Friday, June 22, 2007

I Am Not a Number

In 1966, there was a show that questioned the thinking of society. It was the first show to challenge the idea that the government is always on the side of the people it represents. Not only that, it suggested that it is the government's will to subjugate, depersonalize and supress the identity of the individual. Such ideas were unheard of in 1966. We never learn the name of the protagonist (hero) for the entire run of the show. He is always referred to as the number assigned to him by his captors, Number Six.

It is the story of a secret agent, a british spy, who decides to resign and go on a long and well deserved vacation. Spies have valuable information. The government does not want that information falling into the wrong hands. So they abduct him and hold him prisoner in a bizarre, nightmarish village resort of sorts, one that he can not leave. The populace there are subject to periodic psychological tortures until they cave and give their abductors the information they desire. Number Six calls these sheepish citizens of the Village "rotten cabbages." They have no will. No desire. No individuality.

By contrast, Number Six is vibrant. Alive. Unwavering and unwilling to submit to the system. "I will not make any deals with you. I've resigned. I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed or numbered. My life is my own. I resign." His rebellion against this system is re-affirmed in each show's opening theme:
"Where am I?"
"In the Village."

"What do you want?"

"Whose side are you on?"

"That would be telling....
We want information.


INFORMATION!" (Some fans hear "In formation!")

"You won't get it."
"By hook or by crook, we will."

"Who are you?"
"The new Number Two."

"Who is Number One?"

"You are Number Six."(May be an answer - You are, Number Six)
"I am not a number — I am a free man!"
(Laughter from Number Two.)

Note the double meanings. Explanations are not forthcoming. Much of the appeal arises from unanswered questions, character intrigue, excellent pacing and compelling scriptwriting, not to mention the acting. In one episode, not one line of dialog is uttered for the first 23 minutes of the show. This is not the meaningless, blathering idiocy that one receives from "24," where each ticking second of the clock I wait with baited breath for Jack Bauer to get blown up. 24 reminds me of a show designed and scripted for ADHD coffee addicts. Three split screens of non stop action. [gag] Not that there's anything wrong with that. I actually care about the lead character in this series because I understand and empathize with him.

The show was called "The Prisoner," and it was the brainchild of Patrick McGoohan (who some of you may know as King Edward the Longshanks from Mel Gibson's Braveheart.) McGoohan had complete artistic control over his show as creator and lead star, and the budget for the show was greater than for any other show in its day, approximately $200,000 per episode. (Compare with Star Trek, with a budget of $150,000 per episode in 1969, including special effects.) Such opportunity is exceedingly rare.

In my own not-so-humble opinion, "The Prisoner" is even more meaningful and apt today. We are taxed by our social security numbers. Nearly everything we buy is numbered for inventory purposes, and if we use plastic, a record of what we bought, when and where is recorded and stored somewhere. Every number we call. Every account we have. School numbers. Employee numbers. Utility ID numbers. Car tags, license numbers and VIN's. Don't believe me? Run for political office somewhere and watch what happens. I have a freind that used to be involved in political campaigning, and he left when he discovered what dirty, crooked business is done in order to obtain "power."

Big brother is watching. Can ya hear me, ya bastards? I admire Number Six for his intelligence in observing this pattern and his bravery to stand up against what is wrong. By the way, for those of you who are government agents keeping tabs on me through my writings, I have found the buffet at Golden Corral to be particularly good.

Thanks to Mom for getting me the series for my birthday =).

Linkage goodness:

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