Posts Tagged ‘dystopia’

RachaelAspies

This is the first in a series of essays on popular culture and neuroscience. I’m starting with my favourite movie, Blade Runner (1982), and the novel  Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968) on which it is based, partly because I have been obsessed with both since I was a teenager, but mostly because I can write about both from inside the condition these texts illustrate: autism, and in particular the autistic spectrum disorder still referred to as Asperger’s syndrome” or “Asperger’s disorder.”

It may sound a surprising claim Blade Runner as an autistic film to anyone used to more literal representations of autistism in films like Rain Man (Barry Levinson, 1988) or Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (Stephen Daldry, 2011) but in many ways Blade Runner is the Aspie” [1] film par excellence.

Most films about autism are targeted at non-autistics, reflect the non-autistic values and assumptions, and are ultimately and ultimately designed to meet their emotional needs. Many revolve around finding a cure: in Change of Habit (1969), for instance, Elvis Presley, in his last film role, cures an abandoned autistic girl by hugging het close and telling her she has to learn how to love people.  Sometimes the direction of cure is reversed:  caring for his autistic brother Raymond (Dustin Hoffman) redeems the selfishness of yuppie Charlie Babbitt (Tom Cruise). Either way the autistic experience is framed within the point of view of the non-autistic. But Blade Runner is different; Blade Runner largely dispenses with the non-autistic point of view.

Blade Runner features no characters explicitly identified as having Asperger’s Syndrome; in fact few of them are even human. When Blade Runner was made Asperger’s was barely recognised in the English speaking world (Lorna Wing translated Hans Asperger‘s work in 1981 when the film was already in production). Yet every character, human or otherwise, displays recognizably autistic spectrum (AS) traits – as I will hopefully demonstrate!

The film also reflects the experience of alienation, social exclusion and prejudice common to aspies; what’s more, the film’s intense auditory and visual style and obsessive attention to surface detail mimics the local precedence bias of autistic perceptual processing and induces an effect of sensory overload aspies are familiar with. It features a diagnostic test that bears an uncanny resemblance to tests used in the assessment of autistic spectrum disorders. But most importantly of all, the major theme is one which is of particularly salience to Aspies; the notion that empathy is constitutive of being human, and that a deficit in this often vaguely defined quality is used the marginalise and discriminate against certain groups by denying them humanity (hence the title of this first part).

And to top it all the film features an actress who was herself diagnosed with Asperger’s. (more…)

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‘I Just Want to Talk to Someone!’

After the success of Ridley Scott‘s Apple Macintosh advert, 1984, the director returned to sf that decade with a series of cyberpunk-themed adverts for Barclays Bank which drew explicitly on the style of  Blade Runner (1982).

Each advert is set in a noisy, overcrowded, dystopian near future world in which the protagonist traverses some kind of bureaucratic nightmare as they pursue adequate banking services. At the end of each advert the protagonist is magically transported to a 1980s Barclays bank were they are met by a human representative who, because of changes in fashion and a near total blandness, now appears more sinister than anything else in the advert.

”Query” features former Astronauts (1981) star Barry Rutter as Mr Paxton. His increasingly fraught attempts to get a personal loan eventually leads him to encounter a seemingly human bank manager who is actually plugged into a computer through a socket into the back of his head. The manager is played by Tony Aitken who appeared as a madman in the Blackadder II episode ”Money” (1986), and as the ”Merry Balladeer” in the closing titles for that season.

In ”Queue”, Gwyneth Strong, later to find fame as Rodney Trotter‘s wife, Cassandra, in Only Fools and Horses, plays Mrs Webb on the quest for an overdraft.

Unfortunately I have been unable to find any cast information on the third film, ”Stracey”: if you know more, please let me know.

The very impressive optical effects were created by the Peerless Camera Company Ltd, Covent Garden, who have also produced optical effects for all of Terry Gilliam‘s films, and also the cloud effects on James Cameron‘s Aliens (1986).

Query
Queue
Stracey

Space

Hat tip to Bob, Smudge64 and Brad and the gang at The Mausoleum Club for cast details.

