Berlin Wall

"I'm lookin' over the wall -- and they're lookin' at me!" -- The Sex Pistols, "Holidays in the Sun," 1977

About 15 minutes past noon on Wednesday 10 November 1999 -- as the Surveillance Camera Players (Bill, Susan, Kimberly and Dave) were starting their very well-publicized show in honor of the 10th anniversary of the breaching of the Berlin Wall -- security guards from 520 Madison Avenue (the owners of both a segment of the infamous Wall and the so-called public park in which this segment is displayed as "a work of art") managed to intimidate SCP director Art Toad into stopping the show and leaving the park. Because there were no legal observers there due to scheduling conflicts, Art decided to stop being harassed by the top security guard -- a stupid, aggressive, short and powerfully built suit-wearing corporate goon around 30 years old -- who insisted that a permit was needed for the SCP's performance, and to "voluntarily" withdraw the group from the park (first to the sidewalk, where a kind of rolling press conference took place, and then to the burger joint next door).

Monsieur Toad made this decision -- which he made very reluctantly (though he felt confident that the attempted performance had been a great success, despite that fact that the premier of his unprecedented adaptation of Reich's The Mass Psychology of Fascism didn't take place) -- because the top bull dog -- despite the presence of numerous passers-by and office workers and a half-dozen people with video cameras, and despite the fact that M. Toad told the bull dog that he [M. Toad] was wired for sound -- showed himself willing to use physical force to prevent the show from going on. The dog didn't just call the cops -- who were quick to arrive, but only sent one officer, who leisurely called for back-up and never approached the SCP, who were just a few feet away from him -- and tell the SCP that he had done so, and that they "had better stop" before the police came. No: this humorless ticking time-bomb stood in Art's face, commanded "The show is over!" and used his thick hands to physically prevent Art from holding up any more of his boards.

At that moment, a single "aggressive" movement on Art's part would've proved the necessary justification for the guard's attacking and "restraining" Art until the police arrived Interesting, yes? One attorney is more useful to the SCP than a half-dozen video cameras when it comes to making sure that their constitutional rights are being respected! In the heat of this moment, Monsieur Toad and the Bull Dog had a "discussion" about the ontological status of the piece of the infamous Wall that stood in silent witness to this sad spectacle. The Bull Dog took the position that the ugly blocks of chipped and graffitied reinforced concrete were art, was a piece of art that someone had made and that had been purchased by and thus became the private property of the owners of the building (Tishman-Speyer, one of the very biggest firms in New York City). M. Toad took the position that no one can "own" history, which is precisely what those blocks are, pieces of history. (To make a cheap, obscure but irresistible joke: Art, just like the narrator in the Sex Pistols song "Holidays in the Sun," went to the Wall "to see some of hiss-tor-rrrreeee.") Indeed, celebrating history, or, rather, condemning and counter-acting the suppression and failure of historical memory, is precisely what the SCP attempts to do when it schedules its performances on important dates. (Recall that last year at this time the SCP performed to mark both Election Day and the 60th anniversary of Reichskristallnacht.)

Engaging in pointless debates with a goon, while waiting for the cops to arrive, is a bad idea, or, rather, a poor use of valuable time. Indeed, one of the points Art brought to the BD's attention was the fact that, in the time they'd been having their little chat, the SCP could've performed both plays and been on their way. ("You Are Being Watched For Your Own Safety" is only 35 seconds long, and "The Mass Psychology of Fascism" is perhaps two-and-a-half minutes long.) And so Art declared to one and all that the guard, who shut down the show without ever identifying himself personally, had simply proved the SCP's point -- that, to quote the flyer the group produced for the show, the public park has "the totalitarian atmosphere of fear, paranoia and despair" of the pre-1989 Berlin Wall -- and, quoting Sun Tzu, gave the order to withdraw. The bull dog stayed long after everyone else had left, to make sure that everything was indeed back to normal.

The SCP have never asked for a permit to perform (the only "permit" they need being the First Amendment to the Constitution) and, unlike the local appropriators of "Reclaim the Streets," who have scheduled an RTS-style party for 26 November 1999 (an event at which the SCP could perform, if they wanted to), the SCP do not call attention to (and measure their political defiance in terms of) the fact that they have haven't gotten a permit in advance for any their performances. (Mayor Giuliani has ordered the NYPD to harass and ticket any grouping of more than 21 people who have not been granted a permit to hold their "event" in any one of the city's parks.)

