Imagine a world where the air is so foul that people are forced to live underground.
And imagine that America is a fascist state run like a corporation with a slew of vice-presidents.
In 1971 author Philip Wylie imagined such a world in a script for the NBC series The Name of the Game.
The show centered on a magazine publisher, an editor, and a crusading reporter, but this particular episode took a sharp turn into science fiction.
And what was the title of this show?
Yes, exactly, the hideous world depicted in the program takes place…now.
I watched the show when it was first broadcast on January 15, 1971—46 flipping years ago today--and it floated back into my memory last week when I should’ve been doing something else.
I immediately began searching for some background on the show and I learned this episode was directed by a young man named Steven Spielberg, who I believe has been fairly successful in the movie business.
The story involves the magazine publisher, played by Gene Barry, who is driving home from a conference on ecology when he passes out behind the wheel and wakes up in the eponymous dystopia.
Prior to keeling over, Barry is dictating a memo to the president, warning that the threat to the environment is so serious “it could be the beginning of the end of the earth as we know it.”
And I Feel Fine...
For a detailed description of the show, you may want to take a look at John Kenneth Muir’s Reflections on Cult Movies and Classic TV.
My memory of the show is quite hazy, not surprising, I suppose, given all those years. I recall Gene Barry waking up in the polluted planet, a terrorist bombing, and not much else.
I also read a novelization of the script written by Wylie, but I remember even less about that.
While the program was ahead of its time in many ways, it does look somewhat creaky now, judging by what I on found on YouTube, like an excruciating scene with some aging hippies.
But it’s easy to look back and mock the past. The show did highlight the dangers of pollution, but clearly we didn’t get the message.
On Friday, a deranged “businessman” who claims climate change is a scam invented by the Chinese will be sworn in as the President of the United States.
All of a sudden being driven underground by polluted air doesn’t seem so farfetched.
There’s a scene in “LA 2017” where Gene Barry berates the vice president for maintaining a totalitarian state, but the VP asks why didn’t the wealthy publisher do something to prevent this twisted world from happening when he had the chance back in 1971.
I have very little hope for our environment, our economy, or our democracy as this new gang takes over the government.
Already there’s talk of shutting out reporters from the White House and the President-elect can’t seem to hold a press conference without a gang of goons cheering on his every move.
We’re heading into some very rough days, I fear, and we’re a lot closer to the end of the earth as we know it than we were way back in 1971.