One of the secrets of being a great prankster is challenging the preconceptions we have about our relationship to authority -- though many of the best pranks don't actually need to cross the line to illegality. Working within the bounds of the law is often much funnier and far more frustrating for those you wish to mess with. One master of this method is activist Bill Brown, founder and director of the Surveillance Camera Players (SCP), who regularly play out amusing scenarios for the operators of New York's 5,000-plus security cameras. Brown keeps a pocket-sized US constitution handy in case the cops decide to drop by.
Brown formed the group back in 1996, and over the next two years, as cameras began to appear on every street corner, they gradually turned from jaded anarchists seeking light relief to anti-surveillance activists. In New York there are no signs to indicate cameras are present and part of the group's task is to make sure people know they are there. The SCP are also campaigning for the cameras' removal, claiming that they do nothing to solve the city's crime problems but merely encroach upon civil liberties.
"At first we thought we were simply pranking those camera operators," says Brown. "But now what we find we are doing is communicating directly with passers-by and the spectators that have gathered to watch us. We are exposing the fact that the cameras are there, and that one need not feel intimidated by their presence. You can stand right in front of them and flip them off, as it were, and not be shot and killed immediately for doing that."
Amongst the SCP's past work is a performance of Orwell's 1984 and various anti-globalisation actions, but more recent skits involve fleeting glimpses of SCP members on camera, silently holding placards with messages that make points about the constant surveillance of New York's citizens. "The boards say things like 'Just going to work,' 'Just getting something to eat,' 'Going shopping now' and 'Going home,'" says Brown.
Should the SCP's tactics spread to London, slogans could well include: 'Just pissing in this phone box' and 'Just treading in some dog shit.'
[By Iain Aitch. Published in the July 2001 issue of Bizarre Magazine.]
Contact the Surveillance Camera Players
By e-mail SCP@notbored.org
By snail mail: SCP c/o NOT BORED! POB 1115, Stuyvesant Station, New York City 10009-9998