back to article Pornography, violence and JG Ballard: High Rise, the 1970s' internet

The film High Rise is set in the 1970s and based on JG Ballard’s 1975 book. That’s roughly two decades before Tim Berners-Lee would “create” the web. Heck, you were lucky then to have a colour TV, never mind a phone in your house. Yet, High Rise provides a vision of what was to come: the internet community. That is, an …

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  1. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. scrubber
      Paris Hilton

      Re: Gotta love Ballard.

      "What's wrong with dying in a head-on collision with Elizabeth Taylor?"

      Depends whether it's in a car or not.

    2. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken Silver badge

      Re: Gotta love Ballard.

      Chris Foss did some brilliant cover art for some editions of Ballard's books.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Gotta love Ballard.

        "What's wrong with dying in a head-on collision with Elizabeth Taylor?"

        I'm sure I saw this gag in a "Ran Xerox" comic (link is SFW but the comic sure isn't, it comes from a time before the 'pedofile' moral panic exploded).

  2. Captain Hogwash

    Plus ca change

    The 1970s was a period of social stagnation in the UK, when when the country saw itself as either falling apart or sliding under the heel of a new fascist boot.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

  3. EL Vark

    Truly?

    "...you were lucky then to have a colour TV, never mind a phone in your house."

    I'll cop to the TV, my nana didn't get a colour set until the early 80's, finally replacing the 19" B&W behemoth that she and grandad bought in the late 60's, but did so many Brits honestly not have a telephone? Not even a party line? Even ultra-rural Ontario cottages had those. Exactly how stone-age was mid-70's Britain? I have visions of Clive Sinclair huddled in the coal shed soldering together valves by gaslight using an actual soldering iron.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Truly?

      "[...] did so many Brits honestly not have a telephone? "

      They were still relatively rare. The nationalised monopoly of the General Post Office (GPO) had been under-investing for a long time - and the waiting time to get a phone installed could be years. When I moved into my first flat in Bracknell in 1972 there was a handset - but it was not live. The time quoted to allocate a number was in the order of years.

      It was probably the introduction of System X exchange equipment replacing worn out Strowger kit that eventually made a difference. There was also the creation of a nationalised telephone provider separate from the GPO - and subsequently privatised as British Telecom (BT).

      1. Reg Whitepaper

        Re: Truly?

        It's not exactly an easy process now as my better half who handles IT roll-outs to new restaurants can attest.

    2. Bob Rocket

      Re: Truly?

      We didn't have a phone until 1979 although I'm sure we had a colour telly (Radio Rentals) before then.

      If you lived in the poncey south you had all the mod cons (formica, central heating etc.), in the north there were still a lot of houses that had an outside toilet and half an inch of ice on the inside of your bedroom window (and that was in the summer :)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Truly?

        "If you lived in the poncey south you had all the mod cons [...]"

        Bracknell would probably qualify as "the poncey south". My flat in 1972 was fairly modern - apparently originally built for Met Office staff circa 1962. The heating was a two bar electric fire set in the wall. There was an immersion heater and a bathroom though.

        1. Bob Rocket

          Re: Truly?

          We had a bathroom and immersion heater of sorts, on a sunday (that was our turn) the old tin bath would be set up in the living room, water would be drawn from the standpipe at the bottom of the street and the youngest went first, by the time grandad had his turn the water would be almost tepid.

          Kids today don't know they're born.

      2. Elmer Phud Silver badge

        Re: Truly?

        In the south only the toffs had telephones.

        The rest of us sent signals by shoving big brushes out of chimney tops.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Truly?

        Can the Monty Python pastiches stop right now! ('Eeh in my day, all we had was...'. No! Stop!)

      4. Triggerfish

        Re: Truly?

        Not true there were people with outside toilets when I was a kid in 70's London. The house I grew up in had a gas fire in the front room and one in the back room that was it, proper ice used to form on bedroom windows during winter nights, even now living by the Peak District its very rare I use anything than a summer tog duvet and always have the bedroom window open. We were known as kids as basically being immune to cold.

    3. Quentin North

      Re: Truly?

      My family didn't have a telephone until about 1973 and we lived in the centre of a town on the south coast of England. We also only had a two channel (VHF) B&W TV until about 1971, then we got a 3 channel (UHF) B&W one because Horizon was on BBC2, and finally a colour one in about 1975 which came with cable.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Truly?

      "did so many Brits honestly not have a telephone? Not even a party line? Even ultra-rural Ontario cottages had those. Exactly how stone-age was mid-70's Britain?"

      One thing to bear in mind is that Britain in the 1970s had an awful lot of telephone boxes many of which were in working order (some still had telephone directories in them). I'd guess that most people lived within walking distance of a phone box, a situation I doubt obtained in ultra-rural Ontario.

      So even if you didn't have a telephone in your own home, you most likely had access to one. But yes, a lot of people didn't have a phone in their own home back in 1970s UK (I was there).

      The fact that yes, the waiting times for installation (and repairs) were horrendous, probably had something to do with it.

      I recall hearing (my memory might be mistaken but it's a good tale, so off I go) that Larry Grayson (RIP) got some inspiration for the manner of speech in his performances from the fact that his childhood home had the only telephone in the street (this was, I assume, in the 1930s), so the neighbours were always visiting to use the thing. And he sat and he listened...

      1. EL Vark

        Re: Truly?

        It's certainly true that the cottagers and farmers who had party lines were nowhere close to a pay-phone, but Phonebooths were ubiquitous in towns and cities, and nearly every store and restauraunt had a pay-phone. Telephony was fully established throughout North America by at least the 50's, and certainly by the 60's, where my earliest memories lie, everyone I knew (family, friends, and acquaintances) from Nova Scotia to British Columbia, had a phone and most had a private line. The explanation of the Post Office monopoly and the slow roll-out of modern switching systems explains everything, including one more reason so many ex-pats fled to the colonies. In our case, much of our technological infrastructure was "keeping up with the Joneses", which is to say our loud, clever neighbours down south, though a great deal of that infrastructure was home grown (Northern Telecom was a giant until it collapsed from it's own mismanagement and malfeasance). Perhaps if Britain were compelled to "keep up" in a way similar to Canada, it might have had a few more ameneties a bit sooner. Or not. We're basically still trying to figure out Television.

        1. x 7 Silver badge

          Re: Truly?

          "Perhaps if Britain were compelled to "keep up" in a way similar to Canada, it might have had a few more ameneties a bit sooner"

          probably not - the wartime austerity mentality was still prevalent into the 1960's and maybe even the early 70's, most people were simply happy to not have such amenities. For instance my parents didn't get a washing machine or fridge until the 1970s, central heating until the 1980s. A phone in the late 70s. Locally they were fairly typical

      2. wolfetone Silver badge

        Re: Truly?

        While not British, my aunt in Ireland only managed to get a telephone line in 1995.

    5. Jason Hindle

      Re: Truly?

      "Exactly how stone-age was mid-70's Britain?"

      Pretty stone aged. We didn't actually get our first phone until the early 80s. When I bought my first modem (this was early 90s), there was a degree of nervousness in the house. And the attitude of people who did have phones was pretty funny; there was always a telephone shaped coin box, next to the actual telephone. Children weren't allowed near phones. In fact, just looking at the could lead to a (sometimes physical) reprimand.

      1. Intractable Potsherd

        Re: Truly?

        Just to add to the stories a bit, I was brought up in South Yorkshire. We didn't get a 'phone in the house until I had been at secondary school for some time - so about 1975/6. We did have an indoor fitted bathroom (no shower) because the house was a post-WW2 council house, but it also had an outside toilet, just in case. Colour TV arrived in the house just after the phone, so I guess the improvements were a result of the better wages for firemen after the strike of 1975.

    6. phuzz Silver badge
      Windows

      Re: Truly?

      I wasn't born until 1980, and comparatively it was a golden age, colour TV and a phone line, and this in a tiny village in Gloucestershire.

      Of course, said village now dreams of getting a 1Mb internet connection, 700Kb/s is the best I've seen.

  4. Iain
    Happy

    I'll have to get the book

    I hadn't realised this existed, even though I've read some other JG Ballard, and one of my favourite Hawkwind songs is based on the book

    High Rise

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The Machine Stops

    The earliest story I know that anticipates the internet and the ensuing individual's lifestyle is E M Forster's "The Machine Stops". Published in 1909 people occasionally wrongly attribute it to his contemporary H G Wells - which is understandable.

    He writes of people living in their small rooms in a maintained complex - and never venturing into the open air country. They have a screen that allows them to communicate to anyone in the world - and they can select their own background music to play in the room. To occupy their time they "research" via the screen - and rehash other people's work to publish in electronic form.

    The panic starts when "The Machine" - that maintains everything automatically - starts to malfunction. The knowledge of how to fix it is long since forgotten by the society.

    Lots of free copies on the web. Here's one in PDF or Kindle format.

    http://www.classicly.com/em-forster/the-machine-stops

    1. getHandle

      Re: The Machine Stops

      OMG - that brings back memories! Thanks :-)

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: The Machine Stops

      Also available as series 2, episode 1 of Out of the Unknown, a BBC SF anthology series broadcast in the late 60's, early 70's.

