Sunday, 3 May 2009

The Year of the Sex Olympics (1968)

The Year of the Sex Olympics was done by the BBC in 1968 as part of their Theatre 625 series. It’s essentially a TV movie. Writer Nigel Kneale is probably best-known for his classic Quatermass serials that revolutionised TV science fiction in the moid-50s. The Year of the Sex Olympics is still science fiction, but combined with some of the most savage satire directed at the media that you’re ever likely to see.

At some point in the future things have become so bad, with wars and civil unrest and violence, that the government has resorted to an extremely successful policy called Apathy Control. The idea is that the masses are allowed to watch, but not do. It’s been discovered that if they’re allowed to watch unlimited amounts of explicit sex on television they’ll be perfectly satisfied to do nothing else other than watch TV. There’s nothing useful for them to do anyway, and so the best thing is to keep them “cool and cozy.” All decision-making is in the hands of a small elite, the High Drive people, and the Low Drive people just get upset if they have to think about anything.

Tony Vogel is Nat Mender and Vickery Turner is Misch, co-presenters of the Sportsex program. Nat has a child with Deanie, who works on Artsex. There are no families any longer, but High Drive people can still have permission to have children although they don’t actually raise them. Despite having two High Drive parents, their child Keten is showing disturbing Low Drive tendencies.

The prediction of reality TV is terrifyingly accurate, and the cynicism about media audiences is overwhelming. This society of the future seems uncomfortably close to the reality of our own times, to both the reality TV craze and to the consumption of sex at second-hand on the internet. It isn’t just about reality TV, but a satire on the media in general and the use of media as social control. There are hints of 1984 as well, with language being simplified into a kind of mindless textspeak that is incapable of articulating genuine emotion or thought. It’s a combination of Survivor and Big Brother with a bit of Facebook and Twitter thrown in.

Unfortunately the audience just aren’t responding to all the sex and longer. So it’s decided that perhaps what they need is laughter. That should be a harmless release. But all attempts to get the audience laughing fail, until one day a rogue technician is accidentally killed on camera.The audience erupts into gales of laughter. Thus reality TV is born. A new program, Live-Life, is devised, in which a couple and their child are left on an island to live the way people lived in the Old Days. They’re told the island is uninhabited but in fact a psychotic killer is also placed on the island, because TV requires some drama. The audience will be able to experience Old Days emotions vicariously, like fear and grief and horror.

Leonard Rossitter is memorable as the Co-Ordinator of TV programming. The very 60s costumes (with lots of paisley) may be off-putting to some, although I thought they were fun. Despite the surface kitschiness this is a very dark and pessimistic production, much darker in tone than Kneale’s earlier Quatermass stories. It’s difficult to find, but well worth the effort.

No comments: