S&MTV is a television station with a difference. It is a pirate television station, broadcast from a top secret location to interrupt right wing channels' output with its own left wing corrective, but hardly anyone knows who the people behind it are. Although the authorities are correct in working out their signal has been sent from a B-52 bomber that flies around the American skies and never lands, all the better to never be caught, they have not managed to prevent it from operating, but all that may be about to change when the prospective Republican candidate for the Presidency, Mrs Westinghouse, asks why the aeroplane has not been shot down yet, and nobody can answer her...
As time goes on, it seems one of the defining American mysteries of the nineteen-eighties is not Who Shot J.R. or why Coca-Cola believed New Coke would be a hit, but who was it that hijacked a Chicago television station with somebody arseing around in a Max Headroom mask? This occurred on November the 22nd, 1987, and has never been solved - the perpetrators may even be dead by now, for all we know, as they never repeated the crime, though there have been occasional television hacks since, and indeed one in Britain in 1977 saw Southern Television, an ITV region, have its evening news overlaid with a strange voice claiming to be a space alien with a message for us.
But in the main, television piracy is extremely rare, though when it came to a movie like Riders of the Storm (also known as The American Way), you may muse over whether the Max Headroom hackers saw this and were suitably inspired as there are similarities between what the characters got up to in it and what the real life criminals did. Certainly the off the wall, subversive humour and use of pop culture were similar - S&MTV uses clips of Captain Blood starring Errol Flynn, for instance, and though this flopped on its meagre cinema release, it was possible the pirates heard about its premise, or at least read a review, before embarking on their audacious break in transmission to emulate the movie's sabotage of the Thatcher-esque candidate.
Which was all very well, but the fact remained the Max piece was always going to generate a lot more debate than Riders of the Storm, for that was a largely forgotten item of UK satire on the US and the TV break-in has endured as a conundrum to this day, probably because it is so easy to find on the internet, whereas the movie's use of classic rock (and not so classic newer stuff) on its soundtrack proved prohibitive when it came to working out the rights for home video or streaming. More than that, there was a desperation to the humour here that, to put it bluntly, simply wasn't funny as the liberals in the United States during the eighties were regarded as a weak bunch in the face of the overwhelming uber-patriotism of the right-wing side of Ronald Reagan and his followers, who by then included the fundamentalist Christians' vote.
This political two-way influence of the Republicans and the religious fundies did not go unnoticed by this effort, and that was taken as the centrepiece of its targeting as the plot demonstrated that the average American would be completely swayed by what they saw on television, even if it was ostensibly against their otherwise deeply held beliefs. If you believed that, then you would probably believe satire such as this would make a great difference in society, when in fact it does little to change anything, you either laugh and move on, or find it easy to ignore or roll your eyes at. This was kind of a science fiction flick in that we were invited to believe a man with a rocket pack could be dropped out of a bomber and glide down to earth to continue the pirates' work on the ground, not to mention the notion that broadcasts were so simple to interrupt so consistently in the eighties. Sixties survivors like Dennis Hopper and Michael J. Pollard were the stars, merely underlining how liberal politics belonged to an earlier generation, though like anything in that arena, they would come around again, which was more than this movie did. Music by Brian Bennett and Simon Webb.