FREEMAN OF THE VILLAGE

Last week, for some reason, I was compelled to revisit the Village, even if I’m not entirely certain how long it is since I last watched ‘The Prisoner’; I’d estimate around five years. Prior to purchasing Patrick McGoohan’s seminal 60s series on DVD, I think I’d last seen it on its most recent Channel 4 rerun in the early 90s; and that viewing itself had been a decade on from when the same channel had introduced me to it in 1984 (I doubt the year of that particular broadcast was accidental). Seeing it as a 16-year-old meant McGoohan’s antihero naturally appealed to my adolescent rebellion phase; yet now I’ve started watching it once more and that particular phase is extremely distant, the appeal of No.6’s battle against the seductive oppression of the Village is still speaking to me – and it says something different to me every time I return to it. Not only does ‘The Prisoner’ have a remarkable ability to appeal to every stage of my life I pass through, it also possesses the power to always relate to events taking place out there in the contemporary landscape.

Books have long had the ability to do this, and certain movies have also managed it; but television rarely does. We can appreciate a vintage series and what it says about the time in which it was made, but it’s not often we can translate its central theme to the present day. ‘The Prisoner’ is quite unique in the way its relevance never appears to wane, however far we travel from 1967. It probably helps that it still looks so cinematic, being shot on 35mm colour film when so many 60s shows remain frozen in murky monochrome; but even the fact it displays all the gaudy visual hallmarks of kitsch associated with the period, there’s an Alice in Wonderland quality to the design of the series that almost places it out of time; it’s almost too strange to belong solely to the 60s. The depths of ‘The Prisoner’ can be so hidden they’re practically labyrinthine; but it’s a revelation when we encounter them.

I sometimes think the creative forces that gave us the enduring visions of Dystopian fiction set in near-futures or parallel presents – ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’, ‘A Clockwork Orange’, ‘The Year of the Sex Olympics’, and ‘The Prisoner’ – were able to anticipate so much of what has come to pass and what we can still see coming because they’d lived through the 1930s. They’d seen with their own eyes how complicit the masses can be in their own suppression and ultimate destruction, how the individual voice can be submerged in a cacophonous chorus of mob hysteria. They never looked back over their shoulders and asked the obvious question posed by succeeding generations, i.e. ‘How could all those people have been taken in by Hitler?’ They didn’t need to. The more senior of them – Orwell, specifically – had already witnessed the denial of Stalin’s barbarous actions by the Left in the West even before the Austrian painter abandoned his watercolours. They all knew what can happen and they could all see it happening again by taking on a different shape for each era.

There are probably far more people in 2020 who can relate to ‘The Prisoner’ and No.6 than there were in 1967, yet it still made a huge cultural impact at the time of its original broadcast, perhaps because many viewers then also had wartime memories and got the references. In 1967, the inability of McGoohan’s character to trust anyone he meets and near-guarantee that every misplaced whisper will be reported to the authorities would undoubtedly have provoked recollections of villages in Nazi-occupied France peppered with informants, or even the ‘loose lips sink ships’ compulsion to keep tabs on neighbours and strangers alike that applied on the home front. Today, of course, one cannot help but think of lockdown fundamentalists dialling 999 when they spy more than three or four people gathered in next-door’s garden.

The advanced technology of Village surveillance, something which was in its infancy in 1967 – certainly outside of East Germany, anyway – has obviously become such a part of contemporary life since then that we often barely notice it anymore. Whether speed cameras, CCTV on street corners, online profiling, or ‘track & trace’ apps, it sometimes seems that dissenting voices questioning the wisdom of allowing the state or multinationals to spy on us with increasing impunity are diminishing with each development as reluctant acceptance morphs seamlessly into resigned indifference. ID and credit cards also helped No.2 monitor No.6’s movements, as the real-world equivalents do ours. And each imposition on his individualism and freedom is served with a smile; the Village isn’t modelled on a Soviet Gulag; it resembles a cross between Butlin’s and the Henley Regatta most of the time.

