THE UNMUTUAL PRISONER ARTICLE ARCHIVE
"I AM A NUMBER" By Erica Kendrick
times have you heard the expression "I am not a number, I am a free man"
or "I am not a number, I am a person"? Of course our hero used it
a few times in the actual programmes and at the beginning of nearly every episode,
but what did we know him as? Just a number. A number among a community of so
many other numbers. He may have cried this infamous phrase, but didn't he himself
respond to this new form of address several times? So despite himself he really
was just a number. But why was he so adamant that he wasn't going to be a number?
Some think it is because he wouldn't conform to `their rules'. But in my opinion
it is because being purely a number is degrading. Your identification is taken
away from you and you become just another face in the crowd.
I've heard that Prisoners Of War (POWs) were made to wear their numbers on their sleeves for easy identification. Convicts in our Government's prisons have to hold their numbers up when they have their photographs taken for the files. Everything is filed. Even the children in the Bamardos' homes were filed by number. This is all supposed to make everything easier. But after all the filing you don't have to look at a person's face anymore or know anything about their personality (or care about it). When I was in majorettes and entered marching and baton twirling competitions we were all given numbers and called by those.
Even the arenas were numbered! It didn't matter what our names were. They just looked at how good we were, chose the best ones and said to themselves things like "Oh yes, Number 35 is very good. We'll call her up as a finalist." The only time we retained our names was when the prizes were being given out and that was obviously only to the best people in each category, their places of achievement being numbered. This does happen in most contests, except at least in beauty competitions they want to know some things actually about you.
The degrading aspect is just waiting around until your number is called and you are wanted for whatever purpose. In a computer game called "Simon The Sorcerer 2", Simon is told to take a number (yes, it is another contest, magic this time) and sit down. So Simon says the immortal words "I am not a number, I am a free man!" But to get further in the game you do have to take a number. In the film "Short Circuit", the robots just go around, obeying their in-built commands, until a powerful storm brings one of the units, Number 5, to life. From then on he insists he is not a number anymore and he now wants a name, that being Johnny. At the end is a happy finish and "Johnny Five is alive". He is finally recognised as such after a long hard struggle.
On our voting cards we are all given numbers. My number was 6 (a new Village conspiracy?) the first time I voted, but surely one person in every district had this same number? So the uniqueness of the numbers is now growing thin, all the 6's having to share this one number, only changed by a preceding letter on the card, indicating the district. In the stitch club I belonged to, we were filed by numbers. When Number 6, I mean our hero, said "I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed or numbered," he might have been slightly off track. He was most likely in this situation already. In "Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darling" (not a great favourite of everyone's, although I rather like it) when asked his code name he says "You would know me best as ZN73." Another number to which he is subject and uses himself.
Numbers are the easy way of telling who people are, but our real selves are lost and we are degraded to nameless, faceless units to be used when we are called. When our hero says in "Arrival" "I am not a number, I am a person" and Number 2 says "Six of one, half a dozen of the other," the latter is wrong. If you replace "I am a person" with "I have a personality," then there is quite a difference. And it is what our hero was trying to work towards.
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