Sources

Lass O’Gowrie, Manchester, 13 July 2012

Starring: Alastair Gillies (Nat Mender), Claire Dean (Deanie Webb), Howard Whittock (Coordinator Ugo Priest), Louise Hamer (Misch), Benjamin Patterson (Lasar Opie), Will Hutchby (Kin Hodder), Michelle Ashton (Keten Webb), Phil Dennison (Grels, Medic), Leni Murphy (Betty/Executive/Nurse/Melamine). Writer: Ross Kelly, from the teleplay by Nigel KnealeDirectors: Ross Kelly and Daniel Thackeray. Producer: Gareth Kavanagh.

The Year of the Sex Olympics is the fourth production by Scytheplays, a Manchester-based theatrical group specializing in science fiction: previous productions have included Kevin Cuffe’s black comedy The Say Can Blues, an adaptation of Alan Moore‘s The Ballad of Halo Jones, and Together in Electric Dreamsan original comedy drama  about a the struggle between Sir Clive Sinclair and Alan Sugar for control of the British personal computing market (far more fun than it sounds!). It is based on Nigel Kneale‘s play of the same name, which was first broadcast in 1968 as part of BBC2‘s drama anthology series Theatre 625.

Watch, not do

Set in a hedonistic future owing much to the dystopian world of Aldous Huxley‘s Brave New World (1932), the play presents us with a society stratified between the brightener-popping ruling class ‘High Drives’ of Output Area 27 and a mass of ‘Low Drives’ kept passive on a diet of broadcast pornography. Kneale’s script calls it a ‘McLuhanised world’ (McLuhan‘s The Medium is the Massage, an immediate bestseller, was published a year earlier) in which television is used to ”massage” the sensorium, the seat of sensation, into passivity.

According to Kneale, his inspiration for the play came from two theatrical productions rather than television: the hippie musical Hair, which featured full frontal nudity, and Kenneth Tynan‘s bawdy theatrical review Oh! Calcutta!, to which Tynan had invited Kneale. He tied these public displays of permissiveness to popular ’60s concerns with overpopulation and civil unrest:

The Year of the Sex Olympics was a double comment. First of all it was a comment on television and the idea of a passive audience. At that time, the population was a very hot topic and it was also the time when Hair was on and people were saying ”lets put porn on stage”. So I put these ideas together and took them to their logical conclusion, 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.”

— Nigel Kneale, Interview with Julian Petley & Kim Newman

Nat Mender (Alastair Gillies, a great improvement on Tony Vogel in the TV version) is a television producer on the Sportsex channel, currently broadcasting The Sex Olympics. Nat is, in the words of Kneale’s script, ‘a decahedral peg in a nonahedral hole’; his fellow programmer, the ambitious Lasar Opie (Benjamin Patterson), fits in perfectly. The third member of their team is the shallow presenter Misch (Louise Hamer) with whom Nat is having a loveless sexual relationship. Misch speaks of the viewing audience with contempt but Hamer plays Misch’s insecurity well: her hatred springs from the knowledge that her fame and beauty are transitory.

Nat also has a daughter, Ketten (Michelle Ashton) with Deanie Webb (Claire Dean), both of whom who he clearly cares for, though he is unable to express this love in terms that sound anything other than selfish (Gillies struggles to articulate his feelings despite his impoverished language are among this production’s highlights). Deanie shows more compassion for her daughter – though she describes herself as ‘the mother’ not ‘her mother’. When Nat and Deanie visit their daughter at the Child Environment Centre where children are raised without their parents and it appears she has been diagnosed as Low-Drive Nat is angry:

NAT: It all goes on my record! And your record too! What about that!
For an instant Deanie hardly grasps his meaning. Then she is on her feet and at his shoulder, whispering fiercely:
DEANIE: Stop it! Think about her!

Coordinator Ugo Priest (Howard Whittock, stepping ably into the shoes of the great Leonard Rossiter) is old enough to remember the old times – or at least remember people who remember the old times – before Apathy Control. He retains an articulacy rare in this world but is a passionate advocate of apathy, expressed with the zealotry of the convert:

