to ‘The Colony’
love science fiction. Rather like Bob
Wallace, the bug bit me at a young age I couldn’t have
been more than six or seven. I still recall the movie that started
Day the Earth Stood Still, the classic 1950s drama about
how a flying saucer lands in Washington, DC. Earth receives a chilling
message about how we need to change our warlike ways (it is significant
that it lands in Washington, as opposed to, say, Peoria, Ill.).
My life was never the same. Within a year it was the wonder and
horror of the original Outer
Limits and the camp of Lost
in Space. To this day, science fiction remains my favorite
form of recreational reading and movie watching. Most of what little
television I watch falls into that category.
an adult, looking at the shelves of science fiction novels I’ve
accumulated over the years, and the videos in the rack hanging from
the door to my study, I am fascinated by that handful of works that
say something significant about the real world. Novels such as Ray
451 or Ira Levin’s This
Perfect Day or obviously Huxley’s Brave
New World are as deserving of the designation literature
as Ernest Hemingway’s The
Old Man and the Sea or Joseph Conrad’s Heart
of Darkness. The latter use extended metaphors and other
literary devices to describe aspects of the human condition as the
authors saw it. The former are warnings about what the human condition
could become if we don’t start paying attention.
messages come built into many of the Star Treks or J. Michael
Straczynski’s five-season extravaganza Babylon
5. I am acutely uncomfortable with the global-government
themes that appear in each. However, Star
Trek: The Next Generation served up one of the ghastliest
portrayals of collectivism to be found anywhere when it gave us
the Borg: beings incapable of creating but only of "assimilating"
civilizations, turning their inhabitants into zombies like themselves,
controlled by a hive mind. What a terrific metaphor for what collectivism
does in the real world. Babylon 5, meanwhile, features, in
one of its most compelling episodes are you ready for this?
an actual secession against a corrupt, Earthbound empire!
This is enough for me to praise the show to the skies, whatever
other faults it might have. Finally, of course, there is George
Lucas’s ongoing Star Wars saga in which we are seeing a republic
being transformed into an empire. Neocon reviewers are so furious
at Lucas’s successes, achieved without their praise or permission,
that they practically spew lava onto their word processors.
other night I chanced to see one of the lesser known films, The
Colony. This is a 1995 science fiction suspense film starring
(of all people!) John Ritter and Hal Linden. That I saw it at all
was pure chance. I’d retreated to my study to deal with at least
some of my usual flood of email and neglected to switch off the
television. It went on droning in the background. For some reason
I returned to the front room, an article someone had forwarded me
in my hand. Something in the dialogue coming from the television
set caught my attention. Finally I had to put down what I was reading
and follow what was going on.
movie itself wasn’t anything special. The acting was melodramatic
and unconvincing. The storyline was fairly predictable. Certain
situations were contrived, and there were loose ends lying around
at the end. But these are just details. The main question came across
with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer: how much freedom are people
willing to give up to feel safe? In the light of current events,
the question cries out for attention and after it was over,
I was a little surprised this movie was actually aired in prime
is the plot in a nutshell: the Knowlton family has suffered a crisis.
Security systems salesman Rick Knowlton (Ritter) and his wife have
had their car stolen at gunpoint. Alarmed and fed up with worsening
crime in LA, they move with their two children to an exclusive,
gated community called "the Colony." The community was
founded by a multimillionaire real estate developer (Linden) who,
as a teenager, came home from school one day and found his parents
knifed to death by an intruder.
first glance, "the Colony" is idyllic. There is no crime,
everyone is well behaved, and the school is in the top 2 percentile
nationwide. However, the Knowltons slowly come to realize that something
isn’t right. The first sign is when Rick receives a warning citation
for jogging on the wrong sidewalk in the wrong clothes, and for
allowing the family dog to tag along. He and his wife receive a
book of community ordinances the size of a large-city phone book.
One ordinance forbids certain plants on the front lawn; another
governs what vehicles residents can park in their driveway; still
others dictate how they may decorate their lawns and front porches.
