A TV Series: The Republic
We see the ARTIST, with a guitar case slung over his back and a GIRL draped round his arm, entering a hotel lobby. He goes up to the reception.
(peeling notes out of his wallet)
I'd like a room for the night -- King Size bed if you've got it, mate.
Do you have a credit card?
(looks a bit shifty)
Can I pay in cash?
We still need to see some ID.
(sighing, peeling out a card)
So the name is...
ARTIST and GROUPIE stumbling into hotel room.
I can't believe I'm with the one and only --
(puts a finger to her lips)
Fuck that shit. I hate that bullshit.
As she moves past him into the room, he closes the door and we get a close-up of the rakish grin on his face that tells us, really, he's loving every second of this. He puts the guitar case down on a chair. She starts getting undressed.
You know, I love artists. I feel so lucky.
I'm the fucking lucky one, love. Believe you me.
As they start undressing each other and getting it on, we fade to black. Then, in voice-over:
It's morning. The ARTIST is standing in his shorts with his empty wallet in hand. The GIRL is nowhere to be seen. He throws the wallet across the room.
Fucking bitch! She fucking ripped me off. Fucking... bollocks! You fucking wanker.
He rifles through his clothes for his mobile phone, switches it on. The display shows 'no signal'. He sits on the edge of the bed and picks up the phone on the bedside cabinet, dials. We hear a tone, then an automated voice on the other end of the line:
This number is not recognised. Please hang up and try again.
(slamming phone down)
He picks it up again, dials for reception. The TV remote is beside the phone. As he waits, he picks it up, switches on the TV and starts flicking channels. We get a montage of news shows, reality shows -- no soaps, no fiction.
A weather report:
In the aftermath of Huricane Katrina --
A reality show:
(shouting at fellow housemate)
-- I don't know where I am with --
An armchair discussion show:
-- history, changing in ways we never expect --
Hello. Yes. I'm trying to get an outside line.
What number are you trying to reach?
A news report on the TV. Scrolling headlines say "Yancy steps up security" beneath visuals of a White House news conference:
President Yancy today stepped up the security alert after...
What the fuck? Uh... 07789 998 654.
And I can promise America this: that no artist is going to...
I'm sorry that number doesn't apear to exist.
... not on Talbot W. Yancy's watch.
Yes it bloody does. Sorry. Look, it's my manager. It's a British phone but it works over here, love; I've called him before. Can you try again?
(looking at the TV in confusion now)
Yeah. You know. Tea and crumpets. God Save The Queen. The Sex Pistols, you know? The Rolling Stones. Jumping Jack Flash, he's a gas, gas, gas.
Is this a joke, sir? [pause] Am I on TV?
No. What are you... hang on, what the fuck is on TV?
... the activities of artists -- musicians, painters, so-called novelists -- these have no place in America. These have no place in the Republic...
Sir, are you feeling OK? You sound disturbed.
I am fucking disturbed, love. Look, I'm over here touring with my band. I'm trying to get in touch with my manager because some bloody floozy... look, never mind. All I want... [staring at TV now] what the fuck is this?
... the great and ancient principles on which this Republic was founded. We will have no painters in the Republic. We will have no musicians in the Republic...
A band, sir? You mean as in... musicians. Sir, do you realise what you're saying to me? Sir, you're admitting to criminal activities. I'm going to have to report this. I'm going to have to call security, sir. Sir? Sir?
The ARTIST lowers the phone, lets it dangle and drop as he stands, staring at the TV screen in shock.
President Talbot W. Yancy won't stand by while these writers spread their lies, while these artists create their painted images, while these musicians seduce our children with their songs. Not in my America. Not in the Republic.
Three security men burst in the door of the hotel room. Two grab the ARTIST and wrangle him to the ground. The third goes to the guitar case.
