Lights! Camera! Action?

16 Sep

Last week I got a call out of the blue to appear on Egyptian TV. I looked at my calendar, and it wasn’t April 1, and after a little checking I found out that it wasn’t Egyptian Fool’s Day either. (Speaking of holidays, the holy month of Ramadan did start last week…more on that in future posts.) The producer didn’t really tell me much about what I’d be doing. In fact, every time he called me it seemed like he was more interested in getting off the phone than anything. Maybe he’s practicing for Hollywood. He did mention something about “the aftermath of 9/11,” appropriate since it was the six-year anniversary since the attacks on New York and Washington. Other than the fact that I had no idea how they found me, no idea what I would be talking about, and no idea what the show would be like, it seemed like a great opportunity. I said yes, figuring that chances were good that I’d embarrass myself, but relatively slim that I’d do anything to spark an international incident, so that’s really a plus at the end of the day.

When the day (Thursday) came, Melissa spent most of the day trying to get the wrinkles out of my suit, accrued over two months of sitting inside a garment bag inside a plastic bin inside our shipment which had been inside various planes, trains, automobiles, and cargo holds on at least two continents, three if you count Long Island. I spent most of the day reading CNN.com and various other sites (including fantasy baseball, of course) trying to pick up talking points from people who actually belong on shows talking about important stuff. (Did I mention I’m in first place in one of my fantasy leagues?)

The big show was to start at 11:15pm. But apparently TV schedules aren’t exactly set in stone, since the producer called me up around 3:00 that afternoon and said it would start at 9:15 instead. Good thing I had cancelled all my other media appearances for the evening. I ordered a taxi for 8:00, but it didn’t come, so I just caught another one and drove really really fast to the TV station downtown (traffic is “light” in the evenings during Ramadan, because everyone is inside eating after a full day of fasting, which only gives the taxis more occasion to go at Ludicrous Speed and weave like madmen). The taxi driver assured me he knew where the building was, then proceeded to drive right past it without batting an eye.

I met the producer outside the building. It’s a huge building right in the heart of downtown Cairo, on the Nile. It houses all the state TV productions, which led one of my colleagues to refer to it simply as the State Censorship Building. The lobby was nice enough, but then we went up to a kind of waiting room, featuring computers that had to be from the (brace yourselves) 1990s and tattered office furniture from decades long forgotten by my generation. I met the other guest on the show, who turned out to be another member of the history department at AUC, which put me at ease. The TV journalist who was the moderator of the show met with us for a few minutes, put on a fake smile, and went over some of the questions she would ask us before we all headed to the studio.

The show was actually something of a disappointment, in that it went smoothly and was very professional. No ranting, no fist-pounding, no demagoguery of any kind. Instead, it was two historians sitting at a table talking.

Critics are raving:
“Riveting!”
“Must-see TV!”
“Move over, Waiting for Goudeau! There’s a new sheriff in Excitementville!”
“The History Channel sucks compared to these two stiffs…especially the really pale one on the left!”

To my credit, I didn’t sweat. In fact, there wasn’t much to sweat about, as it was a relatively pleasant and smart conversation. She began asking about our experiences with 9/11 – how it had affected us, and how we thought it experienced America as a whole. That led into a discussion of foreign policy, which dominated the rest of the 45 minutes. Mostly it was about Iraq, and about US policy toward Iran – fortunately not about Israel-Palestine, which is infinitely complicated and tough to talk about. Both of us were critical of the war and the administration’s (mis-)handling of it – which isn’t shocking news, since pretty much everyone now is critical of the war and the administration’s (mis-)handling of it. My main talking points were that there haven’t been any real course corrections because President Bush is a “true believer” who either can’t see or refuses to see how bad things are, and who genuinely believes that this will in the end produce good results and vindicate him in spite of all the critics. Regarding Iran, I talked about the lack of creativity and “moral imagination” in Washington, and the complete failure of the American diplomatic community during the Bush administration to engage other countries in constructive dialogue. I called for bilateral talks that included carrots as well as sticks, with the understanding that Iran is a major regional player that won’t go away.

I was a little nervous going in, wondering if it would be confrontational or stressful, but it ended up being a fairly comfortable experience. Melissa, who was able to watch about half of it with some friends (who told me that they spelled my name wrong on the screen), said I didn’t make a fool of myself, and as far as I can tell, I didn’t spark any international incidents. Unfortunately, we won’t have a copy of my international media debut for posterity – when I asked the producer for a tape of the show, he laughed and said, “This is state TV – it’s not in the budget!”

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5 Responses to “Lights! Camera! Action?”

  1. DaD September 17, 2007 at 12:21 am #

    Patrick,

    It’s good to hear you two (&1/2?) red heads are keeping a low profile, … flying under the radar.
    Wonder how they found you.
    What an adventure!
    DaD

  2. Dre September 17, 2007 at 8:25 pm #

    Methinks any possible future work with the CIA or State Dept. was nixed, but nonetheless, good job! Regarding the suit: aren’t academics SUPPOSED to be rumpled?

  3. your brother September 18, 2007 at 6:50 pm #

    This comment has been deleted by w-a731js.cia.gov.

  4. reecherd September 21, 2007 at 9:07 pm #

    That’ll keep ’em from commenting!

  5. Luisa September 22, 2007 at 5:54 pm #

    Patrick, sounds like you had another great chapter in your adventure. Can’t wait until the next one.

    P.S. Watch yourself Mr. cia.gov or you and your cat might get a “mom visit” and it won’t be pleasant. I’ll purposely make it long one, maybe even go into your closet. Hmmm, sounds like a good plan. See you soon. love mom

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