This week, we explore the idea of VISUALS maybe being a bad thing. First, we’ve got a segment called: “Music Is Not A Visual Art” And then, we’ll examine David Cronenberg’s Videodrome, the 1983 film.
Support this Show on Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/carlking
In this episode, Carl King shares an essay: Music Is Not A Visual Art and then examines David Cronenberg’s Videodrome (1983)
Subscribe on Apple Podcasts
Subscribe on Spotify
SHOW NOTES / LINKS
Get David Cronenberg’s VIDEODROME
Here’s a thought. When I listen to music, how much am I influenced by, or even tricked, by the VISUAL elements? How much does the look of the musician, or their personality, or their album cover artwork, alter my perception of the music?
The answer is: A LOT. And I wish it weren’t true. So This week, we explore the idea of VISUALS maybe being a bad thing. First, we’ve got a segment called: “Music Is Not A Visual Art” And then, we’ll examine David Cronenberg’s Videodrome, the 1983 film. Understanding is useful, so here we go.
I’m Carl King, and this is The Carl King Show, where EVERY WEEK, we learn about music, filmmaking, and creativity. If you like this show, head over to Patreon.com/carlking, and join for just $1 or $5 per month.
Or send a tip through PayPal or Venmo to username CarlKingdom. Special thank you to my Illusionist $51 level patrons, both Hank Howard III and Chewbode.
Quick shout-out to my music endorsements: Vienna Symphonic Library, Fractal Audio, Ernie Ball Strings, Toontrack, and Millennia Media. Now let’s get this episode Beginned!
CARL KING THE HUMAN UPDATES
Just a few Carl King The Human Updates, and then we will officially get beginned.
1 – You might have noticed, something has changed. No, I didn’t shave my neck beard. It’s still growing in nicely, thank you very much. The correct answer is: The Carl King Podcast is now The Carl King SHOW.
What the heck is with that? Well, last week, noted author Chris Higgins told me that the word Podcast would mean it is AUDIO-ONLY. This show does exist as an audio podcast, but the majority of you, about 10x as many humans, are watching this on YouTube.
Speaking of YouTube, here are some recent comments I received in the past week.
In response to Episode 39, in which I analyzed Devin Townsend’s song “Moonpeople”, L.L. Vynterchilld wrote: “This channel is becoming one of my favorite things on YouTube. Loads of Mike Patton related stuff and now The Dev?! You sir have impeccable taste! Truly a KING EMOJI.”
And In response to last week’s “Don’t Complain About Other People’s Music” segment, Michael Stone wrote: “I am constantly reminded that not everyone has the same listening tools as I do. Playing in a dance band has helped me accept that other people enjoy songs I hate, and then I am actually able to share that joy with them.”
And in response to my Mr. Bungle for Orchestra, the wise YouTube user Fartmunch wrote: “This is pretty sick.”
Thank you to ALL of the very good friends of Carl King who commented. If YOU have a nice YouTube comment to leave me, please do so, because I’d love to hear from you. I might even feature it on an upcoming episode.
And now, let’s move on to This Week’s Motivational Creative Career Motivation of the Week.
And now, let’s move on to This Week’s Conceptual Idea Thought of the Week.
“It’s like a thing I’m concerned about.”
MUSIC IS NOT A VISUAL ART
You might not agree with me about this, but I have something to say about Music.
And that is: Music is not a visual art. PAUSE.
Because unlike painting, or sculpture, we can’t SEE it.
But here are some things we CAN see. And we trick ourselves into believing they are music: People dressing in wild costumes, dancing and jumping around on a stage, making faces, swinging their hair around. Bright, flashing lights. Pyrotechnics. And the worst thing ever invented: Crowds of people.
Those are visuals. And it’s okay if you like visuals. But they’re not MUSIC.
Sure, music is also happening. It’s part of the multimedia. But if it WERE simply “music” you could stay home, close your eyes, and enjoy it with headphones.
Now this should be obvious. OF COURSE music is not a visual art. But it’s not obvious, because we forget. Most of us will go right back to assuming music is all those other visual things.