Rick begins having problems at work; the security systems he is
installing in houses under construction in "the Colony"
are being modified without his permission. When he objects, he is
told that his ideas now "belong to the Colony." The Knowlton’s
come into their clean, pristine house one day and find it full of
technicians testing the place for radon, checking drawers, cabinets,
cupboards, etc., without their knowledge or consent.
short, "the Colony" is a completely planned community
with everything centralized and controlled. The children
are well-behaved in school, and wear uniforms (I know people who
defend this idea). However, there is no PTA and absolutely no parental
involvement in children’s education. There may be no crime, but
the Knowltons soon realize there is no privacy, either. "Colony"
personnel will come onto their property uninvited to carry out one
provision or another. A CD-ROM, hacked into by the couple’s computer-whiz
daughter, reveals the locations of hidden cameras not just on lawns
or by swimming pools but in every room in every house in the community.
Residents of "the Colony" can be watched, their actions
monitored, every minute of every day by the shadowy real estate
developer who runs the place with an iron hand. Those who work for
"the Colony" have the smiling, vacant stares of cultists.
Knowlton learns to his horror that without realizing it he had signed
away his personal assets to "the Colony" when agreeing
to move in. He is repeatedly told to "look at the big picture,
and see what we’ve accomplished here." His wife, alarmed over
behavior changes in their young son, begins to investigate what
he is being taught in the local school. She runs into an administrative
wall, and is told she must make an appointment to see her son’s
teacher. Having managed to sneak inside, she accesses her son’s
files from a computer terminal, and discovers a school-to-work nightmare.
Her son is being conditioned into absolute loyalty to "the
Colony" and whatever services it needs. Their daughter later
describes her classmates as "zombies." Meanwhile, complaints
about the dog’s modest level of barking have been translated into
action: the animal returns after a brief absence with surgical scars
on its neck. Its vocal cords have been severed.
Knowltons’ dissatisfaction comes to the attention of the real estate
developer and his henchmen. Soon they are in greater danger than
they were from crime back in L.A. The previous tenant of the Knowltons’
house had tried to leave, they learn. His burned car had been found
by police after "accidentally" going over a cliff. In
the final scenes, the Knowltons prepare to flee and are trapped
in the house, confronted by the community’s rulers who, it is clear,
will terminate with extreme prejudice in order to protect their
much of this is predictable. But in this post-Sept. 11 era, the
scene of Patriot Acts, Homeland Security, and other such shenanigans
by a Bush Regime that has now expanded the power of the state more
than the Clinton Regime did, the point is nevertheless worth hearing,
in whatever form it appears. Most of us are familiar with the warnings
of the Samuel Adams’s and Ben Franklin’s that those who give up
their freedom to have safety will end up with neither one. The Knowltons
learn that lesson the hard way in The Colony.
how much real world freedom are we willing to give up in the name
of the "war on terrorism"? Rome on the Potomac claims
to be able to protect us if we give it more power, including
the power to spy on law-abiding citizens. It carries on a pretense
of protecting us against a threat it could stop in a relatively
short period of time with a few simple measures, all of which the
Bush Regime and federal agencies have rejected. These include (a)
allowing airline pilots to arm themselves; (b) profiling Arabs and
other obvious security risks at airports and elsewhere, as opposed
to strip-searching granny and taking away your nail clippers; and
(c) initiating a moratorium on immigration, combined with a sustained
effort to return illegal aliens to their native countries. This
is called protecting our borders. These aren’t perfect solutions
to the nasty predicament the U.S. has gotten itself into. But they
are a whole lot better than what Rome on the Potomac is doing now,
which is assaulting the liberties of U.S. citizens.
illusion is widespread that we would be safe if our environment
was controlled. A review of The Colony I took off the Internet
complained that the weakness of the film was its assumption that
"there are people who want to live like prisoners in their
own neighborhood." Given that the protests against the federalization
of airport security and expanded FBI powers to snoop on private
citizens are minimal, and given that repeated polls evidence very
little discomfort with the Bush Regime’s consolidation of power,
I’d say that much of the American public doesn’t mind becoming serfs
in a security-state. The sad fact is, we are no safer from terrorism
today than we were before Sept. 11, just more vulnerable to abuses
of power by our own government. Perhaps we will have the illusion
of safety once there are hidden spy cams in every house, and when
our daily activities are circumscribed by sets of rules capable
of filling a volume the size of, say, a large-city phone book.
to "the Colony"! Only, it might not be science fiction
Yates [send him mail]
has a PhD in philosophy and is a Margaret "Peg" Rowley Fellow
at the Ludwig von Mises Institute.
He is the author of Civil
Wrongs: What Went Wrong With Affirmative Action (ICS Press,
1994), and numerous articles and reviews. He is at work on
any number of book projects, including a science fiction novel of
© 2002 LewRockwell.com