What the fuck is happening here? What the fuck are you doing? Look, I don't have any drugs in there. It's just a fucking guitar. I'm a musician, you know, a fucking "performing artist". Jesus Fucking --
MUSIC: Opening with Iggy Pop's roar of "Loooooooord!" from "TV Eye", we get a shot of the ARTIST standing in the middle of Time Square, camera view circling him as the background morphs, all the ads for musicals and shows dissolving into Stars & Stripes, the President's face, ads for everything but shows. Then as the guitar riff comes in and the song takes off we cut into a montage of character close-ups interspersed with dystopian shots. These gives us the credits and (re)establish the basic premise -- Yancy saying "We will have no artists in the Republic", shots of police breaking up gigs, guitars being smashed, manuscripts being burned, stacks of records in football stadiums, newspaper headlines from the 30's about singers being lynched in Alabama, from the 50's about FBI smashing illegal printing press operations. When the music gets to the break and the song pauses, we cut to the ARTIST in a police interview room, leaning over the table at a cop...
I don't know how I got here. I don't know if there's any others like me. All I know is one day I woke up and I was in the Republic.
Guitar riff kicks back in and we see musician on stage playing it, then we're plunged back into the flashcut montage of dystopian police state imagery -- choppers, batons, riots, ending with the anarchist Circle A sprayed in black over the Stars and Stripes and then the title:
OK. So. This is the pitch: It's The Prisoner for the Neo-Con era, The Fugitive for Bush's America. It's about a musician who finds himself in an alternative history version of America -- a version based on Plato's Republic, where all art is outlawed.
We never learn the character's name; he only ever introduces himself as some contemporary artist or musician who will never have existed in this world...
-- Who are you? a character asks him at one point.
-- Jackson Pollock, he says bitterly.
He's a criminal in this world, on the run, and he doesn't even know how the fuck he got here. Only thing he knows: in the first episode as he's being led out of the hotel by the police, it's the girl who ripped him off who sets him loose (denying that she knows him? describing herself as a "sympathetic soul"?)... before disappearing.
So in the long-term story arc, he's looking for the girl because she's gotta, he thinks, have something to do with him being there. Is she part of some resistance movement? Did she use some technotoy to bring him over from his own reality, to be some crazy-ass musical messiah? Because as he travels through this dystopia he's going to be acting as a catalyst for change in each episode in classic Kung Fu / Highway To Heaven style (Hmmm... I think I wanna end the first episode with him headed out of town, hitching a lift with Highway To Hell as the soundtrack). Thing is, he's really not that great a musician; he's big label and middle of the road. His songs are puerile nonsense and he doesn't really give a shit about saving the world. That's all bollocks, mate. So maybe she (they?) just brought him here as a distraction, to take the heat off while they plot in the shadows. That's the SF theory of what's going on.
Then there's the alternative reading that isn't SF but Fantasy. Maybe he's dead, this is his personal Hell and she's some sort of psychopomp leading him a merry dance through it. Maybe he's Orpheus and (as his quest for her becomes more and more obsessive) she's (becoming) his Eurydike. Maybe she's Death. Is this SF or is it Fantasy? Is he gonna get back to his own world, or find out that he's dead, or be reunited with whatever lost part of himself the girl represents? Well, when the multiple endings are shot a la The Fugitive and one them gets broadcast, then we'll find out, but until then, that's a mystery the audience will just have to argue over in the pub. I ain't telling.
Things I want in various episodes:
1. As the series progresses he'll start to find the underground. There's graffiti and rap in the ghettoes. Rap is art with no tools as evidence, after all; all you need is a fast mouth and talent. The cops can bust the illegal gatherings but they can't control it completely. Also, this gives an inroad to address racism and "low" art, street culture, the fear of the black man and his music, the association of that with "base" urges, going back to the reaction against Rock and Roll, Jazz and Blues, as "negro music".
2. That fear of music and the attempt to suppress it will be explicated further in an episode where the Artist meets a woman whose mother who was involved in the 60's protest movement in this world. She remembers the marches where thousand of people would sing, until the National Guard were sent in with water cannons and rifles. She talks about this song taught to her by her mother, but she refuses to sing it until the end of the episode, when, in this angelic voice, wavering at first, and then stronger, more resolute, she sings "We shall overcome".
3. I want the ARTIST to introduce himself as Donald Sutherland in one show and get into deep shit for it because here Donald Sutherland is a Solzenhitzen-style novelist who can never show his face in public but whose fiction circulates in samizdat form. I want Donald Sutherand to play himself, and having seen his Hard Talk interview on BBC News, where he was in fucking tears over the current state of America, hell, I think he'd be fucking up for it. At one point in that interview, Sutherland said it was like he'd just woken up one morning and America had changed. He didn't know how they'd got here, but somehow, somewhere along the way, it stopped being his America. And that's fucking exactly what this show is about.