It’s easy to be fooled by marketing. I sometimes wonder this: as a music listener, how much am *I* influenced by, and even tricked by visual elements? How much does the look of the musician, or their personality, or their album cover artwork, alter my perception of the music? The answer is: A LOT. And I wish it weren’t true.
Because I like to think I’m a purist. I like to think I only care about the music itself. And so I intentionally resist, and ignore all that other stuff. I think to myself: does this piece of music actually sound good to me, or am I only impressed by what the musician LOOKS LIKE while playing it? It shouldn’t matter.
We are all suckers for this, but I believe visuals are FAR MORE OFTEN THAN NOT, a distraction from the sounds. So in my mind, I do my best to put visual entertainment over here, and music over there.
Now why does this matter, Carl? Why be such a snob, or a fundamentalist, about the meaning of the word music? What if the same thing happened with the word Writing?
What if we had events… where Stephen King went up on stage, sat at a typewriter, and clacked away. As loud music blasted from speakers and colors flashed on massive screens. And for some reason we called it WRITING. Because hey, writing IS happening. But that’s just not the correct word for it. There should be a different word. So why do we add all this visual stuff to music, but still call it music?
Because maybe the truth is… music isn’t good enough on its own. Because you and I live in a visual world, and sight is our most powerful sense. So unless you close your eyes at a concert, there will be visuals. You’re going to look at whatever is moving, or whatever seems to be making the sounds.
And musicians don’t have much choice, but to be visual. If you’re a musician, and even if you don’t care about visuals, people are going to watch you. So that brings up the basic question about your costume: what should you wear when playing music for people?
Should you dress the same as you do every day? T-shirt and shorts like a slob?
Or dress up a little bit in a way that’s not distracting? Button-up shirt? Pants?
Or the opposite — maybe a horror mask and a clown suit, like early Mr. Bungle?
Or… what if you use your visual appearance to help communicate the music?
Aha! Maybe that’s the answer. Visuals could SUPPORT the music.
A virtuoso pianist from the 1800s tried that. His name was Franz Liszt. He figured out… that if he turned his piano sideways, so his fingers were visible, the audience went CRAZY. He was quite a shredder, one of the fastest pianists who ever lived.
He took it a step further. He made faces. He flailed his long hair around. And the ROCK STAR was born. His audience grew, and became a phenomenon called Lisztomania. Kinda like Beatlemania. Audiences swarmed him. Women fought to get locks of his hair. Fans collected his cigar butts and broken piano strings.
Was it because his music was great? Honestly, it WAS great. He was a total virtuoso, one of the greatest classical composers. But no, it was that other stuff.
What if so many musicians do that other stuff, that it TAKES OVER? And becomes MORE IMPORTANT than the MUSIC? Sure enough, after Franz Liszt, the other stuff CREPT IN. Musicians who put on a visual “show” got rewarded. More listeners, more fame, more money. But the music got smaller. And smaller.
Fast forward almost 200 years. Now the music is pre-recorded, there’s smoke everywhere, and a giant video screen above the band. It’s like being inside a music video.
In reality, the music video is on tour, and the band goes with it.Rather than the visuals serving the music, the music becomes just the “soundtrack” — and serves the visuals.
In fact, we can even remove the musicians entirely. No actual LIVE music has to be made, like at probably the most watched show of the year, The Superbowl. Just unplug the guitars, and dance around. The show will continue, no problem. BUT what happens if you remove the show? Let’s find out.
In 2007, Joshua Bell, one of the greatest violinists in the world, put on a baseball hat, and took his multi-million dollar Stradivarius into a subway station and played. By himself. For 45 minutes.
1,097 people walked by. Only ONE person stopped and realized what was happening.Why? I think it’s for two important reasons.
One: no one cares about classical music, so No one knows who Joshua Bell is.
Two: we’ve been desensitized. So Music by itself, is just not interesting enough. Without the right visuals, with the show, even the best musicians in the world will be ignored.
