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December 11, 2012

The Changes - Episode 1 "The Noise" (1975)

"The Changes is a British children's science fiction television serial filmed in 1973 and first broadcast in 1975 by the BBC. It was directed by John Prowse. It is based on the trilogy written by Peter Dickinson: The Weathermonger (1968), Heartsease (1969) and The Devil's Children (1970)."

The Changes posits a Britain where a sudden enveloping noise emanating from all machinery and technology causes the population to destroy them. The resulting upheaval displaces many people and reverts society back to a pre-industrial age where there is a deep suspicion of anyone who may be harbouring machinery. Even the words for technology are taboo. The remnants of modern technology that escape destruction (such as electricity pylons) produce a physical and sometimes violent repulsion among those left in Britain.

Zeitgesit related: Rick McGinnis.

It's worth remembering things like The Changes, obscure as they might be now, as an example of how culture creates the conditions for the future, and resonates far beyond the scant days, weeks, or months when it's considered current. I don't know if Peter Dickinson or the producers of the BBC TV series had any kind of agenda in mind beyond that magpie culture worker's attraction to trends and bright shards of the zeitgeist. I do know that Dickinson began writing his trilogy in 1968, when the counterculture's Aquarian dreams of agrarian utopias were at their most fashionable, and the TV series was filmed in 1973 and aired in 1975, by which point everyone knew what a commune was and even the healthiest inner cities looked dingy and worn-out, even if they weren't in Detroit-like terminal decline.

I can't speak to to what the producers were thinking, if anything, by way of making a point but it is worth noting the Establishment Marxism of the mid-1970s was - shockingly - a good deal less polemical than today's BBC. It's also important to understand that the The Changes is part of the same tradition as Quatermass; creepy, creepy stuff. Such is children's entertainment in England. But then, even the must unsettling strains of British weird fiction don't compare to some of today's fantasy-as-public policy.

Marx was a technological determinist. Industrialization, and the social forms that arose with it, presented serious problems, yes, but they were also what dragged us up out of feudalism. To Marx, this was a good thing. What most self-styled Marxists failed to notice is that socialism happened more or less on time and as predicted; it's just that it happened under FDR in the United States and not, first, in London as anticipated. And communism, by Marx's definition, looks a lot like what you find at an Apple store (pace the famous 1984 ad). So, thanks internet, mass customization, and a more and more broadly distributed ownership of the means of production made possible by technological progress and authentic revolutionaries like Steve Jobs. About the only thing Marx would have approved of at an Occupy demo would be the iPhones.

To a British Marxist of the 1970s, even one made stupid by the so called cultural Marxism of the Frankfurt School (via Raymond Williams and the rest of British Cultural Studies), smashing machinery in a fit of moronic Luddite mass hysteria would be a sign of madness; a story for scaring children. To today's aristocratic, decadent and nihilist "left", the product of our elite schools allied with a rape cult from the Dark Ages and preaching Chicken Little as science, it is a program of action.

Posted by Ghost of a flea at December 11, 2012 09:28 AM