One of the metaphors for this summer has been the use of the Bell Curve for describing the inherent properties of each of the tour stops, particularly the qualities of the attendees. Now that may or may not be fair, or accurate for that matter, it was our choice to use it and we (the select group of “professionals” who ventured forth from venue to venue in the quest for the holy grail of production) tended to understand what we meant by our applications of it across the breadth and depth of the western USA.
Thus I offer this assessment of the Big Summer Classic (BSC) weekend held at Camp Zoe (near Eminence), Missouri the first weekend of August 2007:
Given the Bell Curve that represents the quality of an event in relation to the qualities of the people attending, BSC could be categorized as containing only the upper 3% and the lowest 3% of the spectrum of observable and experiential phenomena. There were stunning and amazing moments that represented the very best of what the summer had to offer; there were some of the most heinous and vile of experiences that no human being (or any other species for that matter) should ever have to be in the presence of anywhere anytime. There were brilliant and inspiring people doing good well, and there were some of the stupidest and most idiotic creatures inhabiting human skin.
And that was just a bit of it. Really.
And while I intend to get into more of that in part two, I do want to spend a moment of your reading time discoursing on one of the tragedies that became apparent over the weekend.One of the “thangs” I do at these events is to develop, organize, produce, and present various series of play-shops that cover a wide variety of activities and topics. I invite speakers, artists, performance arts instructors, crafters, poets, songwriters, activists, et al, to offer the attendees opportunities to engage in something other than being spectators of music.
At the BSC I had the chance to offer eco-hikes and cave-tours of the more than 380-acre site located along the Sinking Creek fork of the Current River in the heart of the Ozarks. For guides I contacted some local enthusiasts, a couple of whom are among the nation’s elite as spelunkers, as well as several naturalists.
We didn’t expect too many of the 6000+ folks to engage in this sort of actual physical activity, and the caving aspects were more limited to climbing and walking into cliff-sides, the deepest of which was perhaps 200’. We did expect that some people would enjoy the chance to be out of the high heat and humidity, and since so many of the important spots were along the river, there was always the opportunity to cool down.
By the Friday afternoon scheduled hike/tour, more than 150 people had shown up to participate. The numbers were staggering, in that we used only the program guide, six information kiosk signs, and a couple of announcements over the localized festival radio to let people know. By the end of the festival more than 500 folks had taken the tours and availed themselves of the experience.
So why do I call this all a tragedy? Well, in debriefing the tour guides and talking with participants I discovered that a vast majority (close to 90%) was taking the tours to become better informed about their local environment. People literally begged to be told about various species of flora, fauna, and fungi. They were clueless about the most dangerous threats that literally lurked throughout the site: rattlesnakes (a 44 inch one was killed on the road that previous Monday), copperheads (two were killed over the weekend, one nearly 30 inches long) and cottonmouths (we kept the people off the section of the site in which the swampy land was located).
Some people showed up for the 1.5 hour hikes on hundred degree (and 100% humidity) days without water (some thought bringing cans of beer would be good), and wearing flip-flops; completely oblivious to what the concept of the term “nature hike” might entail. Others, when told that they would be expected to wade across the river (not all that deep, but with some sizeable holes) acknowledged that even though they didn’t know how to swim, they thought it a grand idea to make the effort.
While this was going on, I was also producing a series of social-enviro-economic justice playshops that were very well attended. It became readily apparent that those choosing to attend were doing so because they desperately wanted specific online and textual references that covered a diverse spectrum of activism and critical information. Some came to find out about the global climate crises; some came to learn about their legal rights regarding use of psychoactive substances and what was happening in that regard throughout the country; some came to learn about ecotopias, intentional communities, and permaculture; and still more needed information on food safety, water and air quality, and healthy living. Why oh why did these young people not have this information???
The main issue for me, for those that attended the playshops, was the glaring lack of reliable and intelligent internet access most of them have in their lives. If they did grow up with it, and many did not, they were only connecting through dialup services. Now, as someone who is old enough to know better, even I get tweaked when I am not in an environment that has high-speed/broadband connectivity; I have been observed this summer demonstrating tube-speed rage, cursing the vile and nefarious dialup demons who make accessing many important and useful sites quite impotent and useless.
So I could sympathize to some degree with those who can’t possibly conceive that they could load whole pages full of multi-media windows in less than a second or two. But that wasn’t the core problem from my perspective; no, the issue resolved around the somewhat intentional restriction of information access to the rural masses in the US.
The results show that in paper after paper, state after state, and region after region, conservative syndicated columnists get more space than their progressive counterparts. As Editor & Publisher paraphrased one syndicate executive noting, “U.S. dailies run more conservative than liberal columns, but some are willing to consider liberal voices.”
If the only information sources were all selling the same messages over and over, you might come to believe: that there is no such thing as a global climate crisis, that the US is winning the war on terror and that Iraq was responsible for 9/11, that evil homosexuals are taking over the cities and destroying the country, and that only the GOP is good and can save us all.
I wish I were joking about this, but in conversation after conversation with folks in the “hinterlands” I realized that the ones to whom I spoke were desperately trying to find source material to disprove these claims. The problem didn’t vanish when the kids (yes it is a pejorative term, that I use to refer to the thousands of people I encounter in the summer who are more than half as young as I) were able to go off to universities and colleges.
The semi-rural realms of Midwestern universities were shown to be quite insular, particularly with regard to encouraging students to use the now really powerful internets to reach out and see what is really going on. Unless a student was mentored or advised to investigate some of the claims on their own, most did not “know” what to look for in terms of counter information to the AM talk radio and conservative local newspapers of their upbringings.
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