THE UNMUTUAL PRISONER ARTICLE ARCHIVE
PETER DUNN'S A-Z OF PRISONER ALLEGORY
E - Education as Entertainment.
E presented me with a dilemma. Should I deal with the issue of education or
the equally important theme of entertainment? The more I looked, the more I
saw that in "The Prisoner" both these subjects were bound together
as a single tool in the armoury of the Village. Thus in this article we have
a double column, which in its own little way also hopes to both entertain and
If any "Prisoner" fan was asked to select an episode which dealt with the question of education they would almost without exception nominate "The General". Its central plot revolves around the Village's test of a new "speed learning" system. The implications of this system for personal freedom are presented in the episode in an exceedingly blunt and direct manner most unusual for the series as a whole. Obviously, if The Village can successfully implant a basic history course in the minds of its inmates it can also implant whatever other information it likes and possibly reach a much larger audience. Of course the form of history taught by this method is a blow-by-blow diplomatic and military record of the history of Europe since Napoleon. The period is presented as a straightforward era of "realpolitik" where might is right and ideas and ideologies feature little - a not unsurprisingly historical line for The Village to take. Indeed overall, such a straight-forward plot line would be more appropriate to "The Champions" rather than "The Prisoner", yet the episode works and at times "The General" is one of the most obtuse and inaccessible episodes of the series. There is a lot more going on below the surface of this basic plot and one of those key underlining issues is the link between education and entertainment.
"The Prisoner"'s running theme of the link between education and entertainment is most clearly demonstrated in this episode. What is important is not what information is being delivered but how it is being delivered - this is a clear example of the medium being as important as the message. The main medium for the delivery of the Professor's history course is the Village TV network. The course is made attractive by its linkage to what is more normally an entertainment medium - even Number Six falls for the course whilst leisurely watching the screen out of simple curiosity. Just two years later, in 1969, the Open University was also to make use of TV to deliver university degrees - but in a slightly more ethical manner!
The link to entertainment did not stop with the TV screen. Throughout the episode the whole Village is covered in posters and rosettes extolling the virtues of "Speed Learn" and the successful completion of the process is celebrated by a Village-wide carnival. Learning is seen as fun - or least learning what the Village wants you to learn is fun...
not the first time the Village has used a carnival or festival to underscore
a lesson. The carnival in "Dance of the Dead" is used to educate the
Villagers, and Number Six in particular, that they are effectively dead to the
outside world; the Appreciation Day rally in "It's Your Funeral" was
to be the prequel to an assassination and the bloody purge of the Jammers; the
unmutual rally at the end of "A Change of Mind" and the electoral
rallies of "Free For All' certainly illustrated how the Village viewed
the governmental and democratic process It is unsurprising therefore to find
that it the introduction to his bibliography "Carnival and Other Seasonal
Festivals in the West Indies, USA and Britain" researcher John Cowley points
out that "...the functionalist view of carnival is that it serve., as a
safety-valve in a politically repressive society - in other words it is part
of system of social control". Of course the use of costumed carnival is
particularly employed against Number Six as ar individual in a series of attempts
to get him to part with his information ("Living In Harmony", "The
Girl Who Was Death" "Once Upon A Time", even "A. B. &
C." has elements of this).
Carnivals are not the only special entertainment events that the Village uses to educate. Let us have a look at the arts and crafts competition from "The Chimes of Big Ben". Here the Village uses art to promote authority. Almost every exhibit presented by the Villagers (except you knov who's!) glorifies the image of the current Number Two. This hero worship is a bit of dangerous path for the Village to move down, after all these images would all have to be destroyed when the next Number Two arrives. This use of art clearly parallels those of Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia who used art to expound and bolster the ideology of the state. In Nazi Germany art was so ordered to the needs and image of the teutonic Reich that images considered non-inspiring or outside the Aryan idea were at one point gathered together to be exhibited as the work of degenerate artists. In Soviet Russia, the Stalin era saw the emergence of an art form known as "socialist realism" which dominated art, music, cinema, radio, literature and every other area of culture. Images of tractor production, toiling peasants, and great production projects competed only with images of the Great Stalin himself. Art and literature were bound to promote the industrialisation of Russia. We do, of course, see one Villager still clinging on to abstract art forms (the Villager who paints Number Six's portrait in "It's Your Funeral") but even he is described as "eccentric" and I am sure he is removed for "therapy" shortly after.
There is only one form of artistic endeavour that we do not see hijacked by the Village - literature. We see very little restriction of literature. Newspapers and magazines are, of course, controlled - only "Village World" and the "Tally Ho" are available - but books are scattered throughout the village. They are on sale in the shop and we occasionally see them being read (e.g. Virginia Maskell brings one to the band-stand in "Arrival"). We do not know if any are censored or restricted but Number Six seems free to quote from Shakespeare, Goethe, Cervantes' "Don Quixote" and other authors at will without ever being restricted or pulled up. Village authorities and even ordinary Villagers recognise the quotes and comment on them without any fear (e.g. the girl who takes the "Tally Ho" advert in "Hammer Into Anvil"). The biggest collection of books in the Village appears in "The General", when Number Two shows Number Six the library available to the General computer and points out in particular books by Plato, Aristotle, Voltaire and Rousseau. Rousseau is of course renowned for his observation that "every man is born free yet everywhere is in chains", which is probably why a line of dialogue by Number Two describing these books as "All good stuff' was cut from the final broadcast episode!
"The General" is also the episode in which we see a prisoner being tasked with the physical destruction of a book as part of his "therapy", but apart from that one exception there seems little control or restriction of literature within the Village.
