2016 marks the 50th anniversary of a classic science fiction show that not only raised serious political and philosophical questions but did so in a manner friendly to libertarianism.
No, I am not referring to Star Trek but The Prisoner.
The Prisoner was a BBC production that only lasted for one year and only produced 17 episodes, but 50 years later it maintains a strong cult following.
The show focused on an unnamed government agent who may or may not be John Drake, the character Prisoner's star and creator Patrick McGoohan played on Secret Agent.
As the title suggest, the agent is held Prisoner. But his prison is not a traditional jail, but a small town on an island known as "The Village."
Beneath the village's idyllic surface lies a harsh police state where every aspect of life is monitored and controlled by a totalitarian bureaucracy.
People are not even referred to by their names. Instead, everyone is given a number.
The lead character is Number 6. The face of whatever controlled the Village is Number Two. Each week Number Two was played by a different actor. The identity of Number One remained a mystery which may or may not have been solved by the series' end.
Another mystery is just who runs the Village, and what are the goals. At least one of the Number Two's states that his goal is to see the whole world become like the Village.
Most residents of the Village passively accept their fate. However Number 6 refuses to bend an inch to his capturers, much less give the revolving door of Number two's what they (and/or their superiors) most desire: knowing the reason why he resigned from his government position.
Six's refusals to submit to his new overlords is shown early in "Arrival," the first episode when, on becoming informed that going forward he would be known as Six that:
"I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed, or numbered! My life is my own!
That theme of rebelling against an oppressive authority is reaffirmed in the line Six yells at the beginning of each show: I am not a number, I am a free man!
You can see why so many libertarians fell in love with this show.
While most of the episodes are standouts, libertarians will particularly enjoy "Free for All," where Six campaigns for election as the new Number Two. This is one of the best satires of the political process ever.
Instead of wrapping up with a clean ending, The Prisoner ending raises as many questions as it answers. I won't spoil the ending but it raises interesting philosophic questions about whether one reason people become enslaved to authoritarian government is because the government on some level is a reflection of their dark side, and whether we can ever break free from the state until we acknowledge our own tendencies to authoritarianism.
While some of the show's aesthetics are clearly reflective of the times, the issues it raises about individual liberty and identity are more relevant in the age of mass surveillance than when the show was produced. Any lover of liberty and intelligent, thought-provoking science fiction fan should check this show out.
You can purchase The Prisoner on DVD and Blue-Ray here.
Read John Gizzi's tribute to The Prisoner and about libertarian love for The Prisoner here.
Read a piece about the pro-liberty themes in the show here.
And read a tribute to the show with pictures here.
Tags: libertarian culture