Max Headroom
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The series featured computers and a frightening, high-tech, TV-centric culture "20 minutes into the future," as each episode would begin. Long before there was an Internet, a World Wide Web, e-mail, and cyberculture, this TV series displayed it all in amazingly accurate ways:
  • It predicted the integration of video, TV, and computers, which is just getting underway now into the new millennium with digital TV.
  • It predicted remote control of video cameras through computer terminals, much as is being developed through today's Web cams. And remote, radio connections between mobile computers (and video cameras), and central Web computers, such as has been implemented by IBM, FedEx, and other companies.
  • It predicted "intelligent agents" in computer programs (Max Headroom himself, and the talking parrot programmed by the character Bryce in some of the early episodes), guiding the usage of software, much as has been implemented by Microsoft (the talking paper clip in Office 2000, the now-defunct "Bob" software interface, etc.) and others.
  • It predicted the integration of computing with on-screen video images & linked databases, such as have been developed for today's PCs with video teleconferencing technologies such as Microsoft's NetMeeting.
  • It predicted the use of Internet-like e-mail to cast election votes, such as is commonly done for taking polls nowadays by CNN and many other Web sites, and as is done by Web page-hit counters. And some states are now talking of instituting political elections via Internet.
  • It predicted the rise of "BlipVerts" as advertising, in the use of short ads that flash constantly-moving and -changing images to the viewer because the viewers' attention spans had become so increasingly short.
  • It predicted the common occurrences of computer viruses, tapeworms, timebombs, and Trojan horses as ways of defeating other programs. In fact, one episode showed Max invading an enemy's computer network with an image of a wooden Trojan horse! Of course, today, these are well-known hackers' (crackers') products.
  • It predicted what is known today as "page-jacking," or the surrepticious taking over of another's Web page, calling it "zipping" (of an online broadcast station's signal) in one episode.
  • In the same "zipping" episode it introduced the idea of on-line shopping.
  • It predicted, in a sense, the clandestine use of Web anonymizers or ways of being online without being tracked, calling the people who can do this "blanks."
One deliberate "miss:"
  • But, interestingly, one facet of computing it did not depict was the use of alternate input devices, namely, the mouse! However, an inside source to the production of the show tells me that this was intentional. The reason apparently is that Producer Peter Wagg always thought that ultimately we would house our new technology in more familiar primitive objects, meaning that computer mice would no longer be used. And far from being a "miss," this is just what is evolving in today's computing world, with microchips appearing in cars, clothing, kitchen appliances, and who knows what else.
In one episode, the court system was depicted as a computer that decides the outcome of legal cases. The defense and prosecuting attorneys slide computer disks into the computer and it provides the decision. Ridiculous? Consider that the April 4, 2000, issue of PC Magazine (p. 87) had an article on, an automated Web site that settles insurance claims and lawsuits, notifying the litigants when they have come within 30 percent of the dollar amount for which they'd willingly settle the claim. Also consider that the November 2000 issue of Ziff Davis Smart Business for the New Economy (p. 84) noted that in Espirito Santo, Brazil, traffic accidents and minor offenses "receive immediate verdicts from an artificial intelligence program running on a portable computer."

This is "twenty minutes into the future," right now!

The opening show of the series depicted use of "blipvert" ads on TV that flash images so quickly that watchers are compelled to stare at the screen. The images act as subliminal messages.

In the episode, a small proportion of TV viewers watching blipverts had a fatal physiological reaction -- they had an epileptic-like fit (and some would explode!).

Sci-fi you say?

Consider an article on "TV: Are You Addicted?" in the February 2002 issue of Scientific American (by Robert Kubey and Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi), which describes the adverse physiological effects of blipvert-like television images:

In 1986 Byron Reeves of Stanford University, Esther Thorson of the University of Missouri and their colleagues began to study whether the simple formal features of television -- cuts, edits, zooms, pans, sudden noises -- activate the orienting response, thereby keeping attention on the screen. By watching how brain waves were affected by formal features, the researchers concluded that these stylistic tricks can indeed trigger involuntary responses and "derive their attentional value through the evolutionary significance of detecting movement... It is the form, not the content, of television that is unique."

...Annie Lang's research team at Indiana University has shown that heart rate decreases for four to six seconds after an orienting stimulus. In ads, action sequences and music videos, formal features frequently come at a rate of one per second, thus activating the orienting response continuously.

...But increasing the rate of cuts and edits eventually overloads the brain.

And physiological effects could be terrible:
In 1997, in the most extreme medium-effects case on record, 700 Japanese children were rushed to the hospital, many suffering from "optically stimulated epileptic seizures" caused by viewing bright flashing lights in a Pokemon video game broadcast on Japanese TV.
Other Max episodes showed how society fell into chaos when power was cut and the TV screens went blank. Viewers (who included everyone in society, since, in Max, having an "off" switch on your TV set was illegal!) would suffer extreme withdrawal symptoms. Again, the Scientific American article mirrors this bit of fiction as fact:
Within moments of sitting or lying down and pushing the "power" button, viewers report feeling more relaxed. Because the relaxation occurs quickly, people are conditioned to associate viewing with rest and lack of tension. The association is positively reinforced because viewers remain relaxed throughout viewing, and it is negatively reinforced via the stress and dysphoric rumination that occurs once the screen goes blank again.
Again, Max got it right by predicting the rise in blipvert-type advertising and the negative effects it and TV in general has on watchers.

Much of the dialogue on the show in the boardroom of the (maybe not-so) ficticious "Network 23 (XXIII)" reflected actual conversations with network executives.

The original stage name of the head of Network 66 (the rival station to Network 23) played by actor Charlie Rocket was "Brandon," because at the time Brandon Tartikoff was head of NBC and Brandon Stoddard was head of ABC. ABC executives absolutely turned down the argument that "Brandon" was a common name and could be used. Nice try. (The final stage name used in the American series was "Ned Grosberg," the character who started off as second in command at Network 23 and switched to become head of rival Network 66.)

Network 66 was so named as a "tribute" to The Omen.

The Japanese corporation on the show is named "ZikZak," which is an homage to the French cigarette rolling papers named "Zig-Zag" which were popular in the 1970s and 80s for rolling more than just tobacco.

The head of the ZikZak corporation was named ... Ped Xing. Remember that the next time you cross the street.

Max also made a somewhat back-handed tribute to Asian, particularly Japanese, business. Max displayed them as imminently successful, competitive, and ruthless as major market forces, and that our economy and marketplace would need to bend to integrate them. (This was also a theme in the film Blade Runner, of the same era as MH.) This was a few years before Japan exploded onto the technology scene. At the time, most TV depicted Middle Easterners, not Asians or Japanese, as the bad guys in such situations.

Incidentally, from the birth date and age given for Bryce Lynch (in the novelization by Steve Roberts), it can be deduced that "Max Headroom" (at least the British version) takes place in the year 2004.

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