      Those not wiped by the BBC can still be found online, The Machine Stops is here on YouTube. Quite a few of the stories are adoptions or commissions from well known SF authors.

    3. Naselus Silver badge

      Re: The Machine Stops

      "The panic starts when "The Machine" - that maintains everything automatically - starts to malfunction. The knowledge of how to fix it is long since forgotten by the society."

      That's how you can usually tell SF written before technology really took off - the enchantingly naive belief that a complex computer system wouldn't break down within a couple of hours of the installation engineer leaving the building.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The Machine Stops

        "That's how you can usually tell SF written before technology really took off - the enchantingly naive belief that a complex computer system wouldn't break down within a couple of hours of the installation engineer leaving the building."

        In the 1970s 3rd generation mainframes often had a team of resident engineers on site. The machines had scheduled maintenance slots every day - and there were also breakdowns that were "unscheduled". In many ways they replicated the early days of steam power - and then the same with internal combustion vehicles.

        Those mainframes were massive - needing controlled environments for temperature and humidity. They also had much less capacity and were much, much slower than a modern desktop PC nowadays. The latter is lucky if it gets the dust blown off its fans every five years.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    That is, an increasingly insular society that descends into pornography and violent indulgence while some overseeing architect struggles to manipulate and control their creation.

    Oh, so like post-millennium USA?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Not only the USA but all the "welfare" states are currently whirling in the shitter, aided in large measure by utter retards posing as "economists who will save you from the recession". The amazing thing is that people are clearly being served the prospect of eating cat food for the next 30 years and still everybody seems to be cool with this, not a single burning parliament/ministry with hollering parliamentarians/ministrators inside. Damn.

      On the other hand, "The West" and its minders hailing from Saudi Arabia and Israel have unleashed pluperfect hell in the "religiously enhanced" societies of the Middle East, so maybe drowning in porn and dreams of violence while your retirement monies are being transformed into penthouses stocked with Moët Chandon on the Côte d'Azur ain't so bad.

      1. Naselus Silver badge

        " The amazing thing is that people are clearly being served the prospect of eating cat food for the next 30 years and still everybody seems to be cool with this, not a single burning parliament/ministry with hollering parliamentarians/ministrators inside. "

        Our entire culture is based around appealing solely to baby boomers. They will more or less all be dead by 2040. Therefore, nothing that will happen before 2040 is seriously considered in the public imagination.

        This is also why all the famous Christmas hit singles are from the 1960s and 70s.

  7. Chris G Silver badge

    Not in my memory

    "The 1970s was a period of social stagnation in the UK, when when the country saw itself as either falling apart or sliding under the heel of a new fascist boot. Ballard's novel, and the film, plays on how the utopian vision of high-rise urbanism would not deliver society from itself."

    From one end of the '70s to the other saw quite a lot of change in music, the birth of punk, and new levels of social conciousness, including Gay Lib and in some ways racial intregration at least where I lived in South London was better than today in some respects.

    With the constant toing and froing of polar opposites in government and the ensuing recessions and fuel shortages that went with UK and World economic problems I really don't think stagnation played much of a part.

    The '70s were also when the Unions developed their strength and power that led to Thatcherism,

    overall society was doing a lot more than simmering.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Not in my memory

      Racial tolerance in my memory improved all through the 1970s - despite (or perhaps because of) the 27,200 Asian Ugandans who came to the UK after Idi Amin's 1972 expulsion of Asians from Uganda.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Expulsion_of_Asians_from_Uganda

      Oh yes the racists were on the streets, but they provoked a pretty powerful anti-racist reaction and (eventually) the anti-racists more or less won that set of battles: social consciousness of all sorts of issues was for sure on the rise. But at the same time, plenty of folk just wanted to live a nice comfy life and ignore all that: social stagnation here, radical developments there.

      Hmm... Anyone remember Citizen Smith?

      (some might argue that there was no influence more radical to come from the 1970s than the winners of the 1979 general election: like 'em or loathe 'em, Mrs T's lot blew away the old political order)

  8. x 7 Silver badge

    Captain Bob and the rest of the Hawks sang about it years ago

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MFF3LJ678kY

    1. x 7 Silver badge

      Sorry Iain - I didn't spot that you'd beaten me too it

  9. Oh Homer Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Finally...

    A film worth a trip to the cinema.

    From the trailer (which admittedly might be misleading) this seems to encompass everything I look for in my ideal film: intelligent, period drama, sci-fi, film noir, surrealism, political commentary, tech., style and substance. Best of all, it's British and targeted at adults rather than children (as nearly everything coming out of Hollywood is today).

