Welles' sketch of the card to protect us from government invasions of our privacy. Below: Welles, the number
Amid the passive anal sex of Christmas TV scheduling, a moment of top proactivity: little-watched BBC4 screens The Orson Welles Sketchbook from 1955. My God. The dulling effects of sherry, Lochnagar whiskey-flavoured dairy cream on mince pies and drip-fed port at the chaise are douched away: I am now awake! Fuck you, let me doze for Santa!
The dead Orson strikes me as the most-alive life form this festive period as he addresses the topic of invasion of privacy and its "assault against our dignity as human beings." I am annoyed to be awoken by his vivid intelligence, his timeless clairvoyance. We're approaching 2010 and everything he says from 1955 is truer, more pertinent to today, than any of the compliant, meringue shit to be read in our dead tree newspapers as I write this Christmas, 2009.
In Episode 3 of the Sketchbook series Welles talks to camera about freedom of international movement and the growing risk to personal freedom from the police, from government bureaucracy with their questionnaires. Welles says: "We keep being asked to state our grandmother's father's name, in block letters, and to say whether we propose to overthrow the government, in triplicate, why, and all that sort of thing. But you see, the bureaucrat, and I'm including the bureaucrat with the police, as part of one great big monstrous thing, the bureaucrat is really like a blackmailer. You can never pay him off, the more you give him, the more he'll demand. If you fill in one form, he'll give you ten."
Welles calls (wistfully?) for the creation of the International Association for the Protection of the Individual Against Officialdom (ISPIAO) that would issue a card certifying "that the bearer is a member of the human race. All relevant information is to be found in his passport." This might liberate the traveller from the repeated requirement to fill in forms and trade off personal information demanded by democratically elected, increasingly controlling governments.
Jump to the fag end of 2009 and I spot a magazine ad by NO1ID campaigning against a British government diktat that if applying for a new passport you must ("voluntarily") agree to be listed on the ID database. If you refuse, no passport. This database records your address, NI number etc and cross-refers with other records. What would Welles have made of that?
Looking at all the British newspaper front pages today, full of the latest terrorist hysteria, all I see is a media preparing us for yet more limitation on personal freedom: the media are now part of the problem, happy to repeat the rubbish spewed out by governments eager to bottle and regulate our lives.
As Welles put it nicely in his show, "I'm not an anarchist, I don't want to overthrow the rule of law, on the contrary, I want to bring the policeman to law." To read Welles' transcript, click here. It should be stuck on every newspaper office wall - as an education if not a reminder.
Make 2010 the Year of the Individual Against Officialdom.