Though I’ve never witnessed bedlam, I can still spark a riot with the flick of a lens. Outdoor concerts and middle school gyms, late-night crime scenes or midday church services - give me the right crowd and a TV camera and I’ll have them reenacting ‘Lord of the Flies‘ before you can raid the refreshment table. Okay so that’s big talk for a guy who keep his head down, blank face buried deep in the ‘finder. In that sense the camera is my helmet, a storm-trooping rig bristling with switches and antenna .With it I’ll wade into any scenario - for while the fancycam on my shoulder makes other people jerk their necks, it renders me invisible. An expressionless face behind the glass, I skulk about the place like an assassin slathered in look at me logos. Yeah, when I shoulder my axe and swing into action, I’m no longer known as ‘Stew’. I. AM. CAMERAMAN. More flatulent than a local promo. Able to shoot whole stories from a single tripod spot. Fierce, I tell ya…
I’ve mentioned before how I used to attend Greenville’s annual Halloween street party dressed as an actual cameraman. Once I was chatting up a couple hundred partygoers outside a convenience store when fisticuffs erupted in the parking lot. The costumed crowd surged toward the haymakers and in a flash of brilliance I scrambled atop a large ice cooler to get a better shot. By that time of course the lopsided fistfight had subsided and the only thing for the crowd to claw and gnash at was me. That they did: screaming, slinging great arcs of draft beer and throwing the goat at the shaggy photog to stupid to turn off his camera‘s light. I may have died atop that icebox, ripped to shreds by a mob who’d mixed Heineken with too much Hootie and the Blowfish. But before I could unhook my battery belt and start swinging it at all comers, providence arrived in the form of a rugby-playing buddy named Mitch who appeared out nowhere and began peeling idiots off the icebox. The fact that he did so while sporting a Fred Flintstone loincloth and an incredibly hot cave-girl friend further cemented the images in my brainpan.
American Idol always draws a crowd and often they’re drenched in body glitter. This alone makes them more susceptible to bedlam than the average taxpayer, for if they’re willing to sleep in the park for three days if it improves their chance to you can sing for Simon, it should be no shocker when they pop and lock at my lens behest. At first I tried to tell them I was just a local, but the battered FOX sticker on my fancycam convinced them I was The Smarmy One’s top video scout. Hey, you try reasoning with a yodeling Elvis, a cross dressing boy band or any other fast food employees suffering from delusions of Whitney. Logic don’t apply. At the other end of the Idol food chain, many fans of the newly manufactured are out of their skulls. (Paging all Claymates, Paging all Claymates…) I remember the night Taylor Hicks won the kiss of death, I mean the title of American Idol. I was just outside the Kodak Theater when Seacrest ripped the envelope. Late for my tripod spot outside on the Plaza, I rounded a corner with a few other photogs at my heels. Suddenly explosions of light filled our sight and a roar of approval washed over us. As my eyes adjusted I returned the gaze of a thousand gape-jawed tourists, all frozen in mid euphoric letdown. Hoping to catch sight of the triumphant Idols, they got six schlubby cameramen instead. Still, I did feel like a Beatle for a good two seconds.
False adulation aside, I could sometimes do without the attention my lens and its logo brings. Then again, what other alliteration enables one to cross such boundaries? I have strolled from the warden’s office to the exercise yard and been equally accepted. I’ve quizzed inbreds in white pointy hoods before schlepping my gear over to a throng of black activists - all while distant sharpshooters held me in their sights. I’ve titillated quilting bees with thoughts of the publicity my visit would bring, strung heavy live truck cable through crowded soup kitchens and toyed with the attention of those who could buy and sell me. I’ve even faked my way through college dean chitchat, pretending to know why the hell I’m there even as I eyeball the crumpled printout in my palm. Without the benefit of my station’s gear by my side, it’s safe to say most folk would have kicked my clown-ass out long ago. Instead they bellow for my attention, cower from my gaze and preen and strut until they feel they’ve gotten the close-up. I just wish the gig paid more. Have you seen what it costs to dry-clean Spandex?