One episode I watched the other night dealt with what was called ‘speed-learning’ as the Village community absorbed a history course by staring at the TV screen for three minutes. Afterwards, villagers could automatically ask another villager a question related to the course and they’d receive the same reply, parrot-like, word-for-word; the information was implanted in every person who’d sat the course, but they only had the set reply; their knowledge went no deeper than that and was ultimately as useless as memorising the answers to expected questions on an exam paper. Hard not to think of some present-day degrees – gender studies, perhaps – that neither enrich the intellect nor guarantee a career but simply proffer useless information that has no more worth or value than being able to recite a shopping-list.

Another memorable episode in which it was impossible not to sense a theme echoing down the decades concerned a Village election. No.6 is persuaded to run for No.2’s office and instantly has his cynical honesty reported completely differently by what passes for a press. His words from the heart are translated as vacuous platitudes that could have emerged from the mouth of every politician of the last forty years; but in the Village, there is no independence of thought, so it doesn’t matter. He’s saying what all politicians say and are expected to say in the land of collectivist groupthink. That crossed my mind when I heard Matt Hancock opportunistically toss the token buzzword ‘Black Lives Matter’ into one of his briefings a couple of days ago. He is laughably pathetic, a man utterly bereft of principles and personality, not to mention one single original thought or a single utterance that doesn’t sound like a pre-prepared sound-bite for ‘Question Time’; but he would make a wonderful No.2.

I’m only halfway through my current viewing of ‘The Prisoner’, so I fully expect plenty more episodes that say something to me in 2020 that they didn’t say in the 2010s, 1990s or 1980s. I’m not the same person now that I might have been in those decades, and the programme now is not the programme it was then either. As for the world…well, what can one say? Please excuse me for the moment; I see a black man approaching, so I need to fall to my knees and acknowledge my privilege by begging my oppressed pet to forgive me for the imagined crimes of my slave-owning ancestors. He, of course, is a number whilst I am a free man.

© The Editor

PS After writing this post, I watched an episode in which No.6 is effectively ‘cancelled’ by the community, ostracised as a pariah by shouty students and hectoring harridans. It’s almost as if he’s been no-platformed by social media or something…

A POLAR EXPEDITION

Perhaps one reason why the national outbreak of weekly clapping caught on was that it helped generate a sense of community – however superficial – at a moment when many suddenly felt extremely isolated and detached from wider society. However, it’s arguable that in many cases the lockdown merely lifted a lid on pre-existing isolation and detachment rather than manufacturing them from scratch. Along with the pre-Cummings ‘were all in this together’ mantra (which a majority desperately wanted to believe, if only to give credence to the sacrifices being made), there was a hope that the polarisation exacerbated by Brexit might just be put into perspective. If we were all in this together, we could stop hurling poison darts at each other from either side of the tribal barricades; we could cease hostilities and, even if we couldn’t shake hands due to social distancing guidelines, we could at least stop screaming at one another.

There was a very brief moment early on when it looked as if all the fatuous issues that had dominated discourse on social media for the past couple of years had mercifully been put to bed; there was a new, far more dramatic issue to capture the imagination. The extreme decision to bring everything to a grinding halt should, in theory, have united the warring factions; this was far more serious than gender pronouns or whatever else had provoked such inexplicable anger online and, unlike trivial first-world obsessions, it affected everybody. But it was naively optimistic to expect those who have an investment in division to abruptly abandon it. It feels now like the polarisation runs so deep that not even an event as life-changing (or threatening) as a global pandemic can overcome enmities that seem set in stone.

It wasn’t long before the familiar racial and gender factors began to surface in the coronavirus narrative, almost as if it wasn’t enough that we were all in it together; some of us had to be in it more than others as the Oppression Olympics proceeded regardless and the scramble to grab the gold medal of victimhood reasserted itself. Those who see everything through such distorted prisms simply couldn’t help themselves from applying their usual worldview to the picture once the momentarily unifying shock of the lockdown subsided. Even when faced with the greatest leveller of all, there has to be an Identity Politics angle to hone in on; it appears to have become the default setting, whatever the circumstances.

