When you watch as much reality TV as I do (strictly out of journalistic interest, you understand), it's easy to perceive the prevalence of unscripted idiocy on our screens as a harbinger of the impending armageddon. Even worse I'm haunted by the notion that, not only will our hunger for mindless drivel spell the end of humanity, it'll also constitute the only lasting record of our once-formidable society. Future civilisations will sift through the remnants of our existence and shudder at in pitying disgust. Admittedly, this is a worst-case scenario, but if you've ever had to sit through a couple of episodes of Desperate Scousewives, you'll know it's not too much of a stretch.
Interestingly, science fiction writers have been predicting the link between lowest-common-denominator television and the end of society, as we know it, for years. But rather than seeing these endless broadcasts as the reason for our downfall, they foresee such shows helping to anaesthetise us to our collective despair and uniting our fragmented post-apocalyptic society. So although we might spend our days crawling through the wreckage and gorging on live rats, but at least we'll still be Keeping Up With The Kardashians.
Just recently, Charlie Brooker took his own swipe at the grey area between reality TV and dystopian despair, with the second episode of his mini-series Black Mirror. Characteristically scathing and predictably bleak, 1000,000 credits showed us a not-too-distant future where X-Factor rules the world. And it all felt worryingly conceivable.
But let’s treat that as the sorbet to freshen the palate, as Hollywood lines up its own big-budget take on the genre. Next week sees the sees the release of The Hunger Games, the first part of a highly anticipated trilogy of films, based on the best-selling novels by Suzanne Collins. Since the books were aimed at a teenage audience, there's been a lot of talk about this being the franchise to rival Twilight (which thankfully only has one more instalment of lip-chewing, skin-twinkling, abstinence-advocacy left in it). However, critics seem to agree that this is a far more compelling and hard-hitting series than Stephenie Meyer's sexless saga. Then again, so was Alvin and the Chipmunks.
The books follow the adventures of a resilient sixteen year-old called Katniss Everdeen. Not only is she stuck with a name that would make Spongebob Squarepants point and jeer, our luckless heroine finds herself thrust into the limelight to fight for her life in the eponymous contest. With society in tatters, and the nation divided into twelve districts around Capitol City, the Hunger Games sees two teenagers selected from each district and entered into a kill-or-be-killed scenario. As if that wasn’t stressful enough, the whole thing is televised.
These are not entirely unfamiliar concepts to anyone with more than a passing familiarity with sci-fi but, in a refreshing twist, Collins has been pretty honest about the films that influenced her trilogy. As something of a genre magpie, she’s taken elements from a number of sources, several of which were showcased in a short season on Film 4 this week. Having said that, it wouldn’t be surprising to learn that all it took was a weekend of watching Jersey Shore to inspire a story of teenagers taking an arrow to the neck. Even so, here are the films rumoured to have informed Collins’ action-packed trilogy.
Although not actually about a reality show, Kinji Fukasaku's notorious adaptation of Koushun Takami's novel depicts a similar scenario to The Hunger Games. A society on its knees, an endless pool of pubescent cannon fodder and a ruthless 'survival of the fittest' game format, in which there can be only one winner.
The prologue declares that "At the dawn of the millennium, the nation collapsed. At fifteen percent unemployment, ten million were out of work. 800,000 students boycotted school. The adults lost confidence and, fearing the youth, eventually passed the Millennium Educational Reform Act." Also known as the Battle Royale Act, this involves a class of students being selected at random, shipped off to a deserted island, and given three days to kill each other until one student is left standing. Don't be surprised if Michael Gove tries rolling this one out in Croydon.
With the majority of the cast dispatched in a variety of gruesome ways, the final scenes of the film see the two survivors escaping the island and depicted as fugitives from the law by a complicit news media. The moral of the story is that even when you win, you lose - a lesson currently being learned the hard way by 'Signed By Katie' winner, Amy Willerton.
The Running Man
Based loosely on a book by Stephen King (writing under his pseudonym Richard Bachman), The Running Man takes place in 2017, a world in which the global economy has crashed and American society has devolved into a totalitarian police state, devoid of culture. When the film was originally released in 1987, this all seemed rather fantastical - now, looking at the Republican presidential hopefuls, and the majority of Hollywood's output, it smacks of grim inevitability.
The government chooses to pacify its agitated and poverty stricken population by broadcasting non-stop reality TV game shows, that see criminals fighting for their lives. Having been wrongly convicted for opening fire on civilians, Ben Richards finds himself in the spotlight, fighting for his life against a batch of camp, second-tier wrestling villains.
As you'd expect from any mid-eighties Schwarzenegger movie, the film is little more than a relentless sequence of kill scenes, each one capped with a torturous pun that would shame even Bruce Forsyth. Although it bears little resemblance to its source novel, especially the ending which sees Richards suicidally piloting a jet into a sky-scraper, there are a few touches which manage to raise it above direct-to-video schlock. Perhaps the best of these, was the genius decision to cast Richard Dawson (genial host of Family Feud, the US answer to Family Fortunes) as the venal, corrupt host and producer of the show. I’d like to see Vernon Kay pull that one off.
Series 7 - The Contenders
Taking a more low-fi, found footage approach to the concept, this micro-budgeted thriller hit our screens the year after Big Brother made its TV debut. Presented as the marathon edition of a reality show, The Contenders, the film follows six people picked at random by a national lottery and forced to hunt each other in-front of the cameras.
Starring the woman who refused to “put the fucking lotion in the basket”, the film opens with a shocking execution in a convenience store, carried out by a heavily pregnant woman. And it gets darker from there. Testicular cancer, abortion guilt and euthanasia are all stirred into the mix, in between shockingly random acts of violence.
Adding an extra dimension to the plot is the fact that this film takes place in the ‘real world’, with enthusiastic viewers taking the opportunity to interact with their favourite stars. Interestingly, this theme played out in an alternative ending that can be found on the DVD, where fans react angrily to the anticlimactic resolution to the show and savagely beat the heroes. Anyone else fancy a trip to the Geordie Shore?
This article originally featured on the popvulture blog
Click here to follow Sabotage Times on Twitter
Click here to follow Sabotage Times on Facebook