In February 2000, the Surveillance Camera Players (SCP) were contacted by Sarah Jacobson, the field producer for Trackers, a show for teen-age girls and young women that airs on the Oxygen cable network. Though SCP-director Art Toad had some reservations about working with Oxygen Media, which recently has been scouring the Lower East Side of Manhattan, looking for "new trends" -- which is how Sarah came upon the SCP -- he decided to work with Trackers for the same reason that he decided to work with Details magazine back in 1999: attention to the SCP -- even or especially if it is paid by a mainstream organization that might present the story in a screwed-up way -- disrupts the smooth, unchallenged emergence of generalized surveillance much more than it hurts the "purity" of the SCP or its project.
Sarah and a cameraperson came to and videotaped one of the SCP's performances at City Hall, and then interviewed SCP spokesperson Bill Brown at some length. She also got a copy of the group's compilation tape, and paid a small licensing fee for the right to use it. Four months later, she sent the group a copy of her piece, which turned out to be one of the very best ever done on the group.
About three minutes long, the piece is fast-paced, full of quick cuts and carried along by snippets from alternative rock music. Excerpts from several SCP plays are shown, including You are being watched for your own safety, Headline News and 1984 (of course). Narrated by Sarah herself, the voice-over introduces the SCP in an appropriate context (privacy), sticks to the point, and doesn't talk down to the show's audience. Bill is quoted at length; because of the way the interview was taped and the way it was edited together with the other footage, his remarks come across well. A good balance is achieved in the presentation: Bill is interesting and relevant, but not "cool" a la The Living Edge; he has a sense of a humor, he sees the irony of speaking on camera, but he isn't used as an opportunity for dumb jokes or self-indulgence a la CNN.
In an interesting parallel, both Trackers and CNN picked up on Bill's insistence that he wants and encourages others to adopt the group's methods and to perform in front of surveillance cameras just like the SCP. But while CNN decided to stage a "play" that was cunning and obscure, Trackers staged one that was heart-felt and direct. In it, a young black woman holds up her hand to a surveillance camera installed in the ceiling of an elevator; the words STOP POLICE BRUTALITY are written on it. (Note that the interview with Bill includes both a reference to the verdict in the trial of the four NYC police officers charged with murdering Amadou Diallo and a shot of the SCP board that proclaims NO MORE RACIAL PROFILING.) Then a young white woman holds up one hand and then the other to the surveillance camera; taken together, the words spell out the phrase MAKE CONCERTS SAFE FOR GIRLS.
This is good, very good, but what what makes the Trackers report great is the fact that, unlike every other television show or newspaper article that has featured the SCP, it allows Bill to say what the SCP really wants, that is, what it wants after all the surveillance cameras have been removed from public places. And that is a "self-policing society," one that doesn't need, in Bill's words, any "specialists in security, otherwise known as police officers."
(In early June 2000, it was announced that new episodes of the show would not be produced during the summer, and that re-runs would be aired in their place.)
Contact the Surveillance Camera Players
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