Friday, June 15, 2007

Privacy has a true market value

An obsessive and self-destructive screenwriter, Albert Feeld finds his life spiraling out of control as he is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and it seems the characters from his screenplay are coming to life all around him. As he lays on his deathbed, his final strained words to his publisher are: “No … biography!” Three hundred years later, Feeld’s head, which was cryogenically frozen after his death is brought to life in a lab where scientists are studying human memory, but also extracting his memories to be broadcast as a form of entertainment – a future version of reality television. In this dystopian future, a group of terrorists fighting for “Reality or Nothing” are the final guardians of human values, including the right to privacy. As the television mogul capitalizing on Feeld’s memories says: “Who would want made-up stories from a hack when you can mainline into the real thing? At last, privacy has a true market value.”

This is just the briefest synopsis of Dennis Potter’s brilliant companion miniseries Karaoke and Cold Lazarus. You may not have heard of Potter (pictured above), but you’ve probably seen some of his work, such as Pennies from Heaven and The Singing Detective (British and U.S. version). Potter is also a fascinating and tragic individual, who suffered from a rare form of acute psoriasis; a painful condition which left him somewhat disfigured and required frequent hospitalization. He began writing Karaoke and Cold Lazarus shortly after being diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer and struggled to complete the stories before his death in March 1994. His wife tragically died one week before him, of breast cancer.

Why am I writing about Dennis Potter and his final works? Because when I saw Karaoke and Cold Lazarus over ten years ago on the CBC, I thought the miniseries was one of the most original, innovative and moving programs I had ever seen. As I’ve been writing so much about privacy on this blog, I recently recalled the image of Daniel Feeld’s severed head with a tear streaming down his cheek after a particularly personal memory is broadcast to the world without his consent. Daniel Feeld, who felt he was losing control when he was alive and feared the publication of a biography following his death, is sentenced to a hellish eternity where he is forced, helpless, to re-live and share his most intimate thoughts and memories.

In our present, where countless private and government databanks have the potential to be merged and form a picture of the most private details of our lives, thoughts and activities, Potter’s words “Privacy has a true market value” seem far more prophetic than they did when this miniseries was first broadcast.

I wish I could link you to the DVD of this great miniseries, but sadly, the rights are being fought out between Channel 4 and the BBC, and no commercial copies exist, so the best I can do is link to Potter’s screenplay. If Channel 4 and the BBC ever get it sorted out – and they owe it to the memory of Potter to do so and to do it soon – I’ll be among the first of Potter’s fans to let you know.


One Eyed View said...

Powerful information, thanks again for sharing such wonderful information. I am reminded of the file, "Final Cut"
with Robin Williams.

Evan said...

Hey Sharon,
This is off topic, but I was wondering if you face web access regulation in Canada. Down here it is called "Net Neutrality", but is not getting much attention. The issue is that big phone and cable companies are trying to control Internet access.

Just another privacy issue, or something that is "free" being regulated by government.

Sharon E. Herbert said...

Thanks for the link to the Final Cut, Adam, which is a great film, and didn't get much attention when it was released.

I hope that in recommending Dennis Potter's work, I'm not experiencing a "Buckaroo Banzai" flashback:

Sharon E. Herbert said...

Hi Evan, Net Neutrality has been getting little attention in the popular press here, in my opinion. While there is no legislation in the works in Canada, we can safely assume that any legislation in the U.S. will impact us here.

I found a new blog to explain the issues to Canadians and Michael Geist is also following the issue on his blog.

Phil said...

Sharon, I have just really started giving this more thought as of late. Thanks for bringing this to the fore. I'll be back to hear more on this topic.