Prison Break : Closer to reality than we know it

Posted: April 10, 2007 in Socio-Political

I recently watched 43 episodes of the hit series Prison Break. I did it in span of maybe three and a half consecutive days. It should have been 44 episodes but I wasn’t able to watch the second to the last episode of Season 2. I think the second season just recently concluded in the first week of April in the US so it’s quite a blessing for us in this part of the world to be able to watch the latest episode. All that watching did take its toll on my behind, sitting as I was on a wooden chair. But just the same, it was worth it.

For me, Prison Break becomes even more interesting because of its closeness to reality. Some of the premises of the series are more real than most people think.

Prison Break as loyal viewers know, is about Michael Scofield, a structural engineer who designed a prison, and his mission of getting his brother Lincoln Burrows out of that same prison. Lincoln was of course framed for the murder of the US vice-president’s brother. Lincoln sits on death row and so Michael will do everything it takes to get him out of jail, even if it means going to jail himself to carry out an elaborate escape plan that would, along the way, involve some of the most hardened criminals Chicago has ever seen.

Things get harder for the two brothers as their plans are being frustrated by a group called The Company, a conglomerate of multinationals who control almost everything that goes on in the US government including the passage of laws that would safeguard the profits of the big corporations. Sound familiar? Well, that’s because this premise is quite true and almost well nigh indisputable. One need only look at the Bush government and the conduct of the Iraq War to see the varying and interlocking interests of big multinationals from Haliburton to Bechtel and the big oil companies. The big multinationals are the same forces blocking efforts to ease global warming and seek alternative fuel sources.

In Prison Break, The Company frames Burrows for the death of the brother of US Vice President Caroline Reynolds. The brother of Reynolds, Terrence Steadman, has become somewhat of a liability for The Company and so to cover up some anomaly, Steadman has to be “eliminated”. He had to disappear.

Reynolds, a loyal puppet of The Company, goes on to become president by killing the incumbent US President. In the series, the VP is portrayed as more dangerous, deadlier and more ambitious than the president. Why does that ring a bell?

Maybe because current US Vice President Dick Cheney is perceived by many as “more dangerous, deadlier (and we’re not talking about ducks) and more ambitious” than the real president. And Cheney’s ties to the big multinationals like Haliburton and his previous relations with big energy firms is no secret anymore.

What did it in for me at the end was that the plot’s resolution, at least for the second season, relied on the existence of a wiretapped conversation between President Reynolds and her supposedly dead brother. In the aftermath of 9-11, as Prison Break tells us, the US governemnt tapped all phones including the White House (which is a fact under the Bush government). The wiretapped conversation between the President and her supposedly deceased brother is said to be so incriminating that it is not only the key to exonerating Burrows, but the contents of the conversation maybe enough to turn the presidency upside down. Now why is that familiar too?

In 2005, Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was almost booted out of power when a wiretapped conversation between her and an election official was leaked to the media. The tapped conversation showed the Philippine president asking the election official to protect her margin over her closest electoral rival. Interestingly, it was the Philippine military which tapped the conversation between Arroyo and the election official.

Another interesting point, both the fictional Reynolds conversation and the actual Arroyo conversation hardly had any legal value and could not have been admissible as evidence in regular courts. Still, the impact of the wiretapped conversations would prove devastating for both presidents.

In Prison Break, the US president resigns after being forced into a corner both by Scofield and The Company. Scofield tried to blackmail the president to give a presidential pardon to him and his brother lest the two release the tape to the media. The Company, knowing of the contents of the tapped conversation, tried to block the move.

In real life, Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo did not resign but remained a hostage of the economic, political and military interests that kept her in power.

What’s ironic is that for all its criticism of the current rotten system prevalent in the US government, Prison Break airs on Fox TV, a network notorious for its support of the Bush government and its “war on terror”.