Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Wake Up America!

Today, we are all Hokies.

No sentient human being can watch the images of despair on the TV news, and not feel the pain of everyone at Virginia Tech, and in the small supporting township of Blacksburg, Virginia.

But we must also wonder, in confusion, what has become of our country. What on earth made this happen? What did we do that was so wrong that it could bring this to pass?

I can remember the Sixties like they were yesterday.

At home, America seemed to be a land of plenty. And Americans sought to carry that good feeling to new frontiers around the globe.

My father was a part of that crusade. Which is how I ended up being born and bred in England, even though my family had made the initial journey to America with the rest of the pilgrims, on the Mayflower.

My dad helped to introduce the American Express card to all points north and south, on the other side of the Atlantic - in Europe, the Middle East and in Africa.

It's difficult to conceive of a time when such capitalist artifacts were not commonplace around the world. But it was an era of adventure, heralded by John Kennedy's rousing words from the steps of the Capitol in Washington.

And then it all went wrong.

Assassinations. Vietnam. Watergate. A loss of innocence. A loss of pride. The adventure just crumbling away. I spent my teenage years in Europe avoiding the graffiti on the walls calling for all Yanks to go home.

When you believe that your excessive bonhomie and good fortune are impenetrable, and that you are welcome wherever you go, it's a mind-shock to discover that you're vulnerable after all, and that your neighbors were just waiting for you to fall over.

America withdrew into itself. It dropped all pretence of genuine altruism, and turned instead to self-gratification.

Ambition and greed were the driving forces at home, and where before America had prided itself on its spirit of outgoing generosity and charity when dealing with the rest of the world, now it was determined only to ensure that none got in its way.

The 'me' generations took over. Two stock booms. Corporate malfeasance. And a growing disparity between the rich and the poor.

An economic policy fuelled by greed; a social policy based on hatred; and a foreign policy driven by revenge.

These are the character traits by which America is recognised around the world in the 21st century.

But don't blame just our leaders. We have all cheered and encouraged the development of the society in which we live today.

It is not Congress or our Presidents who made us cynical and selfish. We did that to ourselves.

It is we who encourage the paparazzi, when we rush to buy the latest photo's of celebrity disgrace.

It is we who spend hours each evening delighting in the discomfort and embarrassment of ordinary people on TV reality shows.

It is we who think it is cute to be selfish and mean and intolerant and abusive.

And it is we who have determined that each of us, in our daily lives, will no longer think of what we can do for others, but rather that we should react to every given situation with prototypical Alpha American Attitude.

A wise politician in England once said, you can't legislate feelings.

There is way too much anger and intolerance in America today. But the answer is not to turn our cities and our universities into over-protected fortresses. Or to start another fruitless debate about the right to bear arms.

The answer lies in each of us.

Starting today, we can all make choices about how we act and react. What we watch and read. Whether or not we take the time to help the person we see has fallen by the wayside.

It is not government that will make us a less angry and a more tolerant country. It is each of us making better choices.

The political season is upon us. We will hear much from people telling us that we can be better; that we deserve better.

I say that we are better people - right now. And all we need to prove it is to start being better people in our dealings with our neighbors and our friends.

We deserve to get only that which we are prepared to give.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

the real story...

Controversial local radio broadcaster, Geoff Gilson, has a new community talk show, on WCHL 1360AM, Chapel Hill/ Carrboro's News, Talk and Tar Heels Station.

The pilot for the hour-long show, which is to be called "the real story", will air on Sunday, April 1, at 2.00pm.

"The date is useful," Gilson explained with a chuckle, "if people don't like it, I'll just say it was an April Fool joke!"

With his trademark deadpan humor, Gilson continued, "Mind you, George Bush has a satellite over your house - and we will know if you're listening or not!"

Gilson gained some notoriety with his previous talk show, "The ESP Show," on WCOM 103.5 FM, the local community radio station.

"I don't know why people call me 'controversial.'" Gilson said, "I believe the job of the political media is to hold accountable those in charge.

"In Washington, that is the Republicans.," explained Gilson. "In Carrboro and Chapel Hill, it is the local Progressive Establishment.

"My tough questions may make them uncomfortable. But that shouldn't be controversial."

However, continued Gilson, "the real story" will not just be about politics. "Like ESP, it will be a general community magazine.

"It will be a show for ordinary people, about ordinary people - ordinary people who have something of the extraordinary about them. Because we all have something of the extraordinary about us.

"I just cover politics from time to time, to remind local politicians that they too are ordinary people. That they serve ordinary people. And that sometimes, they forget to listen to ordinary people."

Gilson says that "the real story" will deal with the same range of issues as ESP, which was a rough anagram for 'Events, Sex, Politics, Prose and Poetry.'

The pilot show, explained Gilson, deliberately includes a little piece of everything, to give listeners a foretaste of what is to come.

Guests include: Joanna Catherine Scott (author of "The Road From Chapel Hill"), Carrboro Alderman Alex Zaffron, and Jamie Daniel, the defeated Republican Candidate in last year's election for the Orange County Board of County Commissioners.

Refusing to be drawn further, Gilson added that the pilot show, which has already been recorded, contains a major public announcement, concerning a well-known local political figure.

"'It is my intention that "the real story" will continue to make headlines, as well as simply discussing them."

The show has a companion blog, to allow listeners to continue discussions among themselves - and to give Gilson a chance to post any material he was unable to broadcast.

"I lose so many good jokes because there's never enough time!"

The blog states that Gilson "asks the tough questions, but with a gentle touch. And he always gets to the real story behind the people, and the real people behind the story."

Gilson reckons it took him about 30 hours to prepare, record and edit the pilot show. And he believes that this will be the norm for future shows.

"Whatever guests think of my questions, they always know that I do my homework."

Gilson is hoping that eventually the show's production will become financially self-supporting. As with all local commercial radio stations, the budget of WCHL does not allow for much spending on the local production of original material.

"I'm not getting paid, which is kind of difficult, since it means I have to hold down a full-time job, alongside the talk show."

Gilson is already looking to find ways of funding his radio production effort with grants and sponsorship.

"I believe there is tremendous interest in locally-produced programming." Gilson said. "There is as much gripping material, as many characters - as much soap opera - in local affairs as with national events.

"The knack is to find a way to break the cycle where a good local radio broadcaster is forced to move onto the regional or national radio scene, just so that he can get paid."

Gilson and WCHL welcome feedback on the pilot show for "the real story". If listeners want to express their opinion, or if they have suggestions, they can e-mail WCHL's Station Manager, Christy Dixon, at: cdixon@wchl1360.com.

If a resident wishes to be considered as a guest, they can contact Gilson at: realwchl@yahoo.com.

Geoff Gilson is an English-American writer and broadcaster, who lives in Chapel Hill, and has been getting some attention with another blog, watch on the ninth (W9), which he launched on the same day that John Edwards announced his Presidential bid.

Gilson says that the purpose of W9 is to keep a friendly but gently irreverent eye on John Edwards, and to ensure that he stays on message with his promise to help those Americans who live in poverty.