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Living on Video / Trans X

Future imperfect, then and now

By Andy PottsPublished 2 months ago 3 min read

Nothing dates as fast as someone else’s idea of the future. Back in the day, Trans X seemed like a glimpse of life in the unimaginably sci-fi year 2000. From synth sounds to hi-tech visuals, this was music destined to make an impression on an 80s schoolboy.

Looking back now, it’s almost as laughable as the jetpacks and moon bases idea of the year 2000 (and why was always ‘the year 2000’? We never talked about ‘the year 1998’, did we?). That kind of sci-fi fantasy was a bizarre mix of geeking out on Jedi knights and an unshakeable belief that 8-bit computing represented the zenith of human achievement and could therefore deliver a brave new world that married the limitless pleasures hinted at by Huxley while eliminating the philosophical downside the underscored his masterwork.

It wasn’t just Trans X, of course. My first trip to the cinema was to see The Last Starfighter, a half-forgotten 1984 release blurring the lines between arcade games and reality. I was greatly influenced by the nerdy adolescent fantasy of Weird Science – especially that shower scene. Another approximate contemporary, 1983’s War Games, provoked awkward questions about the darker side of technology.

By Florian Schmetz on Unsplash

Overall, though, as a primary school kid, I was all for the future – and the sooner the better. Even in my own short lifetime, I’d seen the micro revolution infiltrate a modest, middle class home and transform my quality of life. That chunky, clunky Walkman ™ was a treasured possession: music in my pocket, albeit a pretty big pocket. Downstairs, underneath a bulky old TV set studded with buttons and dials, another big machine swallowed cassettes the size of a book. Magically, we could record TV for repeat watching. As long as we were prepared to sacrifice the chance of seeing any of the three or four shows on air at the time.

The Trans X video takes that tech and ramps it up several notches. A room stuffed with screens and computer consoles, operated by shadowy, robotic figures. Screens that fill mysteriously with scrolling green light. A dancer channelling Blade Runner’s sexy cyborg chic: alluring, yet offering a siren song absolutely of her time. There’s even prominent use of a keytar, and some random bleeping straight off a Space Invaders game. To modern eyes and ears, it can easily seem ridiculous.

And yet.

Somehow, there’s a dystopian vision that resonates today. The oft-repeated lyric “Stop! Living on Video” is crushingly banal. But it speaks directly to a society obsessed with its screens. More profound thinkers than a Quebecois synth freak have devoted years to creating weighty tomes that explore the fragmentation of contemporary society and the corrosive effects of social media on our personal relationships and understanding of the wider world.

To some extent, the angst is nothing new. The emergence of television as mass media in the 1950s and 60s prompted similar handwringing. Radio’s rise posed similar questions. The printing press was, in some quarters, deemed the work of the devil. Contemporary records are thin on the ground, but it’s tempting to imagine a grumpy, elderly caveman in Lascaux complaining that kids nowadays just gawp at paintings on the walls rather than going out and hunting for their dinners. In that context, we can hardly argue that “Living on Video” is prophetic in any meaningful sense. Huxley and Orwell face no serious competition here.

But, while enjoying a faded vision of our recent future, we might also have to make a concession. An unhealthy fixation with our personal stream of online consciousness risks turning our own futures into a comparable cultural cul-de-sac.

This one's a belated entry into Sleepy Drafts unofficial challenge. Just hope it gets published ahead of the deadline! And that it's close enough to the brief to fit into the 01 category.

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About the Creator

Andy Potts

Community focused sports fan from Northeast England. Tends to root for the little guy. Look out for Talking Northeast, my new project coming soon.

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  • Angie the Archivist 📚🪶2 months ago

    Another excellent ready Andy! I remember this song by Trans X but had never seen the video… I just realised that I missed seeing most of the music videos after I started nursing, 🥹 shift work and frugal life away from home after 1982! Loved & was traumatised by Blade Runner... I love Sci Fi stories. Regarding your philosophical pondering s…. ‘To some extent, the angst is nothing new.’ So true ✅

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