I just watched The Year of the Sex Olympics . It’s a UK TV drama made in 1968, that was easily 30 years ahead of its time.
It’s a science fiction story of a distant future where the dominant form of entertainment is reality TV shows. A media elite keeps the population sedated through “apathy control”, convincing them that their own lives can never compare to the people on screen. Instead, they have their babies at 16, then spend the rest of their lives just passively watching other people on TV, in what’s known as “the vicarious society”.
The TV shows’ content is entirely driven by ratings; shows will be canceled mid-season or have their content changed if the ratings drop. The results of contests are rigged, based on how popular the winners are with the audience. Advertising plugs are inserted into the “reality” content. People’s language has become filled with phrases they’ve learned from advertising. There are computers that play chess, and other computers that generate animated moving shapes that are played between shows to keep the audience calm while they wait for the next program.
In this unbelievable future universe, art is the thing that people find offensive, because it makes them think, and requires that they actually experience things themselves rather than watch someone else experience them.
The title comes from one of the main TV shows of the distant future, the Sex Olympics. Another show is “The Hungry Angry Show”, in which contestants throw food at each other, and are weighed at the end to see who has managed to eat more. But this programming isn’t working any more; the audience is becoming a little too sedated. Something more is needed. They try simple slapstick comedy, but the audience don’t respond to it.
A troublemaker attempts to jolt the audience out of their complacency by showing them disturbing pictures, art he has created. According to the ratings, the audience are still angry 20 hours later. When he tries to repeat the prank by breaking into the live showing of the Sex Olympics, guards inadvertently lead to his falling to his death on live TV.
The audience find this hilarious, laughing like hyenas. The TV programmers realize they’ve inadvertently found the solution. However, as one of them points out, they can’t kill someone every week.
The solution: two people will be sent to a deserted Scottish island, to fend for themselves as people did in “the old days”, growing crops and killing animals for food. Cameras will be hidden in their shack and around the island, recording 24 hours a day. The result will be the new reality TV show, “The Live-Life Show”.
In one particularly cutting scene near the end, the TV producer who was one of the volunteers tries to tell his daughter a bedtime story, and realizes that although he can program a reality TV show, he has no idea how to actually tell a story–so he resorts to saying “I like you… I like you…” until she goes to sleep.
Of course, by this point the TV producers have decided that they need to spice things up a bit. They put a previously exiled psychopath on the island with the volunteer family to make sure there’s some good drama. The play ends with the audience howling with laughter at the grisly bloodbath they just vicariously experienced.
Yeah, pretty unbelievable stuff eh? Thank goodness a ghastly future like that could never happen…