Ask the Audience

Originally published in Upsideclone
Friday the 26th of October 2001

I'm the only person in my street who doesn't have a television licence, doesn't have a television, doesn't have a Brothercam in every room. I'm told they give furtive net-curtain shots of houses without cameras, every couple of hours, for a bit of a comic relief, a bit of viewer conformity reassurance, a bit of an excuse to bring out the placards and the petrol bombs. After all, these people must be hiding something, mustn't they?

Television licences cover the cost of the cameras, thanks to one of the earlier referenda, whether you choose to have them fitted or not. I did have a box of Brothercams up in the loft, but they kept sending distress calls to the receptor vans, and I got fed up of having to explain myself. They're at the bottom of a municipal pond, now, watching the shopping trolleys rust. They traced them and found me and fined me, but it seemed worth it at the time.

Streetlight cameras pan and scan as I cross the promenade, one of them noticing me and announcing to its immediate neighbours that it will track me out of sight, whoever I am. Its bright orange casing glints as it turns in the rain - this is ostensibly a police camera rather than a Big Brother camera, but they all run the same software, all feed into the same network. The orange cameras are for public safety, for the observation and capture of the criminal element. The blue cameras are television cameras, giving entertainment to the world, and glittering prizes to those lucky enough to be caught on them. Blue cameras in the comfort of people's own homes, in the pubs and clubs, in the shopping malls. Orange cameras above the streets, the alleyways, the undesirable wastelands. Stay in shot, viewers.

A helicopter rises in the grey sky above the hotels and thrums out over the beach, its spotlight swinging beneath it like a slow pendulum, a circle of white arcing across the sand and the water. It's just for show; they'll have seen me on the infra-red, if it's me they're looking for, if it's me that's been voted out. I give them a wave. As if to respond, the spotlight turns to envelop me, the helicopter wheeling in place to hover solidly above the ocean.

I'm told that my face appears on the Big Brother Eviction Channel, every so often; perhaps it's there now. Now that all the paedophiles and terrorists and asylum-seekers have gone, it's just the luck of the draw with random data profiling. I was careless enough to buy a few books of gay-interest literature through Amazon, a few years ago, and that was enough to set the "gay" flag on my identity profile, enough to get automatic eviction votes from a fair percentage of the electorate. I've posted my PGP key on newsgroups a few times, which means that I "use cryptography". I "give no money to charity", I "don't read tabloid newspapers", I am "unmarried", I "have no children". It's all there.

And the spotlight is still on me. Perhaps I've not been voted out yet, perhaps I'm on camera, on captioned screens across the city, one of the six unlucky contestants on the Eviction Channel. Half a dozen local faces every half hour, the concerned voiceover reading out any profile factors scoring less than eight per cent, give or take.

Jane is a lesbian cryptographer with a record of vandalising Brothercams. Mortimer is in the 95-100 age group, and voted "no" in the referendum to bomb Cairo. David is vegetarian, and runs a Nazi paraphernalia mail-order Web site. Christopher has a manic-depressive disorder, and watched the whole of last week's retroactively-banned spoof documentary. Irini is a homeless methadone addict with variant-three CJD. Daniel's wife and daughter were brutally abused and murdered five years ago, no arrests were ever made, and he's living on your street.

Vote now.