Thursday, January 29, 2009

The new header...

...shows Patrick McGoohan, of course, (to the right, as Number 6 in Napoleonic garb, which I include for its Hornblowerishness), from McGoohan's 1967-68 British television series The Prisoner, whose political philosophy (and visual style) so struck me in childhood that when I watched it the other night for the first time in some thirty-five years, I recalled it intimately.

[Feb. 2: I took the header down, as having Mr. McGoohan overlooking everything was too intense.]

[Wow--I just discovered that you can watch all 17 episodes of the series here:, at least in the U.S.]

It's odd to meet things from childhood, long forgotten, and recognize them, and then to realize they must have affected your life deeply because they imprinted on your soft, receptive mind.
I would have watched this with my parents about the same time the Vietnam War was on TV every night, and men were landing on the moon, and the line between real and surreal was wavery.

The Prisoner, known only as Number 6, is a man trapped in a dystopian Kafka-esque place called The Village, where everyone is stripped of individuality and even their names are replaced with numbers. The show follows his attempts to escape or to subvert the anonymous totalitarian regime. And each episode ends with him still trapped--sometimes hunted down by surrealistic tracking balloons (left)--but continuing to insist, "I am not a number! I am a free man!"

So while it was very grim, it was insistent on the dignity and existential freedom of the individual. I always say my parents raised their children with no religion at all, which is technically true--unusually, for that time and place, we kids weren't even baptized--but really, that philosophy was their religion.

And, I didn't meet people who held those ideals so strongly again, once the 1960s and my childhood ended, until I spent time in my thirties in the Catholic Church. (McGoohan was a staunch Catholic himself.)

That seems a bit of a paradox, because there I also met totalitarianism (lite), up close and personal. But I suspect the primacy of the informed conscience, which the Church teaches (maybe not always front and center), is best highlighted when it has to define itself against confines, including the confines of the institution itself.

I always say I learned more about real-life politics working in the church than in any class I took or book I read. And, looking back, I see I learned certain "religious" values, such as respect for the individual* and the power of the spirit, first in stories like The Prisoner.
And Number 6's Lotus sports car?
That was pure cream.

McGoohan died January 13, 2009, the day before Ricardo Montalbán.
Be seeing you.
* Re respect for the individual, for instance, from The Catechism of the Catholic Church: #1912 The common good is always oriented towards the progress of persons: "The order of things must be subordinate to the order of persons, and not the other way around." This order is founded on truth, built up in justice, and animated by love.

[4 posts today? If you guessed that I am avoiding some work, you guessed right.]


momo said...

I don't think I saw the whole series, but I rewatched the opening credits and recognized them. I know I also was very affected by the show in a sort of pre-conscious way. Those balls bobbing up out of the water were terrifying.

fresca said...

I confess that, as with Blakes 7, I found the series too bleak to watch the entire thing.
Those evil weather balloons freaked me out when I was a kid---and they still do!
Truly frightening, partly because they are a perversion of something normally friendly.

Manfred Allseasons said...

What an excellent post!

You still got it kid!

fresca said...

Ah, but I don't have the car.