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Sunday, October 15, 2017

Max Headroom Episode Seven: The Academy

Episode Name: The Academy

Premise: Blank Reg is accused of zipping (hacking) Network 23's transmissions, but the real culprits are students at the network's Academy of Computer Sciences, for whom Bryce is covering up.

Theme explored: Logic versus emotion. Bryce, in his attempts to cover up for the academy students, uses logic to determine that there is no harm in diverting attention to an innocent person because the evidence will show the person is innocent. However, Blank Reg is different because, given that he chose to wipe out his entire record, the networks use a "criminal profile" to determine the likelihood that he may have committed the crime -- a profile also based in logic. Or in other terms, a computer algorithm determines the likelihood of guilt.

It raises the question about the usage of computer alogrithms to come to conclusions. We have seen this become an issue in how posts are removed from social media accounts, or said accounts are suspended, based on what an algorithm determines, rather than an actual person examining the post or account to determine what is really being posted. And given the nature in which the academy teaches its students, in which they are taught to think in terms of logic rather than emotion, how that may not be a good thing when some situations may require a determination of "right or wrong" that is based more on emotion than logic.

Also critiqued was the trend at the time of broadcasting court cases for entertainment purposes (The People's Court was in syndication at the time this episode was taped). The critique comes in Blank Reg's trial, which is broadcast on the Network 23 show "You The Jury," in which the prosecutor and judge behave more like game show personalities and everything is treated as an event. It begs the question about how far you go in taking legal cases and broadcasting them for entertainment purposes rather than informational.

Max Headroom quotes:
"I happen to be living above the mainframe and just watched the show."
"As they said to King Charles I on the scaffold, are you going to go quietly or do you need a push?"
"Me smirk? It's not in my program."

Personal observations: This was one of the better episodes of the series. The writers were hitting their stride by this point, exploring a main theme that wasn't solely about critiquing television but finding a way to fit a critique of the media into the show. And in our debates today, there's always the struggle between using logic (data, algorithms, etc.) versus emotion (feelings, conscience, etc.) to determine what is the best solution to a problem.

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