingly accurate. We are living in media-centered society where viewers are obsessed with spectacularly bad yet addictive programming, and advertisers fight for consumers' money and attention.


1. How do you react to Edison Carter's treatment of peripheral individuals in the show. Is his paparazzi attitude towards these people better than the media giants' commodification of them?

2. Was the show Max Headroom an exaggerated version of existing conditions, rather than a prediction of a possible future? How have things changed (for better or worse) since it was made?

3. Can television be addictive without having "encoded neurostimulants"? If so, how is it different?

4. Are television networks less powerful in reality than in Max Headroom? If so, what prevents them from securing what power they lack?

5. Do media control politics through their (mis)representations?


The Max Headroom TV series (copyright Warner Bros.)

Cyborg OV Max Headroom

Last modified 14 March 2005