And then it took the Dominic Cummings revelation, hot on the heels of Neil Ferguson’s exposure, to bring the full polarising fury that characterised the Brexit saga back onto the front pages. Remoaners never forget, and the prospect of hanging out to dry the detested Svengali regarded as an architect of the peasants’ revolt of 2016 was too good an opportunity to resist. The staggeringly disproportionate coverage by, and behaviour of, the mainstream media over this issue has demonstrated that what divides us will continue to do so even when attention should really be focused elsewhere. It was the final nail in the coffin of a promising pause that had suggested a major event like lockdown would lead to a temporary ceasefire that, in time, would become permanent as people gradually grew-up and moved on. No such luck, alas. Twitter today is just as packed with vicious, vociferous fanatics on both sides as it was before Covid-19 winged its merry way from east to west.

Following representatives of the two extremes on Twitter, I observe this toxic tennis match between left and right with increasing despair; it’s a grand-slam final that seems set to play on with little prospect of ever reaching match-point; both opponents are refusing to concede an inch. The loss of a middle ground not only in politics, but in society as a whole, has helped generate a scenario in which one has to take an extreme position on every burning issue. If one attempts to be balanced and see the good and bad in everyone, that’s not acceptable; the enemy must be utterly condemned. If one says anything remotely positive about a policy decision made by Boris or Trump – not easy, I admit, but not impossible – one is immediately shot down and branded a ‘Nazi sympathiser’ or whatever chosen insult is trending this week. It’s like a kid in the playground who intervenes when another kid is being picked on, and then those doing the picking instantly accuse the kid who intervened of harbouring unrequited love for the kid being picked on. It’s that infantile.

Mind you, it doesn’t help when Mr President so often exhibits the same childish combative approach to any crisis. He could have phrased his intention to curb the rioting in Minneapolis better, of course, but few expect dignified gravitas from a man who lacks the eloquence of tact. It’s a given that the National Guard are going to be called in when civil disturbance grows so serious that the situation necessitates their intervention; but there are ways and means of calming chaos. What provoked the anger that inspired the rioting in the first place was undoubtedly horrible if sadly unsurprising where the attitude of some US police forces are concerned; the sadistic idiot responsible for the death of George Floyd is one more contaminated product of America’s ongoing problem with race, a problem that stretches from inbred racial prejudice on one side to the assumption that every non-white has to vote Democrat as part of their duty as oppressed minorities on the other.

And as so often happens in the aftermath of such a gruesome incident as the killing of George Floyd, professional agitators move in to exploit and enflame the anger. The likes of Antifa and Black Lives Matter give every impression of being partners in anarchy whose ultimate aims may differ, but whose means of achieving those aims are similar; if they share anything beyond capitalising on discontent, it is to enhance and widen even further the divisions that would only render their respective organisations null and void if – God forbid – they should ever be healed. The former seek to destabilise the system whenever they sniff a powder-keg bubbling and sod the consequences for those caught in the crossfire; the latter have an investment in the continuation of racial tensions that justify their own existence. Neither group is concerned with the genuine grievances that they hitch a ride on; like a nihilistic travelling circus, they arrive in town, stoke unrest and then depart when the town is in ruins.

The message is drilled into the masses via generous MSM coverage which preaches the narrative that skin colour or sexual preference utterly define an individual above all else and will naturally divide us because we’re not all the same. Mankind will never progress beyond the barrier of colour if it is constantly being reinforced by those who require its perpetual presence in order to survive and prosper. Social media is currently awash with race-baiting propaganda appealing to the guilty consciences of the self-flagellating white Woke folk who carry the crimes of their forefathers on their backs. You are a racist and 2+2=5. To dispute this logic is to place you in sympathy with the cop who killed George Floyd; and Donald Trump; and Boris Johnson; and Nigel Farage; and Vote Leave; and so on and so on. What timing, mind – a frustrated people driven half-crazed by lockdown measures were primed for parasites preying on their grievances, and the plan is working. We are divided and we are falling. At least it’s not that long a way down, though.

© The Editor