4. I want Martin Sheen to play the President. I want Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins as guest stars. Fuck it, I want every motherfucking liberal activist actor who's right now looking at what Bushfeld Inc. are doing to America (and, by extension, the whole bloody world) and thinking, how the fuck did we come to this?... I want them all to have a chance to spit in the face of the Right Wing arsewipes. Actors, writers on guest episodes... brothers and sisters, I say unto you, come forth and nail yer colours to the mast. Cause, let's face it, this doesn't have a hope in hell of getting made without some serious fucking Big Name leverage.
5. A full-on assault on the dumbing down of culture. Why is TV allowed?
-- TV isn't art, says one character. It's news and reality shows, game shows, fly-on-the-wall documentaries, sports. Art has themes. Art has subtext. Art lies to us.
-- And you think that shit doesn't? says the Artist.
6. The Artist has the only electric guitar in existence since this "Platonist Republicanism" (need a proper name for it) took off, like fascism and communism in the first half of the 20th Century. By the time, they should have been wiring guitars for sound, the Republic was busy with its purges. So I know this is hokey as fuck, but I want a scene of the Artist hooking up his Fender Stratocaster to a PA, sticking a switchblade in the speaker and showing this world some Louie Louie. Hokey, yes. But, hey, it would still be cool as fuck.
7. Stand-up comics are allowed... as ersatz philosophers, creators of commentary rather than art... right up to and including the bitter savage humour of a Lenny Bruce or a Bill Hicks. But they're still trapped in the system, pressured by commercialisation, network culture. Rebellion appropriated and commodified for mass consumption. An episode with a Bill Hicks figure, perhaps, kicking against the pricks.
8. A mad Cecil B. Demented style "art terrorist", full of shit in philosophical terms but fucking trying at least. How far can you push Dadaist / Surrealist / Situationist performance art so the authorities can't call it art? How far do you go before direct action becomes terrorism? Playing this idealist off against a more cynical hero let's you explore the idea in more depth.
9. A painter and decorator who's always had aspirations to art, doing a Jackson Pollock style "decoration" of a public building. Take the whole philistine reaction to Modernism and invert it. "Is it art or is it not?" Well, here, the philistine's are damn well sure that it is art. And that's why they hate it.
10. Jukeboxes with tracts -- stirring speeches like that Battle Hymn of the Republic but without musical backing.
11. At a football game, there's no Star-Spangled Banner at half-time. No, they have some fucker up to emote the Pledge of Alliegiance while everyone stands, hand on their hearts.
12. Stars & Stripes armbands. Christ, is it that far off from those fucking lapel badges every goddamn anchorman seems to wear? Really?
Specifics I haven't yet decided:
Is America isolated (huge fucking walls sealing it off from Canada and Mexico), with the rest of the world dancing in the streets? Or is it Pax America, with the whole of Western culture basically having adopted the Republican model? On the one hand, the Artist could be trying to get the fuck out but finding Homeland Security at every turn, scared shitless about getting shipped off to Guantanamo Bay. On the other hand, getting deported back to Britain wouldn't be such a bad thing if the rest of the world is free. I kinda like the idea that the Artist has no escape from the Republic except back to his own world; it's purer.
OK, so it's not the most subtle political allegory ever, and there's not a single network that would touch it with a barge pole, but I don't fucking care. It's a simple set-up for a series, and it's got a lot of scope, I think. And I think it's fairly pertinent. Christ, it's the End of the Enlightenment, mes amigos, and I got this nightmare vision of a future where the philistines and fundamentalists are in charge, and they can do whatever they fucking want while us liberal types sit idly by and watch our world go to shit. Oh. Wait. That's not the future, is it?
Christ, I want to make this show.
(As a "btw": that Sonnets For Orpheus entry expanded a few times over last week as I updated it. There's 12 of them in total now. Just in case ye were interested in my anti-religious vitriol but missed the additions. Anyhoo...)
Labels: And It Would Be AWESOME