October 9, 2005

By Hook or By Crook

I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed, or numbered! My life is my own - Arrival.
(For Logan, Jill, and the Lord of Nuance, who have never seen what I'm describing).

Like many in my generation, I was a television brat. Most people would find their role models in sports and athletics: mine were such gentlemanly heroes as John Steed or the Third Doctor. However, thanks to a then-cutting-edge PBS station in Chicago, I was introduced to a character that would form my moral core - Number 6 of The Prisoner.

I find it not-so-coincidental that Patrick McGoohan and I were born 13 days and 30-some years apart; maybe that's why The Prisoner resonates so strongly. The plot was almost typical 1960s Cold War/spy fare: a secret agent angrily resigns, and finds himself "kidnapped" on an island where the powers that be want to know his reasons for resigning. It was an anomaly in that there were only 17 episodes - short enough to not lose interest, but long enough to provide a good thorough viewing. (You can either purchase all five boxed DVD sets, or get one mega-set; I own all five, the first two sets given to me with my first DVD player).

It was also unique in that it straddled various genres (from Western to science fiction to sheer drama), and that it ended with as many (if not more) questions than it started with. This was, as A & E's promotions put it, "Television's First Masterpiece" - a 17 episode essay on individualism, politics, and various other issues. It's been an influence on other media, most notably comics (both a Wolfman/Kirby proposal for Marvel and Dean Motter's sequel), as well as V For Vendetta) and television (the why-the-heck- wasn't-this-a-hit Nowhere Man, which is coming to DVD later this year, and, in my opinion, Lost ).

So why did this show "form my moral core"? At its heart, it was a basic story of man versus society, of almost pure anti-establisment defiance. It covered other areas as well - the perversion of scientific thought, the nature of identity, democratic elections, McCarthy-esque blacklisting, among others - but its core was Number 6's refusal, in spite of numerous attempts to the contrary, to compromise his principles. In essence, Number 6 - despite any other criticisms - remains a man who is willing to do what he considers right. (Some schools of thought entertain that Number 6 is working for the "other side" - I personally maintain that he has his own agenda. After all, if you resign from one side, why not defect to the other?) This is a show that emphasizes pure freedom - the ability to know where one stands and act accordingly. And that is a value that I consider my strongest asset...but enough about me.

In many ways, it does reflect the time it was created - both in terms of design, and a slight whiff of misogyny. (There's also a bit of a double standard - McGoohan thought kissing was inappropriate for "family entertainment", but fisticuffs were). However, in current times, it seems even more relevant than ever, especially in terms of American politics. Erosion of individual liberties, manipulation by the powers that be, being declared almost "unmutual" for dissenting with public opinion - all of these issues are being discussed in our post-911, post-Katrina World. The Prisoner is a series that should be considered necessary viewing for anyone who wishes to be a concerned citizen - after all, if made in the present day, Number 6 would be considered an anti-hero, a person who challenges an authority that - let's face it - knows what's best for you.

In short, we're all living in the Village.

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