PRIEST: Yes. I am an old days man. The big break-through when they found the sheer power of watching. It took ’em a long time. Old days, they always said there were things you couldn’t show, things you mustn’t say. You ever hear the word ”pornography”? (Nat shakes his head). ”Censor”? (Nat shakes his head again) Ah. Meant a man that… Well, he’d have put a stop to all this. all of Sportsex, Artsex – the lot.
NAT (baffled): Why?
PRIEST: Stupidness…
He takes another brightener. Nat wonders obscurely if he is being got at.
NAT: Like… Like I stopped that kinky team in there?
PRIEST (shaking his head): A censor stopped things being taken too far. We stop ’em from not going far enough. (He sucks at the brightener) But then this breakthrough. They found that if they screened everything… and screened it real kingstyle… then basically the audience would make do with that. In place of the real thing. Take all the experience at second hand and just sit watching, calmly and quietly.
NAT: Watch, not do.
PRIEST: Watch, not do – that’s when it started. Of course they wondered if it would work. well it’s what we’ve got out there now. And we know it does. the vicarious society..
Nat, who has been sucking brighteners fast, stares.
NAT: Vic -victorious?
PRIEST: Vicarious. Means substitute. This-for-that.
NAT:
Oh, this-for-that.
PRIEST: Sorry, Nat. Dropping into old-days words. With thinking about those times. (Kindly) There was such a word, ”victorious”. To do with war..
NAT
(more confidently): War was… a kind of tension.
PRIEST:
Right. And riots, and crises. Too many people in the world. I remember the old slogan: ”Fight fire with fire, sex with sex!” They dosed it – (he waves his hand round them) – with this. Doused everything in the end. No more tensions, nothing. Just cool.

The Live Life Show

Priest recognises that the audience is growing bored with sex and tries to introduce programming that will tap another bodily response – laughter. But his crass attempts at introducing comedy programming – custard pie fights and other slapstick – fail to raise a smile despite his insistence that this is what the audience wants like a demented cross between Gaius Sempronius Gracchus, Joseph Goebbels, and TISWAS‘  Chris Tarrant.

When aspiring artist Kin Hodder (Will Hutchby) accidentally dies on air during a protest provoking howls of laughter from the audience, Lasar Opie conceives of The Live Life Show, a live Reality TV show featuring a family on a remote Scottish island. Nat and Deanie volunteer, and take their daughter with them, perhaps hoping to create their own Walden, well away from the stresses and obligations of Output. (Since Co-ordinator Priest seams such an apt name for a preacher for the faith apathy it perhaps isn’t stretching it too far to read Nat as Natural and Mender as Healer.) For the first few minutes of this second half of the play we experience some sense of hope even if the conditions Nat and his family are to live under are harsh: they are a family at last – and that’s where stories end happily isn’t it?

Thereafter, the play becomes increasingly dark as the upwardly mobile Opie begins to manipulate their lives further for the entertainment of the audience. The family are not alone on the island: there’s the mysterious Grels (Phil Dennison at his creepiest) and his sullen partner Betty (Leni Murphy, in one of four roles in this production). Even Priest is shocked as events unfold.

There is some effective use vignetting to switch between the island and the Output crew in the second half of the play. The Salmon Room is a small intimate venue and the production makes as much use of the space as possible. The sets consist of little more than a console at which the Output crew direct their programmes and monitor audience response and there are few props: this is a production that rests on the actor’s commitment to the script and the audience’s imagination. The audience is much more implicated in the drama than the TV version, as sitting at home it is much easier to pretend the diegetic audience represent someone else: here we are complicit in the actions onstage. We don’t have recourse to feeling smugly superior to an imagined audience.

Reduced Language

Language reduction is a major theme of the play; the reduced language, Ad Speak, is a notable constructed language, owing something to the Newspeak of George Orwell‘s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) – the difference being that while Newspeak was deliberately designed by a ruling oligarchy to prevent Party members from thinking unauthorised thoughts – committing ‘thoughtcrime‘ – the language of Sex Olympics has reduced itself naturally as words and concepts have become obsolete. Here, Nat struggles to articulate his thoughts about Will Hodder’s paintings:

NAT: Still not feel I got… the right words for it. They got to be somewhere. Where they go, Co-ordinator? Why they go, all those words?
PRIEST:
People didn’t need ’em. They got out of having the thoughts so the words went too. 
NAT:
Thoughts… (Slowly, making a discovery) Those pictures were thoughts!
PRIEST:
Eh?
NAT:
That what they felt like. Old, old thoughts you had… Real jumbo thoughts you forgot you ever had ’em… until you saw!
PRIEST:
Bad thoughts.
NAT:
Why bad?
PRIEST:
If they upset people.
NAT: 
Just the way they came out. You know, I can feel ’em now in my head. But I got no words for ’em.
PRIEST: 
They hurt?
NAT:
Just the way they came out. You know, I can feel ’em now… in my head. I can think ’em. But I got no words for ’em.