The SCP could have gone to 520 Madison without a permit, and could have actually finished both plays and walked away with little or no harassment from the BD, if the group and its entire entourage had not arrived in dribs and drabs over the course of 45 minutes, and had instead arrived at the park a few minutes before the performance was to start, all together and ready to perform without any setting up or "down-time." This kind of guerrilla-style action is what people expect from "street theater" groups such as the SCP. Though its members are big fans of the "Hit it and quit it" approach, the SCP is not a street theater group, is suspicious of the spectacle of the "guerrilla" to begin with, and is not well organized or formal enough to make such precise coordination possible. The SCP, or, rather, the mass movement against surveillance and generalized transparency that the group intends to anticipate and precipitate, is better served by being (only temporarily!) shut down than by "getting away with it" and having no one other than the SCP and the security guards know that something happened, something that doesn't deserve or benefit from total obscurity and the one-sided vision of effectiveness that accompanies it.

The element of surprise was certainly forfeited by the SCP when the group allowed a Daily News article on the group and its Berlin Wall plans to be published in advance of the actual performance. By chance, the article ended up running on 10 November 1999, the very day the performance was scheduled to take place. Though the article itself was buried on page 70 (and ran without any of the photographs that were taken to accompany it), that day's issue of The Daily News also carried two articles on the Berlin Wall and a photograph of the segment of it on 53rd Street.

Though the show itself was shut down, Art was able to spend as much time as needed explaining to the three video crews surrounding him (see below) who the SCP are, what they were doing there on that particular day, what the relationship is between the segment of the Wall and the surveillance camera that monitors all who approach it, and anything else that needed to be said. He found it very amusing that, behind the camera crews and thus invisible to them, there unfolded before his eyes, as he was being interviewed, the security guards' chain of command, presented in ascending order and thus made far more comical had the direction been reversed.

First there came the poor worker-guards, the drones, the guys who must wear drab uniforms to get their pay and who spend their entire day taking orders and cleaning up after others; the guys who noticed the SCP because their jobs require them to be in the so-called park every day. Then there came the ridiculous supervisor-guards, the surveillants, the guys who stand behind a desk in which an array of closed-circuit television monitors has been installed and use them to watch the poor workers-guards to make sure they are not loafing and to watch whoever else comes near or into the building itself. This strata of the guards, alerted to the "situation" in the park by the drones, was represented and "commanded" by some old guy in a ridiculous blue and gold uniform that made him look like a bell hop. It was in fact to this dispirited old fart that Art first addressed his point that, by the time the cops arrived, the SCP could perform and be gone if only he wouldn't continue to harass and interfere with them. Unconvinced, this old geezer no doubt did what he was supposed to do and rang up the top bull dog, who must have been pretty pissed off about having to leave his nice office (great view!) way up high in the steel-and-glass nightmare constructed at 520 Madison Avenue and come down during his lunch hour to see what the fuck was going on in the park.

There were, as has been noted, three video teams at the performance. One team was from, which has been intending to tape a group interview with the SCP since the press conference of 27 September 1999. Another team was from The Living Edge, a cable TV show based in Santa Barbara and Vancouver. (The day after the Berlin Wall show, this second team did a series of follow-up interviews with Bill Brown, who took the group on a tour of surveillance cameras in the Astor Place subway station and in Washington Square park.) The third team was a pair of videographers who are doing a documentary about the SCP, and who have already recorded the first work sessions on the boards for The Mass Psychology Of Fascism and Bill's interview by the reporter from The Daily News.

After the impromptu post-show press conference, at which SCP flyers were given out, the group retired to a burger joint right next door. Completely covered with both surveillance cameras and monitors showing what the cameras are picking up, this place was perfect for the occasion, though the joint's owner refused the video crews permission to tape inside the place. In a stunning confirmation of one of the theses in the SCP's most recent position paper -- namely, that surveillance and spectacle mutually reinforce each other -- the surveillance camera-monitors were placed side-by-side with "normal" television sets tuned to popular programming.

Over lunch, one of the camerawomen related a conversation she'd had with one of the suits who'd stopped to ask what was going on. When he was told, the suit said, "There's no money in revolution!" A wisecrack to which we can only reply by quoting Antonin Artaud, who wrote in a 1931 letter:

There is no reason why plays that are revolutionary in my sense of the word cannot become financially sound in a short period of time, because they will be suddenly regarded as the only ones that correspond to the altered viewpoint of a public starved for the new and unexpected. The modern theater is waiting its form, one that will be in accord with the moral, intellectual, and emotional vision of the time. As soon as we begin to discover this form, the public will no longer be satisfied with any other. In other words, I think it's very smart to be revolutionary these days: it's the only way to become commercial!!!

Contact the Surveillance Camera Players

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

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