However the educational and controlling uses of the other arts are not lost on the Village. Direct political use of the arts occurs again in "It's Your Funeral" when a plain monument simply marked "Achievement" is unveiled. The Village does not simply limit itself to the fine arts - music "Makes A Quiet Mind", so says the Village maxim in "Hammer Into Anvil". The Village particularly values the use of music as a means of social control. Villagers are exposed to it constantly via the public address system and by the radios in their cottages which (as Number Six discovers) simply cannot be switched off. They awake to a burst of lively music (as we hear in "Arrival") and are sent to bed and curfew with a lullaby (which we hear in "Chimes"). All day long they are assailed by music that is either gentle ("The Farandelle") or rousing ("The Radetski March"), there is no blues music, no jazz nor modern pop - no music that unsettles or breeds negative or rebellious thoughts. Of course in between these snatches of music the Village gives useful pieces of information over its public address system, what the weather will be, what flavour of ice cream is available or who is unmutual - just in the same way as public address systems controlled occupied cities in World War Two and still control nations such as North Korea today.
There is of course one major way that the Village differs from Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia in its use of entertainment and that is in its use of sport. Unlike those aforementioned societies the Village shows a marked reluctance to let its inmates indulge in sports - particularly team sports. None of the sporting activities familiar to our world is present in the Village - the only individual sport available is the bizarre activity known as Kosho designed, it appears, to make sporting competition as ridiculous as possible. The nearest equivalent to team sports is Human Chess, which is a poor shadow of real team sport. Here the actions of the players, whether as a team or as individuals, count for nothing. Each and every move is predetermined for them by the two "real" chess players - it is in fact a cruel parody of team games and anyone who fails to see the joke, such as the Rook, soon finds themselves being carted off to the Hospital.
Why then this opposition to sport? There are two reasons for this. Firstly, the Village does not like the idea of personal development which is not under its direct control (hence the destruction of Number Six's private exercise area in "A Change of Mind"); nor does it like the idea of anyone developing skills that could be used in an escape. Secondly, the Village wishes to remove the idea of competition from its inmates. The wish to win as an individual is a very dangerous philosophy to have. Only the community can win - there is no such thing as the individual or individual success. Competitive games are thus discouraged. Only the most die-hard sporting individuals would wish to play the only competitive game available rather than the quiet and easy life and many take that path. No dictatorship in the real world has ever taken this path of using entertainment as a bribe for co-operation and control. One could perhaps speculate that this is exactly what the western democracies of our time are doing. As employment prospects fall governments are having to find ways of filling the gap in people's lives. This they have filled with increased educational opportunities (25 years ago only one in eight young people got a place in a university, now it is one in three) and a burgeoning leisure society. Perhaps the Village is closer to home than we think!
Of course you may ask, why does the Village not encourage team games as a way of controlling the individual? Team games would undermine the goals of the Village even more. The Village works by isolating its inmates and inducing a state of general paranoia. To set up any sort of team where people grow to trust and rely on each other for however short a period would undermine this vital plank of Village command and control. Such teams could even move on from sporting activities to co-operating together to perform Jamming-style activities or even team-based escape attempts such as in "Checkmate". I wonder if this is why the Croquet Players were cut from "Arrival"? (I could also be trite here and point out that team games did not seem to blunt the individuality of Eric Cantona, but such a reference would only serve to date this column).
There is one other way that the Village differs from the two totalitarian states mentioned earlier in its use of entertainment as education and that is in the importance it puts on the notion of play or recreation. Soviet Russia controlled its citizenry by making sure that they spent every spare minute helping to fulfil the succession of glorious Five Year Plans designed to industrialise Russia -while busy toiling for the future industrial success of Mother Russia there was no time to spend plotting against the state, nor opportunity to acquire individual wealth and thus become sub-verted to the capitalist ideology. Nazi Germany made its people commit them-selves to supporting continued military expansion in search of "living space" or "Lebensraum". Its ideology was littered with phrases exhorting to work and struggle i.e.:- "Mein Kampf' (my struggle), or "Arbiet Mach Frei" (work makes you free). What are the Village's maxims "Music Makes A Quiet Mind" and "Less Work And More Play"? The Village believes it can better control people by offering them a pleasant imprisonment - and for some this works, e.g. the old people in "Arrival" of whom Number Two says they now "...wouldn't leave for the world" or the Professor's wife in "The General" who declares "We came here voluntarily. We have everything we need. We're perfectly happy" - though of course she could be lying (after all her husband does not look particularly at ease!).
do not realise is that many true inmates do not last long after their usefulness
is gone (e.g. the termination order for Roland Walter Dutton) but sufficient
numbers stay on in the Village because of their continued usefulness (the inventor
in the cave in "Free for All"), or the fact that the knowledge in
their head is too dangerous to be allowed outside the Village (the Rook), or
their plain stub-bornness (Number Six).
Of course the blending of education with entertainment is not in itself a bad thing. It has been done throughout the ages from the early morality plays and passion plays to today's "Sesame Street" and Open University. The next phase of this education/entertainment mix (let's call it infotainment) will undoubtedly come with the Internet which at the moment is half-toy/half-genuine information network. "The Prisoner" has shown us that entertainment can be used to deliver messages that we would not otherwise accept or agree with. What can we do in an era where there are more and more ways in which entertainment and education can overlap and more and more people making a conscious effort tc use entertainment in that way? Very little save be aware of the power of both the medium and the message. Even the mos shallow and simple forms of entertainmen can carry powerful thought provoking messages - even 1960s' TV adventure yarns….
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