There are no Thought Police in Kneale’s world as thoughts police themselves: the most chilling fact of Kneale’s dystopia is that it is one the populace have entered willingly. Yet Kneale is no linguistic determinist: Nat can feel his thoughts even if he cannot articulate them. He may be trapped in a prison-house of language but can see through the bars.

Adjectives and verbs are interchangeable in Ad-Speak (MISCH: They sick me too). The language is also slightly Russified like the Nadsat of Anthony Burgess‘ A Clockwork Orange (1962): Ad Speak largely omits definite and indefinite articles (”the”, ”a”, ”an”), a characteristic of Russian Grammar. There are fewer tenses, there are few cupulas to link the subject of a sentence with predicates, and word order is more flexible than English. Certain slang terms also  suggest a Slavic root (”bubbies’ from ”babushka”, for instance) and character names like Misch (derived from the man’s name Mikhail, but which has, like Nikita, been adopted as a woman’s name in the West) reinforce this impression. Kneale wasn’t suggesting that the UK had been invaded by the Soviet Union though, any more than Burgess was; more that nation states have lost all definition in a media saturated world. To use another ”McLuhanism” we are all part of the same ”Global Village”. (In the TV version the cast adopt a distinctly transatlantic accent). The cumulative effect is that Ad Speak sounds like it has been imperfectly translated from a language which has no native speakers. The cast, veterans of The Ballad of Halo Jones, are experienced enough with futuristic sociolects to make it sound natural.

Nigel Kneale… Prophet?

Most of the reviews have been along the lines of Nigel Kneale: Prophet but Science fiction isn’t prophecy and shouldn’t be judged as such – though there’s an almost irresistible temptation to discuss the play with reference to the ways in which it accurately anticipates some developments in television – in particular Reality TV shows like Survivor (1992 – Present) and Big Brother (1999- Present). Reality TV actually dates back as far as Candid Camera in 1948, and the Up Series had begun broadcasting with Seven Up! in 1964, so Kneale is deconstructing contemporary ’60s television here rather than predicting future developments. Correspondences between the play and contemporary reality are largely due to our ability to create signal from noise, and are a fine example of the Texas Sharpshooter fallacy.

The play is as interesting for what it ‘got wrong’ as what it ‘got right’. Science fiction isn’t about prophesy, and Kneale wasn’t ‘predicting’ the future, so when I use the phrase ‘got things wrong’ I’m not really suggesting Kneale was actually trying to predict the future – still less that his play should be judged accordingly; I would argue that science fiction attempts to do something different, and should be judged as an expression of the present rather than an experiment in futurology. One subtle and interesting way that The Year of the Sex Olympics is ‘correct’ is the way it shows that ‘Reality’ TV is actually constructed, not simply broadcast: Opie manipulates the events on the island, and is selective in what he broadcasts – denying the audience information about what caused Ketten’s fall, for instance, in order to increase suspense.

There’s a lot of sex and violence on television these days – but it’s largely restricted to imports from subscription channels like HBO and Showtime. There’s an awful lot less sex on mainstream TV than the 70s, and very little nudity: compare Russell T Davies‘ almost chaste Casanova (2005) with Dennis Potter‘s raunchier 1971 version, or the feeble Bouquet of Barbed Wire remake (2010) with the 1976 original; compare the casual nudity of Monty Python’s Flying Circus (1969-1974), Not the Nine O’Clock News (1979-1982), Whoops Apocalypse (1982) or Hot Metal (1986-1989) with their ‘daring’ equivalents today. No ’70s cop show was complete without a shot of this week’s celebrity guest-shag getting out of the hero’s bed and buttoning up her blouse, or a raid on a strip joint. For a short while in the US it was even possible to discuss watching hardcore movies like Deep Throat (1972) or The Devil in Miss Jones (1973) in polite company: celebrities including Martin ScorseseBrian de PalmaTruman CapoteJack Nicholson and Johnny Carson have admitted having seen the former. The New York Times Magazine even coined the term ”porno chic” – but the mainstreaming of pornography did not long outlast the decade.

