Re: Films: The Prisoner

Since the subject of the televison series "The Prisoner" has come up I
thought many may be interested in this intriguing reading of the series,
"Gillans Island". What should be noted is the astute and insightful
critique created by the author from this riveting and humourous drama....

L'Isle de Gilligan

The hegemonic discourse of postmodernity valorizes modes of expressive
and ``aesthetic'' praxis which preclude any dialogic articulation (in, of
course, the Bakhtinian sense) of the antinomies of consumer capitalism.
But some emergent forms of discourse inscribed in popular fictions contain,
as a constitutive element, metanarratives wherein the characteristic tropes
of consumer capitalism are sub-verted even as they are apparently affirmed.
A paradigmatic text in this regard is the television series Gilligan's
Island, whose seventy-two episodes constitute a master-narrative of
imprisonment, escape, and reimprisonment which eerily encodes a Lacanian
construct of compulsive reenact-ment within a Foucaultian scenario of a
panoptic social order in which resistance to power is merely one of the
forms assumed by power itself. (1) The ``island'' of the title is a
pastoral dystopia, but a dystopia with a difference-or, rather, a dystopia
with a differance (in, of course, the Derridean sense), for this isa
dystopia characterized by the free play of signifier and signified. The
key figure of ``Gilligan'' enacts a dialect of absence and presence. In
his relations with the Skipper,the Millionaire, and the Professor, Gilligan
is there pressed, the excluded, the Other: he is the id to the Skipper's
ego, the proletariat to the Millionaire's bour-geoisie, Caliban to the
Professor's Prospero. (2) But the binarism of this duality is deconstructed
by Gilligan's relations with Ginger the movie star. Here Gilligan himself
is the oppressor: under the male gaze of Gilligan, Ginger becomes the
Feminine-as-Other, the interiorization of a``self'' that is wholly
constituted by the linguistic con-ventions of phallocratic desire (keeping
in mind, of course, Saussure's langue/parole distinction). That Ginger is
iden-tified as a ``movie star'' even in the technologically bar-ren
confines of the desert island foreshadows Debord's con-cept of the
``society of the spectacle,'' wherein events and``individuals'' are reduced
to simulacra. (3) Indeed, we find a stunningly prescient example of what
Baudrillard has called the ``depthlessness'' of America in the
apparent``stupidity'' of Gilligan and, indeed, of the entire series.(4)
The eclipse of linearity effectuated by postmodernity, then, necessitates a
new approach to the creation of modes of liberatory/expressive praxis. The
monologic and repres-sive dominance of traditional ``texts'' (i.e., books)
has been decentered by a dialogic discourse in which the``texts'' of
popular culture have assumed their rightful place. This has enormous
implications for cultural and social theory. A journal like Dissent,
instead of exploring the question of whether socialism is really dead,
would makea greater contribution to postmodern discourse by exploring the
question of whether Elvis is really dead. This I hope to demonstrate in a
future study. Notes:1. Gilligan himself represents the transgressive
poten-tialities of the decentered ego. See Georges Thibault, Jouissance et
Jalousie dans L'Isle de Gilligan, unpub-lished dissertation on file at the
Ecole Normale Su-perieure (St. Cloud).2. Gilligan's Island may be
periodized into an early, Barthean phase, in which most episodes ended with
an exhibition of Gilliganian jouissance, and a second phase whose main
inspiration is apparently that of Nietzsche, via Lyotard. The absence of
any influence of Habermas is itself a testimony to the all-pervasiveness of
Habermas's thought.3. The 1981 television movie Escape from Gilligan's
Is-land represents a reactionary attempt to totalize what had been
theorized in the series as an untotalizable herteroglossia, a bricolage.
The late 1970s influenceof the Kristevan semiotic needs no further
commenthere.4. Why do the early episodes privilege a discourse of metonymy?
And what of the title-Gilligan's Island? In what sense is the island
``his''? I do not have the space to pursue these questions here, but I
hope to do so in a forthcoming book.

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