Friday, February 11, 2005

The Extraordinary Madness of Crowds

A fellow photog’s remarks about covering Mardi Gras brought to mind several instances of broadcast cameras and popular delusion...

I first came to grips with the weird effects of a zoom lens on pack mentality back in the early nineties, when I wandered into the Emerald Isle Beach Music Festival with a camera on my shoulder and trouble on my mind. Not big trouble, mind you - just a young man’s desire to witness the legendary gathering firsthand. Boy, did I. Between the drunken Marines, shirtless rednecks, and bikini-clad beach bunnies; I got more than my fill of images - most not suitable for the Six o Clock news. After skirting the crowd for a bit (and turning down countless offers of alcohol and other enticements), I foolishly strolled up to the lip of the stage, where North Carolina’s most popular beach music band was laying down the finest in watered-down Motown, all to the enjoyment of a sold-out, sunburned thoroughly sloshed crowd.

A bit intoxicated myself from all the attention my lens brought, I climbed onstage and recorded close-ups of the band. When the station logo on my camera flashed in the sun, the throng of badly dancing revelers cheered at the arrival of their local news dude. Hunkering down by the stage’s edge, I panned from the performers in matching pantsuits to the crowd in assorted cut-offs and halter-tops. Everywhere I pointed the camera, cheers rang out, causing me to swell with pride at the power of my chosen weapon. With thousands of raucous partygoers clamoring for my lens’ attention, I almost felt like a rock star myself, though on stage with the Kings of Southernized White Boy Doo-Wop. Either way, I tried to look casual behind the viewfinder as my senses overloaded with swirling vistas of the adoring masses.

That’s when the beer bombs started. One at first, then a second and a third - plastic cups half-full of keg rot landed all around me at first, before a fourth sudsy projectile found its target - my head. The audience squealed with delight upon the first solid splashdown, and to a man, each rhythm-deprived imbiber launched his own salvo of Budweiser and backwash. I’d like to be able to say I dodged each and every cup, then grabbed the microphone and led the band through a scorching rendition of ’Peace Frog’, but it wasn’t meant to be. No, I merely shielded my camera as best I could while incoming alcohol reigned down from above. With every soaking, the crowd responded with glee, bringing to mind visions of Christian Cameramen bring ripped to shreds by lions as a coliseum of the Great Unwashed roared their approval. Eventually, I managed to escape stage left, but not before my station golf shirt, overgrown mullet and personal dignity were soaked in hops, barley and embarrassment. Slinking past a giggling gaggle of Budweiser Girls, I retreated to my news unit with a new appreciation safe for safe distances from alcohol-engorged audiences.

It’s a rule I would strictly adhere to until a few years later, when a new camera and too much testosterone placed me on top of an ice machine during a drunken Halloween brawl, where the crowd soon decided to turn on me once again.

But that’s a story for another time...


anonyMoses said...

Man! If you don't become the next Charles Kuralt, I'm gonna hafta come up there and kick your *ss.
:) It is great enough that you you have lenslingability, but that you can write, and such fun and wonderful stories...well that is a gift few have. But you certainly do. Glad to have discovered yet another good and creative Carolinian.


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