Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Apartheid in The Prisoner: Once Upon a Time and Fall Out

The parallels between these episodes as we near the end of The Prisoner, with South African apartheid are absolutely screaming out to be paid attention to. I have already touched on them: forced removals, interrogations, heavy police methods, the violence of the sjambok, disappearances and bannings, all of these were the tools of the apartheid government as the regime buckled under pressure from within and without the country.
Instead I would like to focus on how personal Once Upon A Time actually is. In this episode the whole stretch of Number 6’s life is laid out in intimate detail. On one level this merely mirrors the totalitarian nature of the apartheid regime – it truly did regulate all aspects of the citizens’ lives and deliberately keep them in ignorance of anybody else’s life – but it is also personal in the sense of it being about Number 6’s very life story and being. I am actually finding it difficult to articulate what I mean by that, since it has already been clear that both regimes were intrusive into all aspects of life. If I think of an example, I suppose the childhood memories would be the sort of thing – the sort of memories that really are completely individual to you, to the extent that even when you compare them with other people having the same experience, they can usually be different.
This level of intrusion is beyond law, and is perfectly mirrored in the guilt-ridden memoirs of life under apartheid written by white South Africans. Apartheid, far more than degree absolute, had the strange ability actually to write ones memories. In this it had the capability to mark its victims and beneficiaries permanently by ensuring that everything which forms you is coloured in some way by this oppressive system. That is the tragedy of present South Africa – that the past cannot be ignored, and the society remains deeply marked by its apartheid past. It is no use saying, for example, that there are blacks who have pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps so the others can do it as well. In reality the majority of blacks would not be starting from a place where they can just do that, for health, educational, social reasons.
Surely I can’t find a parallel between Fall Out and apartheid, you may ask, but I think its rather obvious. It is spelled out in great detail in the cartoon which illustrates this post and shows the reason why South African society can only ever be totally screwed up from now on: the ongoing divisions of apartheid actually remain, and apartheid is the cause of them. There is no white South African who can claim not to have benefitted. Once again, this realisation leaves its legacy of guilt with all that that entails, in the memoirs of white South Africans. It also means that there is a continual power imbalance in race relations in the country, whether inspired by hatred, pseudoscience, or guilt. This is the best parallel to draw between The Prisoner and South African apartheid: the sort of society which can create The Village or apartheid, is fairly permanently screwed up and harmful on an individual and collective basis to its citizens, while also using rewards and apparent freedom to perpetuate its ongoing control.
My conclusion therefore about whether South African apartheid could be an inspiration for The Prisoner, is that the above states the best connection, as a political or social one. Unusually the apartheid image matches better to the latter episodes of the show than the other themes I have examined. However, I feel as a single inspiration of the show it falls down in comparison to either the Danger Man theory or the allegorical reading.

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