In 1987, an unknown hijacker hacked into the broadcast signal of Chicago-based basic-cable staple WGN and overrode the station’s programming, then later that same night interrupted Chicago PBS affiliate WTTW. A man dressed as Max Headroom appeared briefly on both stations—without audio on WGN, making nonsensical comments on WTTW—until engineers were able to restore the signal. To this day, neither station nor the authorities have any idea who was behind the attacks.

Neither the hijacker nor his accomplices have ever been found or identified. Here is a video of some news reports about the incident.

While the act itself is now widely known, the impetus for the hack itself is only really understood the perpetrators, and what sensationalized the event in the first place can only really be unpacked by how harrowing of a metaphoric prediction it is 28 years later, in an era where hacks from collectives like Anonymous are almost commonplace in the news cycle. In the age of the Internet, the night that Max Headroom disrupted the usual routine, transforming the ordinary into the extraordinary, liminalized the real and the unreal, creating a space that we are still trying our hardest and best to define to this day.






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