Playing the Fool on Zone Libre

On 28 July 1998, the Surveillance Camera Players (SCP) reawakened from the year-and-half-long slumber that started in the aftermath of the group's very successful debut performance, and performed for a second time. The entire performance and an interview with SCP director Bill Brown were videotaped by a crew from Zone Libre, a television show produced in Montreal that airs on the Canadian Broabcast Company. Lead by Jean-Francois Belanger, the French-speaking crew from Zone Libre found out about the SCP during a search of the World Wide Web for material concerning surveillance cameras, which turned up a "hit" for the SCP's performance of Alfred Jarry's Ubu Roi. Contacted by e-mail, the SCP was happy to be put on television, even if the TV show in question would be in French, not English, and would present the SCP as "comic relief" with respect to the subject of the proliferation in public places of surveillance cameras and closed-circuit television (CCTV) systems. For wasn't that what the SCP was all about -- a "light-hearted" take on a serious subject? Got ya there!

The half-hour-long piece that eventually aired on Zone Libre on 10 October 1998 did indeed present the SCP as a light-hearted take on a serious subject, but it did not present the SCP in a casual or flippant way. This is not to deny the facts that the show identifies Bill Brown as the "comedian" of the surveillance camera and that the segment on the SCP is about a minute shorter than the other segments, which are each two-and-a-half-minutes long. But short or not, the show does a good job of showing the SCP in action (performing Ubu Roi and Waiting for Godot), indicating that people in addition to or other than police officers and security guards actually see these performances (spectators have clustered underneath the television monitors to watch), and capturing the comments of Bill, who explains that the group uses parody and satire as its means to protest against the cameras, and that the goal of the group is to make sure people are not ignorant of or do not forget about the widespread surveillance of public places.

The segment on the SCP is part of Zone Libre's 15-minute-long presentation of surveillance cameras in New York, which is rather inaccurately identified as one of the most dangerous cities in America and a place in which crime-fighting is taken seriously. (The remaining 15 minutes is spent in Paris, France, where the crew documents the existence of very extensive CCTV systems in the city's apartment buildings and subways, and on the city's streets and highways. The crew's visit to Paris also yielded an interview with an artist named Renaud Auguste Dormeuil, who maps out, takes pictures and makes drawings of the city's surveillance cameras, but the segment on him was, for some odd reason, inserted at the end of the report on New York, where further reporting on the SCP should have gone.) In New York, the Zone Libre crew videotaped and aired segments on the shameless Detective Store International, at which all manner of hidden cameras may be purchased; Lori Shecter, the founder of Babywatch and someone who uses a "nannycam" to make sure that the baby-sitter isn't eating too much of her employer's food while on duty; the Bohamtown Academy for Little Learners, which allows parents to use the internet to dial into the CCTV installed in the daycare center; and, as we've mentioned, the jolly old SCP.

Though Zone Libre spends more time on the proponents of CCTV (camera dealers, police officers, mothers, and residents of large housing projects) than it does on its opponents (the SCP, Dormeuil and the Parisian politician Dominique Cloarec), the SCP is quite happy with the broadcast. It puts the group in the company that the SCP wants to keep. Rather than be lumped in with "cool" people or "underground" culture, the SCP wants to be presented alongside or in contrast to people who are concerned with or involved in surveillance and CCTV, even if these people are in favor of it. Provided that this is done -- provided that the seriousness of the subject is recognized -- the SCP is happy to play the fool.

Contact the Surveillance Camera Players

By e-mail

By snail mail: SCP c/o NOT BORED! POB 1115, Stuyvesant Station, New York City 10009-9998

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