There is joy in watching Beautiful Cambrians in action. Technology allows us all to view, read, and comment on everything local from politics to parades, clean-ups and tear-downs, wind, waves and water. Always water.
While I enjoy the immediacy our modern technology offers, I miss the nascent days of emerging cable television, and the delight that is local Community Access. Yes, that self-produced, low-quality programming that features ordinary folks with passion and particular points of view.
Party on, Wayne! Party on, Garth!
Many cable companies across the United States devote airtime and technical facilities to community members who want to share themselves with anyone with a television and basic cable. Every week you can tune in and watch in amazement colorful characters who hold some, uh, unusual philosophies. Sure, there are notorious staples like Glendora, a behatted grandma-type whose fascinating life and career have spanned decades. But the fun ones were so predictably unpredictable that they became must-see TV.
Before moving to Beautiful Cambria, I lived in Danbury, Connecticut. My cable provider at the time, Comcast, provided an in-house production studio where citizen journalists and community activists could learn how to produce their shows. In addition to local government happenings, the operation featured a dizzying amount – close to forty hours a week – of locally created and produced programming on Public Access channel Twenty-Three. These weekly broadcasts were a perfect place to blend politics and prevarications, hobbies, and peeves, all under the banner of free speech. Well, mainly free. After all, there needs to be some modicum of decency even among the fringe.
There were earnest folks interested in sharing their knowledge of everything from Dolly Madison to doily making. They often made me go, “Aww, how sweet is that!”
Channel Twenty-Three also hosted a cast of unsavory characters who were, to put it delicately, misogynist racist anti-immigrant anti-government anti-religion anti-civil discourse idiots. It was simultaneously appalling and hilarious as these knuckleheads spun their conspiracies and winked “you know what I’m talking about” plans to clean up this country. Want to know the “real” meaning of The Constitution? – Big T. was the guy, a mini Alex Jones before InfoWars. Sovereign Citizens loved John McGowan and Bones, though sadly, McGowan’s campaign for Mayor didn’t quite go as he hoped. Nor did his Sovereign Citizen defense during his trial and conviction for rape. Kevin Gallagher was Q-ish before it became a brand, sharing odd theories and interviews with odder guests, with the occasional musical performance by a local musician or group. More than once, one or the other of these shows would be disciplined and taken off the air for a few weeks while the furious host would do battle with the powers that be at the station. They too were fun to watch! The outrage! The indignation! The pinball logic! And finally, resolution. Until the next time… A quick peek at Danbury’s current broadcast lineup shows that some of these hosts are still on the air, merrily rocking and roiling along.
(Comcast’s Community Media Studios still offers these opportunities to intrepid citizens looking for an outlet. Here in Beautiful Cambria, Coast Union High School, under the guidance of Dan Hartzell, offers students even greater access to the technologies and education to take their talents far beyond the local airwaves.)
For me, there is only one personality who stands atop the Gadfly Hall of Fame. The late, great Clay Tiffany and his masterpiece of Public Access Television, “Dirge For The Charlatans.”
Clay Tiffany’s unusual appearance and voice were the epitome of a smirk, underscored by his signature catchphrase “all right?” Standing tall, his blazing red afro, permanently scowling face, and wardrobe that always looked culled from the rack labeled “1950’s muckraking reporter” at the local community theater wardrobe closet. He was awesome.
Tiffany was relentless. His diatribes were part Perry Mason and part Perry White. A pugnacious fearlessness led him into constant verbal, legal, and, sadly, violent physical confrontations with elected officials and public servants throughout the small village of Briarcliff Manor in Westchester County, New York.
Clay never let anyone intimidate him, sometimes to his detriment. Mayor, commissioner, judge, clerk, and police departments all exchanged shots with him. Even then-Westchester County District Attorney (and current FOX spectacle) Jeanine Pirro heard from him, loudly, publicly, and obnoxiously. Some of those shots were nearly deadly.
Briarcliff police officer Nick Tartaglione was often the target of Clay’s accusations of corruption, civil rights violations, violence and intimidation; pretty much anything a novelist or screenwriter might throw into the mix to create a character of “bad cop.” Nick did not like that and allegedly assaulted Tiffany several times, once beating him nearly to death. This attack triggered an FBI investigation, a major lawsuit with a significant settlement in Clay’s favor, and Tartaglione’s dismissal from the police force. (A dismissal that was later reversed, with Tartaglione being reinstated and receiving back pay.)
Tartaglione went on to bigger and worse headlines, including this one:
And more recently,
Yes, that Epstein.
Clay Tiffany passed away in March of 2015. Concerned neighbors notified police when they hadn’t seen him for a few weeks. He had no known family. His vast archive of videotapes of “Dirge For The Charlatans” remains unavailable. However, an effort is underway to convert them to digital and produce a documentary on the life of the most fantastic citizen journalist/Community Gadfly few people ever saw. I hope to see it completed and shared.
To quote veteran Westchester journalist Phil Reisman in his piece “Dirge for a gadfly.”
“Tiffany told the truth as he saw it. Even crazy people can be right sometimes, but Tiffany’s problem was that it all got lost in the paranoid noise.”
I often think of Clay Tiffany while following the local cast of unique citizens here in Beautiful Cambria and mentally overlay his trademark smirk and incredulous “All right?” he would add for emphasis.
Long live all the Gadflies, All Right?