What Kneale didn’t foresee was the combination of feminism and a conservative backlash which made nudity – largely synonymous with female nudity – less acceptable on UK TV. People talk about sex more on TV, there’s much more strong language, and homosexual themes are more openly represented, but this has largely been a pragmatic consequence of the campaign against AIDS that began in the Eighties rather than an a result of the ‘permissive society’ or a ‘loosening’ of morals. There’s some hardcore content in movies these days, of course, even in the UK, beginning with Lars von Trier‘s The Idiots (1998), and continuing with  Catherine Breillat‘s Romance (1999), Baise-Moi (2000), Intimacy (2001), Vincent Gallo‘s The Brown Bunny (2003) and Michael Winterbottom‘s 9 Songs (2004), Shortbus (2006), Destricted (2006) and Trier’s Antichrist (2009) – but those are independent art house movies, often subtitled, consumed by a more middle-classes audience – the High-Drives of Kneale’s play – rather than the working-class Low-Drives. There’s also a quite a bit of simulated sex on subscription channels (Hung2009- Present, Game of Thrones2011- Present) but the audience figures for those are small compared with mainstream terrestrial television or subscription sports channels.

The consumption of pornography on the internet is still something looked upon as a dubious activity no matter how many people do it, and it is not regarded as socially acceptable as watching the latest Lars Von Trier movie. The so-called ‘adult channels‘ available in the UK are also heavily censored. The First Amendment guarantees the freedom to produce and distribute pornography in the USA but it remains a religious and conservative country; Janet Jackson‘s accidental ‘wardrobe malfunction‘ during  Super Bowl XXXVIII provoked a level of public outrage  not seen since 9/11 and led to an immediate crackdown on perceived ‘indecency’ in broadcasting. Explicit pornography has not become mainstream.

Nigel Kneale… Artist?

Kneale’s view of the audience as passive and sadistic is also too pessimistic. If anything, Kneale fails to appreciate how overly moralistic the public are. When audiences heard that Celebrity Big Brother 2007 contestant – and ultimately winner – Shilpa Shetty was the subject to racist comments by the other contestants, Jade Goody became the most hated woman in Great Britain since Myra Hindley: the controversy generated over 300 newspaper articles in Britain, 1,200 in English language newspapers around the globe, 3,900 foreign language news articles, and 22,000 blog postings on the internet. Jan Moir‘s comments following the the death of Boyzone singer Stephen Gately in 2009 earned her widespread vilification and the Stonewall Bigot of the Year Award (jointly with Father John Owen), and Jeremy Clarkeson‘s joke at the expense of BBC ‘impartiality’ lead to an equally strong reaction from the PCS. People don’t enjoy watching other people suffer unless they believe they have done something to deserve it – and the play gives the diegetic audience no reason to hate the protagonists. Suffering produces sympathy, not shadenfreude; the Ethiopian famine provoked Live Aid, not laughter.

Kneale was a perceptive critic of television as well as a great writer – but he was as vulnerable to moral panics as anyone else, and like many great writers TV writers (Paddy Cheyefsky, Dennis PotterAaron Sorkin) takes television at it’s self-flagellatingly low estimation of its own worth. Too much emphasis on ”Nigel Kneale: Prophet” has undervalued his true worth as ”Nigel Kneale: Artist”.

Kneale had an extraordinary imagination and a flair for conveying a fictional world through language alone that transcended his chosen medium. Until recently TV has been regarded as a disposable medium compared with literature or film; the BFI DVD release is out of print and expensive. Don’t miss this rare chance to see an excellent production one of Kneale’s finest works.

Future Performances:
Also check out:
Read More:
  • Blumenthal, Ralph (1973) ”Porno chic; “Hard-core” grows fashionable-and very profitable”, The New York Times Magazine, 21 January 1973
  • Burgess, Anthony (1962) A Clockwork Orange
  • Danthackeray (Dan’s blog)
  • EvansRobert O. (1971) ”Nadsat: The Argot and Its Implications in Anthony Burgess’A Clockwork Orange (pdf) in Journal of Modern Literature, Vol. 1, No. 3 (Mar., 1971), pp. 406-410
  • The Fiction Stroker (2012) The Year of the Sex Olympics – LIVE!” (Review)
  • Huxley, Aldous (1932) Brave New World
  • Jameson, Fredric (1972) The Prison-House of Language: A Critical Account of Structuralism and Russian Formalism
  • Kneale, Nigel (1968) The Year of the Sex Olympics – The Screenplay (pdf extra on the BFI DVD release)
  • Lowe, Tracey (2012) ”Greater Manchester Fringe: The Year of the Sex Olympics – Lass O’Gowrie, Manchester” at The Public Reviews (Review)
  • McLuhan, Marshall (1964) Understanding Media
  • (1967) The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects
  • Murray, Andy (2006) Into the Unknown: The Fantastic Life of Nigel Kneale
  • Orwell, George (1949) Nineteen Eighty-Four
  • Petley, Julian & Kim Newman (undated) ”Interview with Nigel Kneale”, Video Watchdog No. 47
  • Newman, Kim (2003) Sleeve notes to the BFI DVD release.
  • Scytheplays (Homepage)
  • Thoreau, Henry David (1854) Walden; or, a Life in the Woods
On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like “1984.”

