Sunday, November 15, 2009

New Prisoner, New Prison

Popular culture both reflects and influences the angst of an age.

Anyone who is seriously concerned with promoting a free society must pay attention to popular culture, and specifically to the two most powerful forces, religion and entertainment. What themes are circulating? Who are the villains? Who are the heroes? What is more important, the individual or the community? What does heaven look like? Is there a hell?

The answers to these questions reveal the dominant social operating system, and they make it easier to identify and combat anti-individualist ideas embedded in daily life.

Consider this example. AMC is remaking The Prisoner, the 1967 cold-war classic about a man furiously trying to assert his individuality in a captive world of cheery conformity.

The old series starred Patrick McGoohan as a top-secret government employee who resigns from his job, only to wake up in the Village, a comfortable sea-side resort. The problem is he can't leave. He is a prisoner. He has become No. 6. The Village is run by No. 2.

What does No. 2 want? "Information."

"You won't get it." No. 6 throws back.

"By hook or by crook, we will."

No. 6 shouts, "I am not a number, I am a free man!"

A menacing and mocking laugh follows.

In 1967, the social operating system was the battle of the individual versus the state. Whose state? It didn't matter. They all played the same game, and individuals were the game pieces.

But 1967 was a long time ago. In the new AMC series, the prisoner is in a new prison. He is enslaved by capitalism. So says Sir Ian McKellen who plays the part of the new No. 2.

No. 2 embodies the drawbacks of capitalism, McKellen says. "Capitalism offers you freedom, but far from giving people freedom, it enslaves them...That's part of the show's message."

Naturally, the new No. 6 is no longer a top-secret government employee. He's an employee of a "shadowy corporation" with it's very own web site, Summakor.

The show's writer, Bill Gallagher says, “The original [series] says we must assert our individuality....But one thing that interests me is that perhaps we have become too individualistic.”

It sounds like the new Prisoner is the doppelganger of the old series. Fans of the old series are likely to be disappointed if they tune in looking for a revival of the man versus state story-line. Best be prepared for something different. It's not just the prisoner who has changed. The prison has, too. Or, more accurately, the popular idea of what is a prison has changed, and not necessarily for the better.

But let's be charitable. It's not fair to draw too many conclusions about a show until you've actually seen it. That's why I'll be tuning in this Sunday at 8 pm Eastern. Frankly, I'm skeptical.

Watch episodes of the classic series here. The first episode appears below. At the very least, watch the introduction, and consider whether or not it has lost any of relevance.

Be seeing you.

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