At 12:30 pm on Tax Day (15 April) 1999, the Surveillance Camera Players performed their special adaptation of George Orwell's 50-year-old novel 1984 in the heart of Washington Square Park, which is one of the most surveilled places in all of New York City, itself one of the most surveilled cities in the world. In the words of the statement the SCP distributed before this, their fifth performance:
According to the New York Civil Liberties Union, there are nearly 3,000 surveillance cameras in Manhattan, and the average New Yorker appears on a surveillance monitor -- without realizing it -- nearly 20 times a day.
In this park alone -- and it is public property -- there are a dozen highly sophisticated surveillance cameras. Each of them can pan around, tilt up or down, and zoom in, thus enabling the police officer(s) watching the monitors in the communications van -- which is permanently stationed at the south side of the park -- to look at anything and everything they want to. Because of the number and placement of these cameras, the police can watch you every step of the way as you enter, cross and leave the park. Darkness is no obstacle or shield: each of these cameras is on 24-hours-a-day and is equipped with infra-red "night vision."
And so, when you are in or anywhere near this park, your every movement and facial expression may be monitored by the (unseen) police.
Installed three years ago, this oppressive closed-circuit television system was designed to assist the police in suppressing the sale of illegal drugs (pot and crack, mostly). The system is obviously quite effective: on the morning of the very day the SCP performed, the police arrested 12 people in the park: 11 of them for buying pot, 1 of them for selling it. Though the news reports about the arrests didn't refer to the (presence of the) surveillance cameras, they were quite obviously central to the police's "operation." Rather than simply busting the dealer (and his or her first buyer) when the first deal was observed by an officer (assisted by the cameras), the police only busted the buyers and let the dealer operate for a while under the watchful eyes of the cameras -- until a total of 11 people had purchased the drug and then been arrested.
But the presence of cops-and-cameras in Washington Square Park is also an attack on the long tradition of using the park to protest against and subvert the established order. In the past, Washington Square Park has been declared an autonomous zone by Marcel Duchamp; has been frequented by the likes of Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan and Allen Ginsburg; and has been filled with pot-smoking yippies every May Day since the late 1960s. From the look and feel of the park today -- the arch is gated off, there is a curfew and a million regulations (no dogs, bicycles or public displays of either extreme poverty or mental illness), the yuppies are happy as pigs in shit -- you'd never think Washington Square Park has had such a past.
For the first time ever, the SCP appeared in the company of a lawyer: in particular, a member of the New York Civil Liberties Union, which had been invited to the performance by the SCP themselves. Though a confrontation with the police (who use patrol cars as well as the surveillance cameras to surveil the park) was expected, none took place. (A patrol car did drive up and stop in the vicinity of the performance so that its driver could check out what was going on.)
As per usual, the SCP were (also) accompanied by a battery of reporters, still photographers and videotapers, as well as by several well-wishers and friends. All told, approximately 30 people watched the SCP perform 1984 for the fourth and perhaps last time. On this occasion, the SCP consisted of the following: Kate (as the narrator); Bill (as Winston); Kimberly (as Julia); DeMolay (as O'Brien); and Scott (as assistant placard-holder). It is worth pointing out that all five players define themselves as anarchists. . . .
Contact the Surveillance Camera Players
By e-mail e-mail:notbored@NOSPAMoptonline.net
By snail mail: SCP c/o NOT BORED! POB 1115, Stuyvesant Station, New York City 10009-9998