—e

”Today, we celebrate the first glorious anniversary of the Information Purification Directives. We have created, for the first time in all history, a garden of pure ideology – where each worker may bloom, secure from the pests purveying contradictory truths. Our Unification of Thoughts is more powerful a weapon than any fleet or army on earth. We are one people, with one will, one resolve, one cause. Our enemies shall talk themselves to death, and we will bury them with their own confusion. We shall prevail!”

Prometheus (2012) has been hailed as Ridley Scott‘s first return to science fiction since the classics Alien (1979) and Blade Runner (1982) – but this isn’t quite true. Scott also made this 60 second Apple Macintosh advert, 1984, in 1983. The advert was a coproduction between Apple Computers and Chiat\Day, and was written by copywriter Steve Hayden, creative director Lee Clow, and art director Brent Thomas, and shot at Shepperton Studios in the UK.

1984 was famously broadcast in the USA on January 22, 1984 during the third quarter of Super Bowl XVIII but contrary to popular belief, it was not broadcast only once: it hadpreviously been shown in the 1am sign-off slot for KMVT, Channel 11 in Twin Falls, Idaho, in order to qualify for that year’s advertising awards, and a 30 second version had been shown in cinemas by ScreenVision.

The advert cost $400,000 to make with an additional $500,000 spent on airtime. The impact it made however, is estimated to have generated $5 million of free publicity.

The advert begins with a high angled shot of a vast cylindrical chamber, criss-crossed by transparently walled walkways. Through these walkways, which are lined by television monitors broadcasting political propaganda, we see grey, drabbly dressed, shaven headed and androgynous figures marching – or being marched – towards a large hall dominated by an enormous telescreen on which we see a Big Brother-like figure continuing the speech we heard in the walkways. Many of the workers wear breathing apparatus suggesting pollution – or possibly a fear of biological contamination. The speech praises unity and conformity of thought; his delivery and language – that of ”a garden of pure ideology” menaced by ”pest purveying contradictory truths” – deliberately evoke the speeches of Hitler and Stalin, Mao and Mussolini.

This sequence is intercut with slow-motion shots of an athletic young woman dressed in shorts and vest, carrying a large hammer, and being pursued by visored, fascistic-looking police. The woman is tanned, wears red shorts, and an Apple Picasso t-shirt, and represents the only colour in this dreary dystopian future. As the speech builds to its climax, and the rows of drab workers stare transfixed at the screen, the woman throws the hammer at the screen, which explodes showering the shocked audience with dust. The text ”On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like “1984.” then scrolls up the screen.

The future portrayed owes an obvious debt to George Orwell‘s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) – particularly the ”Two Minutes Hate” sequence – and this is confirmed by the text; the notoriously litigious (indeed, Orwellian) estate of Orwell issued a cease-and-desist letter to Apple and Chiat/Day in April 1984 and it was never broadcast afterward except in retrospectives about adverts. It also shows a visual debt to George Lucas‘ THX 1138 (1971).

The advert stars discus thrower and actress Anya Major, who would also star as ”Nikita” in the video of the Elton John song of the same name. ”Big Brother” is played by David Graham, a voice artist who had played Daleks in their first four Doctor Who outings, ”The Daleks’‘ (1963), ”The Dalek Invasion of Earth” (1964),  ”The Chase” (1965) and ”The Daleks Master Plan” (1965-66), and therefore no stranger to voicing fascistic figures. Graham is most famous as the voice of Parker in Gerry and Sylvia Anderson‘s Thunderbirds (1965), in which he also voiced Gordon TracyKyrano, Captain Hansen, and others; he would be more visible in Doctor Who as the barman Charlie in ”The Gunfighters” (1966), and as the ill-fated Professor Kerensky in ”City of Death” (1979). The workers were cast from among 200 skinheads.

