Piracy, 1990 style

No, I’m not talking about Napster or Morpheus or Kazaa. I’m talking about pirated radio, like Radio Caroline. Pirate radio takes center stage in the Christian Slater movie Pump Up The Volume, where the storyline is based around the son of a school administrator who has just moved to Paradise City, AZ from New York who transformed his shortwave transceiver into an FM transmitter.

Using a voice-changing machine, he broadcasts at 10 pm to the students of Hubert H Humphrey High School as Happy Harry Hardon, who encourages listeners to send in their advice. During one of the first broadcasts, we see someone type into a computer “Do you think that I should kill (myself?)”, which is printed out and sent to Harry (it’s classified on IMDB as a continuity error, but if you think it over, it makes sense). Unfortunately, the sender of that letter wound up taking his life, and Harry wound up taking the flack for it. He was going to discontinue broadcasts after this, but he was inspired by Nora, the only person to figure out that it was him based on the revelation of how he spent his lunch hour. This led to a massive uproar in the school’s faculty, and the students were also taking his advice to be themselves by setting a lot of graffiti on the walls and ceilings of the school. In the end, Happy Harry got put off the air, but his message was out there – and a lot of other teens started their own pirate radio stations.

One of the major themes of the movie is to not be who someone wants you to be – be who you want to be. The most obvious example is Harry (whose real name in the movie was Mark) – when he was on the radio he was very open and willing to talk, but whenever he was seen in scenes around the school, he would always have his head down and not want to interact with anybody. His parents expected him to be like he was when he was Back East, but he never fit into the school, at least as himself. When he put the Harry face on, he became who he wanted to be – open and willing to tell people what he thought of things. The pivotal moment for this is right after the suicide, when he encourages his listeners to actually be themselves.

An interesting note, on the technical side – on the last night of his broadcast when the FCC had started to look for him (and where the Commissioner said that it was people like Harry that were the problem with free speech), and he had made the decision to go mobile, technically the receivers in the school carpark should have been experiencing some mobile fade – it’s a common occurence when the source of a broadcast is moving. But it is a movie so it doesn’t have to be fully accurate to be good. šŸ˜‰

Overall? It’s a good movie with a great message – be yourself. It’s seen in everything from the students to the school itself, where the principal is suspended for expelling “bad” students just so that she can tout the school’s record as having the highest SAT scores in the state. However, she lied about expelling them and retained the public money from their existence in the school’s population.

Some loose ends –

What crimes did Mark end up being charged with? They had discussed pornography and solicitation, and charging him with being involved in the suicide.
How did his parents react to actually finding out that it was him? He had narrowly escaped (with the assistance of Nora) their wrath after the mass meeting and in the last scene, his father was more concerned with the shady dealings of the principal it would seem.

3 thoughts on “Piracy, 1990 style

Comments are closed.