  10. Oh Homer Silver badge
    Unhappy

    Where to see it?

    Unfortunately it appears to be on an extremely limited release, screening only in certain highly-populated areas, which completely rules out my neck o' the woods, and I'm not travelling 100 miles just to watch a film, no matter how good it is.

    1. YetAnotherLocksmith

      Re: Where to see it?

      Fortunately, this film about predicting the internet will likely be available on the internet.

  11. Walter Bishop Silver badge
    Big Brother

    Ballard predicted Facebook

    "I can visualise, for example, a world ten years from now where every activity of one's life will be constantly recorded .. Great portions of our waking state will be spent in a constant mood of self-awareness and excitement, endlessly replaying the simplest basic life experiences." ref

    1. Danny 2 Silver badge

      Re: Ballard predicted Facebook

      Your reference is the pornographic magazine Penthouse, and the reason for that is that it's publisher Bob Guccione married sci-fi freak Kathy Keeton. They then co-published the sublime Omni magazine. It also had typically sexist paintings of voluptuous fantasy characters, but I promise, as a 13 year old male I only read it for the articles.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Ballard predicted Facebook

      "[...] endlessly replaying the simplest basic life experiences."

      Asimov did a short story on that theme - "The Dead Past" (1956).

      It is discovered that disturbances at quantum level mean that - with suitable decoding equipment - you can see anything that happened anywhere and any time in the past. It requires an incredibly expensive and massive machine. Professors of ancient history find themselves unable to get time on the only one that has been built.

      So one professor of history poses the problem to a bright young student - who with the innocence of youth duly creates a simple machine to do the task. He then reports back that there is an insurmountable problem - the images degrade with noise after a few years. That is why the ancient historians have been denied access - there is nothing for them to see.

      The historian's wife is delighted with the student's prototype and shuts herself in her room - constantly replaying scenes of her daughter who died when young. The cat is now out of the bag. The product will be cheap and mass market sales to the public are inevitable.

      However - it turns out that the technology works even if the area being viewed was originally in total darkness. You can see anyone's activities - anywhere - at any time from the last decade to only a few minutes previously.

      The official who had tried to keep all that as a secret possessed only by the government has the final words - "Welcome to living in a fish bowl"

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Dead_Past

      1. Harman Mogul

        Re: Ballard predicted Facebook

        Excellent! Thank you for reminding us of this one.

  12. src

    Great book - I have been looking forward to this film for a while. I am worried by the "limited release" comment above. I hope it makes it out here to Japan...

  13. David Pearce

    Another Hawkwind connection, in The Machine Stops, you will find "Spirit of the Age"

  14. M7S

    "either falling apart or sliding under the heel of a new fascist boot"

    Reading most of what passes for news and "comment" on the internet, I don't think these options were or are seen as mutually exclusive for the country and many would think that both have come to pass.

  15. Danny 2 Silver badge

    When I bought my first home in the late '80s , it came with an antique '30s Bakelite rotary phone worth several hundreds of pounds, and a 3 digit phone number. Within a year my 3 digit phone number had been replaced by a 10 digit phone number. Worse still, my guinea pigs got loose when I was at work and gnawed through the phone cord. British Telecom, in their infinite greed, immediately sent men to break into my home to replace that phone with a cheapo button-dial replacement, in their words so I wouldn't be inconvenienced. Effing thieves. If I'd have phoned for any other fault then they wouldn't have responded for months, but they knew they could reclaim the phone and sell it on.

    I'm no fan of rip-off modern telco-companies, but you have to bear in mind that in those days British Telecom were a law unto themselves. One of the proudest achievements in my career was getting a written apology from British Telecom, after three months hard work on my part and no effort on their part. An airgun pellet in an over-head leased line would short the circuit in high winds, disrupting the network I was responsible for. British Telecom staff at the time were as unsympathetic as DWP staff are today.

    "You don't have to be a misanthrope to work here, but it helps"

    1. Ian 55

      Sure you weren't renting the phone?

      Somewhere I started working in 2002 was still renting its answerphone from BT - the payment was hidden in the very small print of the bill.

    2. Intractable Potsherd

      Ah, yes - the dial 'phones with a different interval for each digit! It was so easy to work out who my family were calling by listening to the sound of the dial turning!

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ballard gives me the willies (in the Dabbsy sense)

    I once spent 2 weeks in the jungles of Sumatra swinging on a hammock smoking weed with only a big stack of Ballard books to keep me company. Think I went a bit funny.

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