First broadcast in America 50 years ago, The Prisoner—a dystopian television series described as “James Bond meets George Orwell filtered through Franz Kafka”—confronted societal themes that are still relevant today: the rise of a police state, the freedom of the individual, round-the-clock surveillance, the corruption of government, totalitarianism, weaponization, group think, mass marketing, and the tendency of humankind to meekly accept their lot in life as a prisoner in a prison of their own making.
Perhaps the best visual debate ever on individuality and freedom, The Prisoner (17 episodes in all) centers around a British secret agent who abruptly resigns only to find himself imprisoned and interrogated in a mysterious, self-contained, cosmopolitan, seemingly tranquil retirement community known only as the Village. The Village is an idyllic setting with parks and green fields, recreational activities and even a butler.
While luxurious and resort-like, the Village is a virtual prison disguised as a seaside paradise: its inhabitants have no true freedom, they cannot leave the Village, they are under constant surveillance, their movements are tracked by surveillance drones, and they are stripped of their individuality and identified only by numbers….
The Prisoner’s Village is also an apt allegory for the American Police State: it gives the illusion of freedom while functioning all the while like a prison: controlled, watchful, inflexible, punitive, deadly and inescapable.
The American Police State, much like The Prisoner’s Village, is a metaphorical panopticon, a circular prison in which the inmates are monitored by a single watchman situated in a central tower. Because the inmates cannot see the watchman, they are unable to tell whether or not they are being watched at any given time and must proceed under the assumption that they are always being watched.
Eighteenth century social theorist Jeremy Bentham envisioned the panopticon prison to be a cheaper and more effective means of “obtaining power of mind over mind, in a quantity hitherto without example.”
Bentham’s panopticon, in which the prisoners are used as a source of cheap, menial labor, has become a model for the modern surveillance state in which the populace is constantly being watched, controlled and managed by the powers-that-be and funding its existence….
This is the electronic concentration camp—the panopticon prison—the Village—in which we are now caged.
It is a prison from which there will be no escape if the government gets it way.
As Glenn Greenwald notes:
“The way things are supposed to work is that we’re supposed to know virtually everything about what [government officials] do: that’s why they’re called public servants. They’re supposed to know virtually nothing about what we do: that’s why we’re called private individuals. This dynamic – the hallmark of a healthy and free society – has been radically reversed. Now, they know everything about what we do, and are constantly building systems to know more. Meanwhile, we know less and less about what they do, as they build walls of secrecy behind which they function. That’s the imbalance that needs to come to an end. No democracy can be healthy and functional if the most consequential acts of those who wield political power are completely unknown to those to whom they are supposed to be accountable.”
Unfortunately, we seem to be trapped in the Village with no hope of escape.
That we are prisoners—and, in fact, never stopped being prisoners—should come as no surprise to those who haven’t been taking the escapist blue pill, who haven’t fallen for the Deep State’s phony rhetoric, and who haven’t been lured in by the promise of a political savior….
The internet has provided an interesting variation on the panopticon: