If you’ve never seen Rollerball, stop what you’re doing and dial up the DVD for this 1975 Science Fiction classic.
Set in the year 2024, this dystopia puts Bread and Circuses on a violent whirlwind that’s engineered to keep the world’s corporate overlords out of the crosshairs. As such, revolving door heroes are amply provided and give the population cause to question the saccharin surroundings they live in. That is until each warrior meets their predetermined end and complacency has no other choice but to comply. Great Science Fiction but real control is so much easier.
Nonetheless, the backdrop of this dark world takes place after the “Corporate Wars” have bankrupted the world’s nations. In the void left behind, the corporations employ and govern. This leaves the public free of concerning themselves with important decisions, which are better left to “the few.”
They also enjoy the privilege – even if you’re Jonathan E. (James Caan). In the hero class of distraction, E. lost his wife to an executive who wanted her for himself. Paid off to leave him, the accompanying villa in Rome was no match for the rugged, introspect of the world renowned sports figure.
In this, we are given the vehicle to dig into underbelly as we digest the glory of the game and all its bloodletting. Obviously discontented, Jonathan questions the tradeoff between the material preeminence his position affords and freedom. One of his hanger’s on who serves among the privilege Jonathan reaps doesn’t have such depth and toes the line the system forges like the mindless drone she is. “But comfort is freedom,” reasons Ella.
Enough of the citizenry bought off with nice things, the oversight does not even consider those who may reap much less, because this set up is sure to have losers on a far greater scale. This all sends E. off to determine how people have been so effectively siphoned off as sheep.
Expectedly, the information is scarce – or better yet – properly edited. Summaries of important works are readily available, and in case 24-7 of the game on telescreen gives way to inquiry, the overlords will reset any doubt in the comfort of your own easy chair. “What do you want books for?,” Jonathan’s teammate, Moon Pie asks “Look Johnny, if you wanna learn somethin’, just get a Corporate Teacher to come and teach it to ya’.
Jonathan defers and goes to Geneva to visit a computerized archive. The prospects are quickly eradicated as the librarian is little help, and the system even less as the willing agent reveals that “the whole of the 13th Century is gone.”
All still escapes Ella with Jonathan coming to a crossroad. “Why don’t you do what the executives want – especially since you’ll be paid handsomely,” she doesn’t get it.
Specifically, they want him to retire. His survival defies the preset odds and disturbs the complacency. Or in chilling John Houseman-speak, the game was created to demonstrate “the futility of individuality.”
Your mind is officially blown. But a simple look at voter turnout or the tune out that hundreds of TV stations afford us, and control takes on the form of despondency. Most significantly, a two party system in which the same elites support both sides, and the important decisions gives the many the illusion of choice.
Even so with the two party gaming clearly at our disposal, we are still sold on the stark differences, and coalesce into our corners over less substantial issues. So while we all don’t like American jobs shipped overseas of elite born trade policy, hate money in politics, the never ending improprieties of the big banks, and inefficient delivery of healthcare, we are unable to find crossover or a leader able to unite across party lines.
Instead, our only common place involves a shared sense that the other side is mired in stupidity – even as we see enough smarts among them that they are also able to navigate survival against such a stacked deck. The public effectively blinded by fictional divides, who really needs to pick up spilled guts or dislodged eyeballs when the powerlessness our elites have created is so much easier to clean up.
Of course, the chance to narrow the divides can be a function of the availability of information. In Rollerball, this is diminished by keeping information controlled by offering tidbits or official accounts. But secrets only give rise to the desire to seek out what you’re not supposed to know.
It’s far more efficient to let people think they have a free press, and now with the internet and cable news, sources that rise to the top are the ones providing fictitious entertainment in place of facts.
In addition, the unseen hand of Google elevating disinformation now rivals the wall between advertising and content, which doesn’t really exist, and has always acted as editors to protect the elite.
Of course, we do have our distractions, and the cult-like mass following of the NFL can’t help but be seen as a parallel to Rollerball. The circus, though, is subtle and smarter than 2024.
Putting aside violence on the decline, a no one left standing approach has been replaced with parity where everyone has a chance to win. Far more effective for viewership, and the Sunday, Monday, Thursday cascade plays right into the American consumerism that one ups Rollerball’s ability to feign comfort. Or why give people stuff to keep them complacent when you can make them ever in pursuit of the next gadget that is sure to bring unending happiness.
As Brad Pitts says in Fight Club, “the things you own, they ending up owning you.” Such Slavery is exemplified when you remain in the employ of Apple after they outsource thousands of production jobs to a company called FoxConn in China.
But that’s not where the crisis in conscious lies. The working conditions so horrible that nets were actually installed underneath the housing where workers lived to cut down on the suicide rate. Of course, stock options can go a long way to allaying the guilt and put aside the ownership of your association.
Nonetheless, a nice try Rollerball, but who knows, the game might have emerged because people figured out how to beat the system, and the powerful put their own spin on the basics that the Romans perfected. Maybe, we should be content, and let the elites have their ball so they go don’t go home and take it with them. You know, before they return with something worse, and we’re left rolling over dead instead of despondent.
This article originally appeared on rmonetti
Photo credit: Getty Images