Miley Cyrus put on a disguise and did the same thing. But guess what — she drew a huge crowd. Because she’s a visual entertainer.
So here’s what I think went wrong with music. You can think of music as a living creature, that needed to find a way to survive. So it has ADAPTED by attaching visuals to itself. Kind of like a hermit crab.
In a way, you could say music has evolved, but by using a crutch. But in the process, it has become something it wasn’t intended to be. It’s more like it actually MISVOLVED.
So that’s where we’re at. What can we do about it?
Maybe something drastic: All the musicians could form a union and refuse to use visuals. We could go on strike. But, there’s only 12 or 13 paying gigs in the world. So most musicians are already technically unemployed.
The few who do work in music are still so broke, so desperate for work, they’ll be as visual as you want. And as long as the creation of music is filtered through capitalist incentives, that’s the way it’s going to be.
Maybe the change will need to happen on an individual level. So what can you and I do? First of all, remind yourself that music is music. It’s an art form made of sound, and it’s not anything else. Don’t watch music videos, and close your eyes when listening.
Second, if what you do for a living is mostly visual entertainment, with music added in, don’t call yourself a musician. Call yourself a visual entertainer. There’s nothing wrong with that.
Third, support music that is… just MUSIC. Look beyond a musician’s ability to entertain you visually, because the music they make is all that matters. We should reward musicians even if they don’t put on a show.
And finally, maybe this world of hyper-visual entertainment IS ready for a backlash. Maybe we need a new movement of anti-visual musicians. Musicians who refuse to dance, or make faces, or be performative in any way.
Our movement just needs a cool name…
Well, let’s see. It’s kind of like how vegetarians are trying to change things by only eating plants. So what would the equivalent be? Let’s see… vegetables, vegetar-ian… Music, MUSIC-ian. Music-ian. I think that works.
From now on, That’s what we will be. We’ll call ourselves MUSIC-IANS.
DAVID CRONENBERG’S VIDEODROME (1983)
And now, on to This Week’s Analytical Filmmaking Analysis of the Week.
This week’s Analytical Filmmaking Analysis of the Week is David Cronenberg’s Videodrome, from 1983. Screenwrited and Directored by David Cronenberg himself.
When it comes to food, I have simple tastes. I can eat the same macaroni and cheese over and over. It’s a simple flavor and texture, and I want it to be exactly the same experience every time. I already found what I like. I don’t want my food to challenge me. Or TRICK me.
So I can understand why people feel that same way about MOVIES. They want the good people to win, the bad people to lose, and to understand what just happened. They want a clear plot, physical goals, and everything spoken out loud by the sexy famous people. It’s the movie equivalent of me eating my macaroni and cheese. I call that Type 1.
And then there are the films of David Cronenberg. Which I call Type 2. Those are full of Surprise, Abstraction, Ambiguity, Subtlety, Non-Linearity, Ironic Counterpoint, and Conspicuous Slowness. And if you’re looking for those, you’ll find many of them in Videodrome.
Unfortunately, most people want their macaroni and cheese movies. So Videodrome was a box office bomb. While Cronenberg’s previous release, Scanners, brought in $14.2 Million, Videodrome only brought in $2.1 Million. That’s bad, because film studios and investors don’t like losing money. Especially millions of dollars.
Yet in every way possible, Videodrome is a more sophisticated film.
Let’s start with the plot. James Woods runs a UHF TV channel that broadcasts softcore porn. And he finds out about an underground show called Videodrome. He wants to acquire it for his station. And aside from that, he’s not an active protagonist.
He stumbles into ANOTHER plot, which is not even driven by him. It turns out, The Videodrome show he wants, is actually created by an anti-pornography group. And they are using sort of “brainwashing” technology to KILL their viewers.
Anyone who watches it gets brain tumors, hallucinates, and dies. And the reason they’re doing this? To cleanse society of people who watch pornography. But that makes it a circular thing, where they’re causing the exact thing they’re trying to stop.
