Alan N. Shapiro, Visiting Professor in Transdisciplinary Design, Folkwang University of the Arts, Essen, Germany

Blog and project archive about transdisciplinary design, media theory and creative coding

Where am I? In The Village

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Prisoner: Where am I?
Number Two: In The Village.

Prisoner: What do you want?
Number Two: Information.
Prisoner: Which side are you on?
Number Two: That would be telling. We want information, information, information…
Prisoner: You won’t get it.
Number Two: By hook or by crook we will.

Prisoner: Who are you?
Number Two: The new Number Two.
Prisoner: Who is Number One?
Number Two: You are Number Six.
Prisoner: I am not a number. I am a free man.

Number Two: Ha, ha, ha, ha….

In Phoenix, Arizona, we ate dinner at an instance of The Village Inn restaurant chain. The interior décor, the atmosphere, and the “language semiotics” (the signs, the messages, the typography) of The Village Inn reminded me of one of my favorite TV shows of all time: The Prisoner, starring and co-created by Patrick McGoohan. The Prisoner is a 17-episode British television series that was first broadcast in the UK in 1967-1968. I first watched it in the mid-1970s on a black-and-white TV in the upstairs “recreation room” of my home in Roslyn, Long Island, New York. The Prisoner combines “James Bond” spy fiction with science fiction, and it embodies social-political themes about the totalitarian nature of contemporary society which are reminiscent of the ideas of the great social thinkers Orwell, Foucault, and Baudrillard.

McGoohan is a British secret agent who resigns from his job in frustration. His only motivation for quitting is that he is fed up. He wants to go on vacation. While packing his suitcase in his home, he is knocked unconscious by a sleeping gas, and he wakes up in The Village, a self-contained seaside community. He is held there as a  prisoner by an unspecified authority seeking “information.” He meets other former spies and operatives in The Village who have apparently been held captive there for years or decades.

McGoohan seeks to escape. Most of the other prisoners have accepted that escape is impossible, and they adjust to the “peaceful” and conformist way of life of The Village. Behind the scenes, lots of psychological torture is going on. All of America is like The Village, I think. The culture of eating keeps us content. No matter how frustrating are our jobs or the bureaucratic demands of the overly-administered society, we can look forward to that next piece of pie, the next bag of potato chips, the next candy bar, the next double cheeseburger, the next jumbo-sized soft drink.

The Village has its own daily newspaper (The Tally Ho), a cinema, a statue garden, a retirement home, a gymnasium, a fully equipped hospital, taxi service, a radio station (like George Orwell‘s telescreens in Nineteen-Eighty-Four, the receivers cannot be turned off), a television studio (used mostly for news reports and announcements), a restaurant, a music shop, several other stores, and its own graveyard. In addition, there are extensive recreation facilities. The local economy functions on a credit chit system.” (from Wikipedia article on The Village)

The décor of the original Village Inn Pancake Houses in the 1960s was very different from that of the contemporary version that I saw in Phoenix. The current formula of the chain can be understood as being a simulation of the original. In the “postmodern” system of simulation, the model precedes the real. An original expression first becomes a model. The model precedes its interminable instantiation (or the making of concrete instances from an abstract formula) into a series. The series is then permanently trapped in its perpetual reference to the self-identity of the model.

I take a double-sided view of the consumer culture of food and eating: both critical and affirmative. There is a potentially wonderful connection between food and enjoyment, food and energy, cooking and body chemistry, getting in touch with feelings in an authentic way. And it is social as well as individual. It is a complex sociology.
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