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Thursday, July 1, 2004
It was a somewhat unusual television public service announcement - and that probably shouldn't have surprised me, since the title was "Bathroom Humor."
Some guy stood in front of the camera, reading a lengthy letter purportedly from a viewer who discussed - in agonizing and rather revolting detail - his problem.
Constipation. I'll spare you those details.
Next up were two guys standing at adjacent urinals - and talking about the physics involved in the activity in which they were engaged.
I know you're sorry you missed it. But if you have cable television, you paid to put it on the air.
Welcome to Access Tucson, the local cable channels where anyone who knows how to operate the equipment can become a TV star and do and say almost anything.
There was a big fracas last week when the City Council adopted a budget that cut the Access Tucson budget from $1.3 million to $1 million for the fiscal year that begins today. The money to operate Access Tucson comes from a fee collected from cable customers.
On Cox Cable, Access Tucson is broadcast on Channels 72, 73 and 74.
Access Tucson does many things no one could argue with. Students, youth groups and anyone who is interested can learn how to use video and television equipment. And more than 150 local nonprofit organizations have used those skills to tell Tucsonans of their work.
But there is another part of Access Tucson that I must admit, I just don't get. That's where the discussions about constipation and the physics of using a urinal come in.
It is difficult to understand how that show, "Smoke Break TV," fulfills Access Tucson's lofty mission: "To facilitate public dialogue and participatory democracy via access to TV and other electronic media."
Constipation? Urinal physics? Participatory democracy? Is this what George Washington and his chums had in mind?
I asked that of Sam Behrend - executive director of Access Tucson and a pretty nice guy. He characterizes the channels as a modern-day version of the town square, where people can get up and express opinions.
"They don't have to pass a test whether they are sane or not," Behrend said. (I would note, parenthetically, that many of the people I watched would have failed. But I digress.) "They only have to pass a test that they won't damage the equipment."
There are a few provisos. No commercial content and no illegal content. Adult programming - defined as having excessive violence, excessive adult language, sexual activity or nudity - can be shown only between midnight and 6 a.m.
Who decides what is "excessive"? The people who put on the shows. If the f-word or the s-word or any of those other words are used only a few times, that may not be excessive, Behrend said.
To be honest, I had no idea what was on Access Tucson. I know that crew members had come to Tucson Citizen Editorial Board meetings a couple of times, taped them and broadcast them. But that was the sum total of my knowledge.
So for three nights last week, I taped several shows broadcast on the access channels. I saw a lot of preachers and conspiracy theorists and people claiming to be psychics. Some of the shows featured local people; many did not:
* In "Meeting with Gangaji: The Unspeakable Offering," some woman (I believe she was, in fact, Gangaji) told me: "Everything that is graspable by the mind, even the most sublime and elevated states, have a birth and an existence and a death... . I cannot emphasize this enough. This is perhaps the biggest leap for the mind." Yup, it sure leapt right over mine.
* An individual - I honestly couldn't tell if this was a man or woman - is host of a series of shorts and shows called "666 is Money." He sat in front of a large blowup of a dollar bill with "666" written on Washington's forehead.
"No one buys or sells without the money of the beast on their mind or in their hand," this person proclaimed. "The CIA killed JFK. The Holocaust didn't happen. Abolish money-law state."
On a later broadcast, he - or she - held up pages from a magazine showing color photos of expensive Tucson homes that were for sale. "These houses are way too big," the person announced. "They shouldn't be this big."
This broadcast was live, and callers were invited to express their thoughts. One perceptive caller called the host an adjective that is a derivative of the verb that Vice President Dick Cheney used on the Senate floor.
* On "That Which Is: Steadiness, Flexibility and Intention," some guy told a stunningly boring story about going to a party after President Clinton's first inauguration, having an itchy nose, scratching it and being recognized by someone else at the party who proclaimed him "an authentic person." The entire story was simultaneously translated into Spanish.
* On "Spiritually Speaking with Reverend Goldi," the title character announced, "I am a psychic and a medium." But her powers were a little off.
When a man called, Goldi gushed, "That's Mr. Schwartz, and he's been a friend for a long time. Isn't your first name James?"
"No," he replied. "It is D.J." Whatever.
* "The Call Me Crazy Show" featured a guy sitting in his back yard and rambling. "Kathie Lee Giffords is leaving the morning show, and all I got to say is who gives a (insert Cheney word)."
He read a letter from an observant viewer who noted, "Your cable show has to be the worst thing I've seen in my life."
There was also "Moby Dick: The Musical" with a bunch of pirate-costumed people yelling "Aaaaaarrrrggghhhhh," a show explaining "How to apply makeup for a natural look and what to look for when inspecting a home" and a minister who went on a tirade about the "government conspiracies" of Waco and Oklahoma City.
"There are 140 shows on each week," Behrend said. "You're going to find something you'll be interested in because it's our community."
I'll get back to you, Sam.
Mark Kimble's column appears on Thursdays. He also appears at 6:30 and midnight Fridays on the Roundtable segment of "Arizona Illustrated" on KUAT-TV, Channel 6. Phone: 573-4662; fax: 573-4569; e-mail: email@example.com.