Everyone gets to speak for fifteen minutes, that's how our democracy works. Actually, I should say everyone must talk for fifteen minutes, that's how the law works.
I'm queuing up outside this drab television building with too many other people, it's drizzling slightly, but we have to stay here, not enough space inside. It's like when I went to the embassy to get my US visa, all waiting, minimal talking, a quick look of suspicion and a stamp later, I walked out a bit more free than when I went in. I'd felt like they were doing it on purpose, making you wait so long- a power trip. You had to exchange your patience for a slice more of the world. At least it was sunny that day.
I received my summons letter to YOR TV only a week ago, that's how long they give you to prepare, to decide what it is you want to say the only time you are allowed to speak publicly. I contemplated writing a confessional, a story, or screaming and cursing, maybe even join the millions of voices condemning the government for taking away the internet, oh man, was that subject popular. Indecision reigned for those seven days. On Tuesday one friend told me I was silly. I'd known this moment would come long before the letter did, why hadn't I decided on what to say before? On Wednesday another friend did everything she could to convince me to join the movement of people who copied word for word, the fifteen minutes of a man called Thomas, who had his screen time two years ago. There were a lot of people who believed Thomas had put forward the most compelling argument against our system and were determined to signal boost it and fill the airwaves of YOR TV with it until the powers that be changed the rules. I agreed that the Thomas script was good, but it seemed as pointless as it was perfect. It had been repeated thousands of times, had it made a difference? No, there were far too many other people doing things to distract from this cause during their fifteen. People who were determined to be remembered.
I think only one person ever managed to kill themselves on YOR TV. That was in the early days when the desperation of the collective human spirit didn't seem to be obvious to the powers that be. They played hours of people condemning their system and then claimed that the very act of being permitted to say it meant the country was free. That guy had killed himself in his first minute with a gun he must have hidden down his pants or in his shoe or something. The bastards broadcast the next fourteen as if nothing had happened. I had watched a drop of blood that had hit the camera wind a path slowly down the screen as the corpse languished silently in the chair. When his time was up they cut to a commercial, as they always did between fifteens, and when the scene came back a wide eyed girl was sat on a clean chair, slightly obscured by the smear that remained on the lens from a hurried clean job. No one had tried suicide after that. Some said the fourteen minutes of corpse time was enough to put anyone off doing it, others claimed the security had been stepped up so far that you wouldn't be able to get as much as a toothpick inside the studios. I had a toothpick in my pocket, I guess I was keen to test the theory.
Then there was the category of people that I, and many other people, referred to as 'deluded fools'. Think charismatic idiots who relish the chance to make their mark on people's memories as if their whole life had been leading up to this point. They reminded me of the talent shows of the old days where people desperately sung or danced their hearts out just to be cut down by four snarky judges and a room full of boos. Except on YOR TV no one reacted, no one stopped you, your fifteen minutes were completely uninterrupted and every single time, without fail, after these fools had performed their hearts out, the broadcast would cut to a commercial with a lingering image of a wide satisfied, toothy smile. A smile that said, 'Yes, they will remember me'.
The chick I found more interesting than the lot of them combined though was one I didn't even see myself. A friend told me that a woman with greasy hair and mud stained skin had confessed to several murders, giving gruesome detail of the ways and means and listing directions as to where to find the bodies. How I wondered if it was real. I knew this woman could've been doing a performance piece rather than admitting to genuine crimes but I was sad I missed it. I would've loved to join in with the 'did she, didn't she' water-cooler conversations on that one.
She was also been the one that had spoken to me more than any of the pleas and protests. That was the fifteen when I saw that I was well and truly ingratiated into the system, without hope- because I had bought into the concept of this limited freedom being acceptable. For that day, while I relished in the drama, and joked about it with others, and temporarily forgot about the world, I realised I craved more of it. When I next watched the fifteen minutes I rolled my eyes as an old man started taking about the rights and respects we all deserved, I willed him to finish, hoping the next citizen might be a deluded fool, or may have more juicy crimes to admit to. My heart lurched as I really grasped that my remaining fight was gone, just tube feed me the distraction, hope not for freedom and reform, but accept the status quo and have qualms with my fellow man who was trying to grip at the last tendrils of liberty.
So no, Tuesday friend, even now, standing outside the TV studio in this steady, misty rain, I still have no idea what I'm going to say, because ever since that day I am aware that I only exist as a cog in a machine that cannot be broken. Half the population use their time to speak for freedoms and the other half speak for their own self interest. As long as the latter half exists, the machine ticks along, never gaining quite enough momentum to break itself.
The line slowly traipses towards the cold blue glow from inside the studio and within an infinity of time, but also before I know it I'm watching the girl in line before me take a seat in front of the camera in an unceremonious white room. I can't hear her but I can see her through a glass frame cut out in the door, I watch her mouth form words. She has gone for the plea route it seems. Her hands are held in a single balled fist at her breast as she leans towards the camera and begs... or maybe she is just singing, I can't tell. The light above her suddenly switches off and a man jumps in and whisks her away. The door in front of me opens and another man pulls me inside the room and pokes me in back sharply so I have no choice but to move towards the seat. The room is weirdly full of people but one is talking, I sit down. The chair is warm, it must never have the opportunity to cool, I think vaguely. I also remember the toothpick in my pocket, what do you know. I look at the camera, next to it is a timer. '5 seconds to live' it reads. '4'... '3'... '2'... '1'... The message switches and the lights come up again and I see '15 minutes remaining of broadcast' '14:59'...'14:58'... I look straight down the lens, take a breath and recite the first line of Thomas's script.
"What will you say, when you only have fifteen minutes of your life to be heard?"