Anyway, The Videodrome guys want to take over his TV station, to broadcast their mental virus. Since James Woods has been watching Videodrome, he catches the mental virus. He begins to hallucinate, and the film gets pretty surreal from then on.
Still, beneath all of that surrealism, it’s based on a solid Type 1 plot. There are some bad guys with a secret plan, and our main character gets caught up in it.
Let’s talk about some Type 2 elements of this film: Surprise, Abstraction, and Ambiguity.
Starting with Surprise, some of the Surprising moments are: 1 – There’s that whole body-horror thing going on, with James Woods growing a… female sexual organ on his torso. Various video tapes are inserted into him, like he’s a VCR. The tapes brainwash him, turning him into an assassin.
In a later scene, a villain inserts a video tape into James Woods — and when he pulls his hand back out, his hand has transformed into a fleshy grenade. James Woods says, “See you in Pittsburgh.” And the guy EXPLODES. WHAT?!
Now whether those things are happening in the “reality” of the film, or if he is hallucinating them all at that point, we don’t know yet.
Abstraction / Themes
Now let’s talk Abstraction. That’s where, for example, a GUN might not just be a physical GUN. It might represent something else.
So Type 2 films deal with those sorts of symbolism and themes. So what are they in Videodrome?
1 – First up would be video’s negative effect on society: possibly brainwashing us or controlling our minds. Cronenberg was influenced by the ideas of the philosopher Marshall McLuhan (or McLoo-in), who was a professor at the University of Toronto, when Cronenberg attended college.
So the first and most prominent theme is this: in a modern multimedia world, we might have trouble distinguishing the real from the virtual. And I can’t wait for those new Apple augmented reality goggles, so I can see ads on every surface in the entire world.
2 – Second, there is the theme of an art-form “mis-volving.” And if you didn’t catch my explanation in the earlier segment, here it is again. I’m sure you’ve heard of the concept of evolution, where a species will adapt its features over time in order to survive. There’s also de-evolution, which is the concept of a species moving BACKWARDS to a previous form. But what if something could mis-volve? Meaning, if it were to adapt and transform into something we don’t want. Something bad.
I used this term earlier to explain how MUSIC, in an attempt to survive, adapted by trying to be a visual art. And in the case of this story, a soft-core porno TV station, driven by capitalist incentives, misvolved into broadcasting actual torture and murder.
3 – Third, it creatively explores the ideas of Artificial Intelligence and Transhumanism. There’s a character named Brian Oblivion, a media prophet inspired by author Marshall McLuhan. And Oblivion has achieved immortality by recording himself speaking on camera, and then storing his consciousness as a massive library of video tapes.
Those tapes are sent to TV stations for “live” appearances, or as personal messages to friends. Meanwhile, no one knows Mr. Oblivion died long ago. It’s like an analog version of Ray Kurzweil.
And finally, Ambiguity. At the end of the film, we get a Type 2 Ambiguous conclusion. Meaning, we have no idea what really happened to James Woods. By that point of the story, he is hallucinating so deeply, all we can do is speculate.
I’m pretty sure this is the film where David Cronenberg BECAME David Cronenberg. I looked back at Scanners, and The Brood, and Rabid, back in the 70s. I think Videodrome was the beginning of the path that led to the surrealism of Naked Lunch, Existenz, and my favorite Cronenberg film: Crimes of the Future. The one from 2022.
I gave Videodrome 5/5 stars, and a little heart, on Letterboxd.
OK, that’s the end of this Episode of the Carl King Show. Remember to subscribe on Spotify, Apple, YouTube, or anywhere else you consume to these dang episodes.
And if you like this show, support the creation of more episodes by joining my Patreon for $1 or $5 a month. That’s Patreon Dot Com Slash Carl King. Or send a tip through PayPal or Venmo to username CarlKingdom.
And as always, special thank you to my $51 a month Patrons, at the special Illusionist level, Chewbode and Hank Howard III. And thank you to ALL of the Very Good Friends of Carl King for joining me, and as I always say: Death To Videodrome. Long Live the New Flesh.