Number 6 leaves The Village

>> Wednesday, January 14, 2009

I'm sorry to hear that Patrick McGoohan has passed away today at age eighty.

Last week, I did a piece on the classic TV series The Prisoner, including a link to AMC's live-streaming of all of the episodes of the complete series. McGoohan did a number of other television shows and movies over the years, but The Prisoner remains not only his iconic role but also represents some of his strongest work as a writer, director and producer.

I'm not sure what I could add that wasn't said in the earlier post or comments. He was a great actor and apparently a pretty decent guy, and his death represents, I guess, the door slowly swinging inevitably shut on a generation. Such happens to all generations--a thousand years past and a thousand years hence, and there's really only a mere fifty years left for my generation, really. But I do have to wonder if it always felt the same: after all, McGoohan's generation was really only the second generation in the era of what might be described as modern mass media, and his generation was maybe the first one in which that modern mass media really had a global reach and long tail. The Prisoner, for instance, was originally aired at roughly the same time (within a two-year period) in three countries on two continents (the show debuted in Britain in September 1967 and then was aired in France in February '68, the United States in June '68, and West Germany in August '69; I seem to recall reading that the show also aired in Canada in the late '60s, but that may have been a part of the British rollout); subsequently, the original series found repeat airings on broadcast channels (including public television, where most American GenX-ers who love the show discovered it) and cable, and consumer sales on VHS and DVD (not to mention secondary media including books, comics, and the upcoming miniseries remake to air on AMC later this year). In the early generations of mass media and its precursors, McGoohan's work wouldn't even retain cult popularity forty years on: it would have vanished into the aether with other early radio broadcasts or rotted away in boxes and canisters like so many early films.

So one unforeseen consequence of this technological media age with its home theater systems and streaming internet video and international distribution channels driven by mail, phone and online correspondence is that it's hard for any entertainer, even a semi-retired one, to die in obscurity. McGoohan's work isn't just remembered and loved, it's loved and current, available online or at Amazon or for rental from Netflix and its peers. The Prisoner was uneasy with technology and mass-culture: the iconic pennyfarthing bicycle that recurred throughout the series was, per McGoohan, a symbol, a moving piece of technology with nobody in control of it, and the show frequently took aim at mass communications (e.g. the persistent, banal radio broadcasts from The Village's transmitter) and surveillance culture (e.g. the omniscient cameras and scanners and microphones). But it's this very kind of tech (and no, it's not ironic at all, actually) that has also kept McGoohan's critique of modernity alive and well and kicking--it's those omnipresent and ubiquitous lines of communication that The Prisoner so mistrusted that have guaranteed Patrick McGoohan died and will be respected and remembered as a free man, not a number.

Rest in peace, Mr. McGoohan. And thank you.

1 comments:

Tom Thursday, January 15, 2009 at 1:23:00 PM EST  

I finally see it! It's you. You tempted fate with your previous post, and, because of you Patrick McGoohan died.

You must stop using your powers for evil! Use the Force, Eric, and shun the Dark Side. Such powers come with great responsibility, and only you can prevent florist friars!

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