By David Yorkshire
Originally published at the Mjolnir Magazine Blog
This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the production of one of the very few television series that achieved the status of high art. I speak here of The Prisoner, largely the vision of one man: Patrick McGoohan – although his Jewish script editor George Markstein tried to take as much credit as possible for its conception. Marginalised and ignored, Markstein left before the end of the series. The series did, however, owe more to co-producer as well as director and writer of several episodes David Tomblin. There has since been a re-imagined version of the series, in 2009, which was largely thinly-veiled propaganda for the homosexual lobby, but this is not the concern of this particular article.
Firstly, a note about the quality: some of the episodes are cobbled together and superfluous to the overall narrative. This is because McGoohan had conceived of a serial of seven episodes, but ATV head (((Lew Grade))) wanted twenty-six for commercial purposes. They settled on seventeen. Particularly the episodes Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling, Living in Harmony and The Girl Who Was Death can be ignored.
McGoohan stated in an interview that The Prisoner came out of an “impatience with the new morology of society and the way we were being made into cyphers and so on.” The series, then, is an explicit reaction against the 1960s counterculture that has taken hold of the contemporary mainstream. It is thus more relevant now than when it was first aired in 1967.
For those who have never seen the original series, which I would advise everyone to watch, McGoohan stars as an unnamed agent for the British government, who, at the beginning of the first episode, resigns for reasons of conscience that, throughout the series, he refuses to disclose. He returns home and begins to pack his suitcase, only to be followed home by sinister men dressed as undertakers, who gas him unconscious. He awakes to find himself in a place known only as “The Village” and is given a new identity – that of a number: Number Six. All the Villagers have numbers and the Village is ostensibly run by Number Two, although, as his number implies, there is a higher authority.
The series is both satiric and disturbingly prophetic in its portrayal of “Village life”. Superficially, everyone seems happy and friendly in this multicultural “idyll”:
“Why did you speak in French?” McGoohan asks a taxi driver of Far Eastern extraction.
“French is international,” she smiles, “As a matter of fact I thought you might be Polish, perhaps a Czech.”
“What would Poles or Czechs be doing here?”
“It’s very cosmopolitan. You never know who you meet next.”
And yet it is only an idyll because no one is allowed to speak out against it. Underneath the thin veneer of The Village’s Italianate beauty (filmed in the architect Sir Clough Williams Ellis’ village Portmeirion in Wales) lie the machinations responsible for forced conformity. “Unmutuals” (a term that might come straight from the neo-Marxist’s dictionary) are forced to confess their “inadequacy” before a group. Everyone is kept under constant surveillance by CCTV and by undercover warders, akin to the UAF, who walk among them. Dissidents are either eliminated or brainwashed via a number of means: medication, hypnotherapy, lobotomy, regression therapy, aversion therapy, indoctrination.
Indoctrination through the manipulation of an education system is the central theme of the episode entitled The General, in which students are fed their courses via subliminal messaging through their television sets by “The Professor”, who boasts of a three-year university-level history course in three minutes called, in Orwellian fashion, “Speedlearn”. Number Six soon discovers that all “students” can recite the same facts word-for-word upon demand, but he has trouble answering a question outside of the course’s parameters: “I said what, not when,” says Number Twelve. There are even more insidious aspects to “Speedlearn”, as The Village’s controller, Number Two intimates to Number Six:
“No more wastage in schools, no more tedious learning by rote: a brilliantly devised course, delivered by a leading teacher, subliminally learned, checked and corrected by an infallible authority, and what have we got?”
“A row of cabbages.”
“Indeed. Knowledgeable cabbages.”
“What sort of knowledge?”
“For the time being, past history will have to do, but shortly, we shall make our own.”
This satirises both the public’s willingness to accept anything as true that comes through the television screen (a fact used daily by the BBC, CNN and others in the manipulation of public opinion) and a university system that has become increasingly politicised over the years. We are all too aware that, at school, college and university, arts and humanities subjects are used as tools via what are known as “Critical Theory”, “New Historicism” and “Historical Revisionism” to deliver neo-Marxist propaganda by teachers and professors. As Number Two says of The Professor: “The people love him; they’ll take anything from him. It is the image that is important – the kindly image.” Indeed, I have seen many a student lulled by the idea they have of the kindly professor, accepting without question the information he feeds them.
Neo-Marxist “logic” is often exposed for the nonsense it really is in the series. In the aforementioned episode, The Professor’s wife’s ridiculous ‘60s countercultural neo-Marxist philosophising is met with Numer Six’s typically stoic empirical observations:
“That gentleman over there, what do you think he’s doing?”
“Tearing up a book.”
“He’s creating a fresh concept. Construction arises out of the ashes of destruction. And her there?”
“Standing on her head.”
“She’s developing a new perspective.”
“He’s asleep. The mind only learns when it wants to and not at set times. What’s your subject?”
“Mine? Modern art.”
“Really? What do you think of this?” Number Six hands her a portrait he has sketched of her dressed in a Soviet military uniform.
“Not altogether flattering.” She tears it up in indignation.
“Creation out of destruction?”
Number Six’s last quip about The Professor’s wife’s statement references Marxist theorist Joseph Schumpeter. It reveals Six’s cynicism towards a totalitarian brutal system that couches itself behind a veneer of progressivism. It contrasts sharply with the ethics our hero unsuccessfully tries to send out after commandeering the “Speedlearn” system, as Number Two describes it: “This reactionary drivel […] the freedom to learn, the liberty to make mistakes – old-fashioned slogans.”
Slogans play a huge part in the Village overlords’ propaganda. Posters abound, sporting jingoistic, simplistic catchphrases, such as “A still tongue makes a happy life”, “Trust me”, “Your community needs you!” and simply “Believe”. These simplistic and often meaningless slogans are satirised in the episode Free for All, a satire on the election process, in which Number Six runs to become the new Number Two. There are various Number Twos throughout the series, incidentally, which shows us that our leaders may change, but they are all essentially the same. Number Six is soon brainwashed into reciting the same rhetoric as the current Number Two. “More work and less play!” cries Number Six over the loudhailers to the cheering of the crowd – a slogan as childish and vacuous as Barack Obama’s “Yes we can!” No one ever thought to ask “Yes we can what?”
McGoohan’s nightmare has sadly become disturbingly accurate (although we never even got the beautiful architecture!) and, with globalisation, the words of Number Two in the episode The Chimes of Big Ben are also becoming a reality:
“It doesn’t matter who Number One is; it doesn’t matter which side runs The Village […] Both sides are becoming identical. What in fact has been created is a blueprint for world order. When the sides facing each other suddenly realise that they are looking into a mirror, they will see that this is the pattern for the future.”
“The whole world as the village?” asks Number Six.
“That is my hope.”
Of course, The Prisoner was written in the 1960s, when the Cold War was at its height. The two sides have not quite become one, though, as Number Two predicted. In fact, the new Russia and China have become the forces of capitalism and social conservatism while America and the European Union have embraced offshoots of Marxism, albeit different ones to the Soviets. The Marxists and capitalists in the West have joined hands after realising they both have the same goal: to have absolute rule over a global cultureless, rootless mass. Now they are putting pressure on the East to conform. I find it more than a little disturbing, then, when politicians talk of “The Global Village”. If McGoohan’s fate is to be remembered as a number, it is not a bad one if it prevents us all from becoming prisoners.