The Independent newspaper recently reported that the British Broadcasting Corporation is designing a television program in which unemployed and low paid workers will compete against each other, The Hunger Games-style, for cash prizes. The idea follows the success of Benefits Street, a UK reality TV show similar to the much-criticised SBS series, Struggle Street, about an area in Birmingham where ninety per cent of the residents are on social welfare benefits.
The newspaper report is one of several recent things that have got me thinking about how aspects of dystopian cinema are bleeding into real life. Another is the fortieth anniversary in late June of the science fiction film, Rollerball. Although derided by critics upon release for its violence, the film is now viewed as one of the high points of seventies dystopian cinema. It has also proven remarkably prescient regarding aspects of the future it depicted.
Rollerball is set in 2018. Nation-states no longer exist but are replaced by huge corporations, each focusing on an aspect of human need: transport, food, communication, housing, luxury, energy, etc. The most popular form of entertainment is a violent sport called Rollerball, and the most successful competitor is Jonathan E, who plays for Houston, the city controlled by the Energy Corporation.