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The medium is the movie

By PETER KEOUGH  |  March 5, 2008

This idea — that the audience is not as much a passive victim of the media as they have been lulled into believing — is implied in The Signal (2008), a recent triptych thriller co-directed by Dan Bush, Dan Bruckner, and Jacob Gentry. In this, a mysterious, amorphous signal has taken over all video and audio transmissions. It drives its victims into orgies of violence. In effect, it’s 28 Days Later, except the Rage Virus is the media.

Diabolically, the signal leaves those in its thrall with just enough rationality to wonder what’s going on. “Am I the only one who is still sane?” they ask themselves, as they butcher someone whom they suspect has the “crazy.” What’s causing this? What can be done? One character suggests they try to clear the noise out of their heads and “focus on the natural world, which was there long before us, and will be there long after we’re gone.” But, they ask, how can we do this when the signal is everywhere? Then they hammer someone with a baseball bat. The answer, he demonstrates, is right in front of their eyes. Just push the damn “off” button.

He who controls the remote controls the media. Don’t wait for John McClane to show up and kick someone’s ass. Take a tip from a better hero, Howard Beale, “the mad prophet of the airways,” in Sidney Lumet and writer Paddy Chayefsky’s brilliant 1976 satire Network. To paraphrase his advice: I want you to get away from your plasma TVs (or laptops, or Xboxes, or BlackBerries or iPod Touches — and be sure to detach the earbuds from your iPod), go to your windows, open them, stick your head out (taking in the real world of birds, sky, wind, people, light) and shout “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to watch this anymore!”

On the Web
Peter Keough's Outside the Frame: http://www.thephoenix.com/outsidetheframe

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