The stunning cinematography was by Adrian Biddle (1952-2005) who had previously worked as a clapper loader on Scott’s The Duellists (1977) and focus puller on Alien (1979); he was hired as cinematographer for Aliens (1986) by James Cameron on Scott’s recommendation, and would work on Scott’s  own Thelma and Louise (for which he received an Oscar nomination, 1991) and 1492: Conquest of Paradise (1992). Other sf included Danny Cannon‘s disappointing Judge Dredd (1995) and Paul W. S. Anderson‘s entertaining Alien-rip-off Event Horizon (1997). His last film as cinematographer, which was dedicated to him, was James McTeigue‘s V for Vendetta (2006).

It was edited by Pam Power at The Film Editors, London.

The ”Big Brother” figure – identified as ”Prophet Mentor” in the text on the telescreen – is generally interpreted as representing IBM, which dominated the home computer market at that time; Steve Jobs certainly interpreted it that way when the advert was shown to Apple’s annual sales meeting in Hawaii in October 1983. Copywriter Steve Hayden denies this intention, however:

The real villain was our collective fear of technology, not a corporation either real or imagined…

The first version of the spot was more Jetsons than Metropolis. The intention was to remove people’s fears of technology at a time when owning your own computer made about as much sense as owning your own cruise missile. We wanted to democratize technology, telling people that the power was now literally in their hands.

If you can remember back that far, the Cold War was still pretty hot. Reagan was in the White House, and the Soviet Union was the Evil Empire. We knew that if fax machines could bring down dictatorships, personal computers could do infinitely more. The Big Brother of the spot wasn’t IBM—it was any government dedicated to keeping its populace in the dark. We knew that computers and communications could change all that.

Steve Hayden, 1984: As Good as t Gets”

Ironically Apple itself would later be seen as representing the same authoritarian ”big business” that this advert was satirising: Motorola, developers of a rival Smartphone, portrayed Apple as Big Brother in their own Superbowl commercial in 2011.

The advert was not popular with Apple’s board. Apple had originally bought two minutes of advertising time during Super Bowl XVIII: as an indicator of their lack of confidence in the ad 30 seconds of that time was sold to Hertz and a second 30-seconds were sold to Heinz. Chairman Mike Markkula proposed sacking the ad agancy. It has, however, been acknowledged as a classic.

The advert won both the 31st Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival – Grand Prix Award and the Clio Award in 1984; the Clio Awards Hall of Fame Award, and Advertising Age Award for Greatest Commercial in 1995; TV Guide – Number One Greatest Commercial of All Time in 1999; World Federation of Advertisers – Hall of Fame (Jubilee Golden Award) in 2003; and  an award for Best Super Bowl Spot (in the game’s 40-year history) in 2007. For the advert’s 20th Anniversary an iPod was added to the runner.

1984 Runner 11984 Runner 2

1984 Runner 31984 Runner 4

The advert has been parodied in both a Season Three episode of Futurama called ”Future Stock” (2002), and a Season Twenty episode The Simpsons called Mypods and Boomsticks” (2008) – in which Steve Jobs, ironically enough, played “Big Brother”.

And it still wasn’t the end for Scott and science fiction – as he later returned with a series of three Blade Runner inspired ”Futureworld” adverts for Barclays Bank.

References:

”There is me, [Alex], and my three Grrrlz, Petra, Georgia, and Mid, Mid being really mid, which sometimes makes me mad, though I know tisn’t really her fault, [Poor Cow!]”

– Belinda Webb, A Clockwork Apple

A Clockwork Apple (2008) by first-time novelist Belinda Webb is, as both the title and the opening paragraph suggest, a pastiche of by Anthony BurgessA Clockwork Orange (1962).

The novel parallels Burgess’ original quite closely

As with Burgess’ novel the story is told in an invented teen argot

What I did is no different from disaffected groups creating and using their own words – showing an instinctive awareness of trying to create a means of power via a shared private language. Yet it is only powerful and creative if channelled in the right way, and when its rightful place within our political discourse is recognised. The gap between ‘bringing out’ and ‘keeping in’ must be recognised.

– Belinda Webb, ”What does Belinda Webb think?”

Sources