October 5, 2014
November 23, 2012
I AM a number, I will be a free man.
Hong Kong protesters have flipped the defining statement repeatedly issued by Number Six in the 1960s cult TV series, The Prisoner: ‘I am not a number, I am a free man’.
They readily identify themselves by the start date of their street protests: 926 (26 September); they show affinity with 8964 (6 April 1989), the day the Chinese authorities broke up the pro-democracy protest camp in Tiananmen Square, Beijing.
In the East, pro-democracy activists are accustomed to using numbers to sidestep censorship. In their eyes, numbers can be symbols of freedom.
Largely impersonal, because not attached to a named person; but by no means inhuman.
On the Western side of the world, however, protestors rarely regard numbers in such a positive light. They don’t see themselves in numbers; they don’t look comfortable even when – not often nowadays – they find themselves in great numbers. Being one of a number seems almost as hurtful as being reduced to a number.
No freedom, they seem to be saying, without first protecting my personality.
In Hong Kong there appears to be less concern about loss of personality.
When thousands of protestors cross their forearms at the same moment, with one voice semaphoring ‘wrong’ to chief executive C.Y. Leung and, behind him, Beijing, they don’t feel the need to be embarrassed about acting in unison.
Instead, in many different ways – passers-by spraying sit-down demonstrators with cool water; constant litter patrols and the sharing out of visors and masks for use against police tear gas and pepper spray – the level of cooperation among Hong Kong protesters and their supporters suggests that they are comfortable not only in their own skin; but also in each others’.
Meanwhile in the West the cult of personality threatens to rarefy still further the already intermittent call for freedom.
Celebrating their fiftieth anniversary, three wizened crones known as the Rolling Stones: Mick, Keith and Charlie (Ronnie remains Johnny Come Lately). Meanwhile in Russia, three Pussy Riot grrrls condemned as witches and sentenced to jail: Yekaterina, Nadezhda and Maria. Yekaterina’s sentence was suspended on appeal, but the others will spend their birthdays in jail, penalised for ‘hooliganism motivated by religious hatred’ – staging a ‘punk prayer’ inside Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, calling on the Virgin Mary to rid Russia of President Putin, stomping and high-kicking against the pricks of Russian Orthodoxy. Pussy Riot is a feminist-punk collective with around a dozen members. During their agit-prop performances they all wear balaclavas; but in court Nadezhda was revealed as the Face of the group. Good bones, regular teeth, lovely lips (not bulbous like Mick’s), she resembles the original leader of the Rolling Stones, Brian Jones, who died of drugs and drowning in 1969 aged 27. (A former girlfriend reported that Brian always wanted to look like French singer Francois Hardy – the spitting image of Pussy Riot’s Nadezhada). The houndstooth check shirt Nadezhda wore in court, is of equally notable descent: shades of Ben Sherman as worn by 1970s skinhead bands such as Cockney Rejects (copied and sampled in Pussy Riot’s recorded rants), all the way back to the Brooks Brothers shirts with button down collar, picked up by the Stones during their early American tours. But whereas Mick, Keith and Charlie have become more brand than a band (increasingly bland), Yekaterina, Nadezhda and Maria religiously refuse to have anything to do with merchandising Pussy Riot. No copyright, no contracts, they insist, spurning the $3m valuation of Pussy Riot TM. Neither corporate jingles nor jangling royalties, this blasphemous bunch has only one mantra: freedom.