Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Witty Title Not Needed: The Year of the Sex Olympics

Sooner than you think
-- Opening caption to The Year of the Sex Olympics
From the BBC Site:
Nigel Kneale's 1968 cult classic presents an uncannily prescient vision of a future which awaits "sooner than you think", as the pre-title caption informs us. Society is split into two strata: The 'low-drives' comprise the zombie-like majority, mentally anaesthetized by an incessant diet of television, largely consisting of pornography. This includes Artsex and Sportsex, in which grinning 'athletes' attempt to win trophies such as the Casanova Cup and thereby go through to the Sex Olympics.

Television, and by extension the masses, is controlled by the 'high-drives', an educated class who remain servile through their perpetual quest for better ratings and audience subjugation. When a new kind of programme becomes necessary to maintain the public's attention, co-ordinator Ugo Priest turns to comedy, but old fashioned slapstick fails. However, audience reaction soars sky-high when an accidental death is screened live, and a new concept emerges: reality television. A group of volunteers will be placed in a remote house on an island and their every move monitored as they fight, fall in love and fend for themselves.

The Year of the Sex Olympics remains difficult to categorise. It's a provocative, black comedy for much of the first hour but at the same time a character-driven psychological drama as several of the 'high-drives' begin to recognise and act upon compassion, their need for liberty and other impulses which have been submerged all their lives beneath greed, acceptance and the will to rule.

Overall, however, it's difficult not to view the piece as an icily accurate prophecy of media control through banal but manipulative programming. "It was a comment on television and the idea of the passive audience, observed writer Nigel Kneale, "...using porn as a socially beneficial element that turns people into the ultimate passive audience by hooking them on a substitute for sex rather than the real thing and so keeping the population down."

An excellent cast, led by the sublime Leonard Rossiter, does full justice to a brilliant script, and in particular the fascinating, semi-futuristic dialogue written by one of the acknowledged giants of British television.

From Wikipedia:
The Year of the Sex Olympics is a 1968 television play made by the BBC and first broadcast on BBC2 as part of its Theatre 625 strand. It stars Leonard Rossiter, Tony Vogel, Suzanne Neve and Brian Cox. It was directed by Michael Elliot. The writer was Nigel Kneale, best known as the creator of Quatermass.

Influenced by concerns about overpopulation, the counterculture of the nineteen-sixties and the societal effects of television, the play depicts a world of the future where a small elite control the media, keeping the lower classes docile by serving them an endless diet of lowest common denominator programming and pornography. The play concentrates on an idea the programme controllers have for a new programme which will follow the trials and tribulations of a group of people left to fend for themselves on a remote island. In this respect, the play is often cited as having predicted the craze for reality television.

Kneale had fourteen years earlier adapted George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four as a classic and controversial BBC broadcast and the play reflects much of Kneale's assimilation of Orwell's concern about the power of the media and Kneale's experience of the evolving media industry.

Nat Mender: Sex is not to do. Sex is to watch.

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