Tuesday, 26 January 2010

McGoohan's on Everybody's Mind: Contemporary Echoes of the Struggle of Number Six

Patrick McGoohan's 1967 show is often spoken of as both visionary and as evocative of something about Today as Yesterday. There are all sorts of reasons a person might believe that to be the case, but an impressive series of TV documentaries from a couple of years ago not only reflects some of the elements of Western Society that helped to inspire McGoohan and his collaborators, but also amplifies why his programme's concerns still seem so relevant to the recent past and the present-day, and why life can never be just a dream. These documentaries were made by Adam Curtis and broadcast by the BBC.

In deference to the man who has made this Blog so easy for me, I should quote Adam Curtis, as he prefaces his own programmes:

"Politicians from both the right and the left came to believe in a simplistic model of human beings as self-seeking, almost robotic creatures. Out of this came a new and simplified idea of Politics. No longer did politicians set out to change the world. Instead they saw their job as being nothing more than to deliver what these free individuals wanted and at the same time we too came to think of ourselves as simplified beings whose behaviour and even feelings could be analysed objectively by scientific systems which told us what was the normal way to feel. And both we and our leaders have come to believe that this is the true definition of Freedom. There is no other. But there is.............. "

Or as Patrick McGoohan expressed himself once: "If there's enthusiasm and the team feels it's being directed by someone who knows what he wants, then all that enthusiasm goes into good work. If you feel that the director or the producer is only doing it for the money, then nobody gives a damn."

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=4917227518812346524&ei=5GVfS-zLCdyf-AaS9OzmCQ&q=+numbers+bbc+documentary&hl=en&view=3#docid=-5376212150896990926 The Trap: - 1 -
What Happened to Our Dream of Freedom
This opening episode is the most directly 'prisoner-related' as it deals with exactly the zeitgeist that Patrick McGoohan developed his own ideas within. In this episode, Curtis examines the rise of game theory during the Cold War and the way in which its mathematical models of human behaviour filtered into economic thought, with particular reference to the work of John Nash who believed that all humans were inherently suspicious and selfish creatures that strategised constantly. A separate strand in the documentary is the work of RD Laing, whose work in psychiatry led him to model familial interactions using game theory. His conclusion was that humans are inherently selfish, shrewd, and spontaneously generate stratagems during everyday interactions. Laing's theories became more developed when he concluded that some forms of mental illness were merely artificial labels, used by the state to suppress individual suffering. This belief became a staple tenet of counterculture during the 1960s.

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=4917227518812346524&ei=5GVfS-zLCdyf-AaS9OzmCQ&q=+numbers+bbc+documentary&hl=en&view=3#docid=-1087742888040457650 The Trap - 2 -
The Lonely Robot
This programme moves past the years that created The Prisoner but the echoes are clear. Indeed, if The Prisoner is viewed as *visionary*, then here is part of the vision! The second episode reiterated many of the ideas of the first, but developed the theme that drugs such as Prozac and lists of psychological symptoms which might indicate anxiety or depression were being used to normalise behaviour and make humans behave more predictably, like machines. This is presented as a logical (although unpredicted) outcome of market-driven self-diagnosis. People with standard mood fluctuations diagnosed themselves as abnormal. They then presented themselves at psychiatrist's offices, fulfilled the diagnostic criteria without offering personal histories, and were medicated. The alleged result was that vast numbers of Western people have had their behaviour and mentation modified by drugs without any strict medical necessity. Archive clips spanning two decades emphasise how the severely reductionist ideas of programmed behaviour have been absorbed by mainstream culture. This brings Curtis back to the game theories of Cold War. Curtis explains how, with the "robotic" description of humankind apparently validated by geneticists, the game theory systems gained even more hold over society

The Trap - 3 -
We Will Force You To Be Free
This final episode segues more into 21st Century politics and perhaps becomes irrelevant to what inspired elements of The Prisoner but the final program focused on the concepts of positive and negative liberty introduced in the 1950s by Isaiah Berlin. Curtis then points out how many political groups who sought their vision of freedom ended up using violence to achieve it. For example the French revolutionaries wished to overthrow a monarchical system which they viewed as antithetical to freedom, but in so doing ended up with the so-called Reign of Terror. Similarly, the Communist revolutionaries in Russia, who sought to overthrow the old order and replace it with a society in which everyone was equal, ended up creating a totalitarian regime which used violence to achieve its ends. Using violence, not simply as a means to achieve one's goals, but also as an expression of freedom from Western bourgeois norms developed from the Existentialist ideology of Jean-Paul Sartre, who argued that terrorism was a "terrible weapon but the oppressed poor have no others."

I am a Blogger, and this has been a blog........ and yes, I giggled at the fact that the man's name is Curtis too............
Be seeing You

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