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Home > Sci-Fi > Max Headroom M-m-mondays #13: Lessons

Max Headroom M-m-mondays #13: Lessons

December 6th, 2010

Continuing my weekly look back at 1987’s Max Headroom series.

“Lessons”

Written by Adrian Hein and Steve Roberts

“Words are much too valuable to be free. If you were educated, you would know that.”  –Dragul

The Story: Literacy is only available to those who can pay for the restricted cable service, but the Blanks are duplicating educational videotapes. This brings down the wrath of Network 23’s censors, who not only personally conduct Metrocop raids on the illegal schools but suppress Edison’s attempt to cover the story.

Behind the Screens: Back in the day, this episode served as a de facto series finale. Of the eight episodes produced for the second season, five aired in the fall of ’87, and two in spring of ’88. One additional episode (“Baby Grobags”) never aired on ABC; it was unseen in the U.S. until the cable channel Bravo repeated the series in 1995.

The authority of the censors appears absolute. Not even Ben Cheviot can override their decisions. Yet their agents–as represented by the thin-faced and smirking Dragul–answer to a higher power, the CENSOR computer. As Cheviot points out, the continuous flow of televised content is impossible for humans to monitor, therefore the job of protecting viewers from naughty words and dangerous ideas is left to the machines.

One question the script poses but never really answers is why it is that CENSOR is involved in shutting down the Blanks’ use of pirated educational videos. Not even Dragul knows what it is he’s looking for. Presumably, like all good censors, he knows it when he sees it.

Dragul carries a wicked electronic wand which is capable of selectively erasing content from illegal videotapes. Bizarrely, it wipes the on-screen host (“Doc Friendly”) but not the show itself; furthermore, the unfortunate Doc reacts as if he is aware of his deletion.

Bruno the Blank makes a return appearance, this time operating out of a former church. Despite what we were told in the episode “Deities,” Murray suggests that religion has been largely supplanted by television, which has the benefit of better miracles.

The Ratings Report:

Theora’s Level of Concern

How Minutes Into the Future Is This Now?

“Sky Clearance” is a Mardi Gras-like festival that celebrates Zik Zak’s annual destruction of its outdated satellites. Revelers carry makeshift steel umbrellas to protect themselves from the shower of debris. (It must be noted, however, that the satellite chunks dropping onto the set are moving much too slowly to have fallen from orbit.) Dressed for the party, Dominique makes a frightening appearance in a star-spangled leotard.

Shades of Fahrenheit 451, the secret the Blanks are trying to protect is a printing press. The Sky Clearance celebration masks the noise of the press as it prints textbooks and lesson plans for the children of the Fringes. It’s not clear whether books are themselves forbidden, or that they’re denied to the Blanks.

portable phones with huge, retractable antennas  -4 minutes
censorship by computer  -4 minutes (-14 if you’re reading this in China)
literacy forbidden to the poor  +1 minute (not as far off as you think)

= 13 Minutes Into the Future

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