Interview - Bob Pagani aka Cranky Media Guy

I/V: Cranky Media Guy, Publisher, Author & Announcer - 23rd June 2003

What's your background?

I grew up in New York City; the Bronx to be exact. I was always kind of a weirdo; among my idols was Alan Abel, the famous media hoaxer (I met Alan and was involved in some of his famous hoaxes when I was in my late 20's and early 30's).

My Dad gave me the notion that "reality" was somewhat flexible, I think. One of my fondest memories of him was the two of us sneaking into a trade show for pet store owners in the New Yorker Hotel in Manhattan. I assume I don't have to mention that we did not own a pet store.

When I was 13, I invented a fake "organization" called the Society for the Removal of Old Cars from the Back of Ten-Dollar Bills. The supposed purpose of the group was to change the picture on the back of ten spots so that people in other countries wouldn't think that we were still riding around in Model T's (bad for America's image, you know). I sent a note about the group to a reporter at the New York Daily News and a few weeks later, on April 25, 1965, he mentioned me in his "teen" column in the News' Sunday magazine. I was thrilled to find out that you could make up something and get it covered in the newspaper, just like "real" stuff.

I have engaged in this sort of behavior on and off since then. In fact, I just traveled to New York (from Oregon where I'm now living) and managed to get myself on two local TV news shows (and do six radio interviews around the country and in Ireland) based on something I dreamed up.

Why, how and when did you adopt the name, Cranky Media Guy?

Actually, my brilliant wife made that name up. She suggested it to me and I thought it was pretty apt and kind of catchy, too, so I went with it.

What are your qualifications?

There are a LOT of things in life I'm not very good at, but making up stuff that's kind of ridiculous if you examine it but yet somehow still believable I seem to have a talent for.

I went to college, but didn't graduate. I had a strange collegiate experience, actually. I went to Bronx Community College for a while, but I didn't really like going to class. Most of my friend were going to Fordham University not very far away, so when I was done with my classes for the day, I would go over to the Fordham campus and hang out with them. Over time, I dropped out of Bronx Community and hung around Fordham full-time. I started joining clubs and activities and was pretty well-known around the campus.

At one point, I was doing some work at the radio station, I was an editor for one of the newspapers and the literary magazine and I did props for plays. I had keys to two offices on opposite sides of the campus and I was still not a student. Eventually, I enrolled at the school, baffling the admissions people with the list of references I was able to provide (I was even in the yearbook for a couple of years when I was a non-student). My student-hood didn't last long, though (about three semesters); I liked being a non-student better than actually matriculating.

When I got married in the early 80's and moved to New Jersey, with no real forethought at all, I ended up in radio. I've worked at about a dozen or so radio stations, most of the jobs lasting less than a year. I'm a terrible DJ, but I'm a very interesting air personality, something that American radio has--at best--minimal interest in at the moment. About half of my presentation is just plain ol' me and the other half is stuff designed to challenge the audience's perception of what is real. More professional radio people have been just appalled by how I work; I use a LOT less pre-planning than just about anyone else on the air. I just don't have the mind for that kind of stuff AND I'm not afraid of going on the air with little or nothing pre-planned. I'm willing to open the mic and see what happens...which scares the living shit out of a lot of management. They much prefer predictable mediocrity to spontaneous brilliance (or spectacular failure, which can be pretty interesting to observe, too).

What are your view on freedom of the press in the United States, and indeed the world?

Freedom of the Press! Wow, what a great idea! We ought to try that sometime. Seriously, I think the "state of the art" when it comes to the press, at least in the U.S. at the moment, is pretty pathetic. Most Americans get the majority of their "information" from TV news and I'm constantly shocked and appalled by how much of TV news is fluff and/or government-approved propaganda. I'm happy that children are reading, but sheesh, enough with the friggin' Harry Potter promotional stuff on the "news" already! As I mentioned, I just came back from New York City where I managed to get on not one, but TWO of the local TV news shows with something wholly illusory, so I'm VERY familiar with how phony the "news" is. No wonder a majority of Americans think that Iraq was involved in the World Trade Center attack.

What are your aims and objectives?

Wow, I don't think anyone has ever asked me that question before. If I was somehow instrumental in getting people to open their eyes and question the "reality" they routinely accept, I think I could die happy. I can't think of anything bigger than that that I could be involved in. On a personal level, it would be nice if people found out about the things I've done in the past (and will possibly do in the future), like a "retrospective," I guess. A lot of people know about individual things I've done, but they don't realize that I was the force, if you will, behind them. Hey, I've got a little ego, what can I say?

How many website visitors do you attract?

The site is a little bit down on visitorship at the moment, because I haven't updated it recently. We still do hundreds of visitors a day, mostly due to the section on my friend Tom's "dream girl" ( Our best day ever, when that story broke, we got 13,653 hits--pretty good for a "Mom and Pop" site.

If people visit the site, I think they might be interested in the video on it with my friend, the late Andy Kaufman. It's a long story, but I met him for the first time at 10:15 PM on a Thursday night and was doing a live TV show with him and his parents at 11:00. It may be the only commercially-unreleased tape of Andy left anywhere.

What rewards has your profile given you?

When I was actively updating the site on a regular basis, I got a lot of email from people, mostly complimentary. I'm thinking about getting back to doing that again, actually. To be honest, it's been hard to have the same sarcastic tone about current events since 9/11. I've been a wee bit depressed about the way things have gone in the U.S. since then. The amount of disinformation disseminated by the government since then has been WAY beyond anything I could have imagined; the manipulation of the public has been disgusting and it's hard to say anything funny and not merely bitter about that. I've strayed a little bit from the question here. The feedback I've gotten from the site has been great and that's been a reward in itself.

What are your current projects?

I have an unusual mind. It's always working on projects, many of them rather abstract in conception. I'm always trying to come up with something that no one else has ever thought of before which will catch on on a national or international level and provide an income for myself and my family so that I never have to work in a "normal" job again. I've come close on an occasion or two and, eternal optimist that I am, I always think that I can grab the "brass ring" the next time. Actually, just the other morning, when I was trying to fall asleep, I came up with an idea more absurd, perhaps, than anything I have ever conceived of before. I'm sorry for being vague, but I really need to keep it a secret until I launch it. The weird thing about this particular project is that it would require a lot of other people to play along with the gag. If I can pull this one off, it'll be a joke of surrealist proportions.

Where and how did you develop your wit and sense of humor?

I mentioned my Dad earlier. I think I got my sense that the world was kind of a big joke from him. He was an appliance mechanic for Westinghouse and he hated his job. That--and the fact that my parents fought a lot--made growing up seem somewhat less than attractive. If I'm a bit of a "Peter Pan," I think that's the reason. As a result, I became more interested in pretending to be various things as opposed to pursuing an actual career path. If you can appear to be something--a doctor, say (although I would never do that because it would be unethical and dangerous to the "patients") and everyone accepts you as one, how is that really different from actually having studied to be one? That's a fascinating question to me. Obviously, I have a different way of looking at things from most people and that's what has informed, as they say, my sense of humor.ur biggest supporters and detractors, and why?

My wife, an authentic genius and the person who best understands and accepts me, is my Number One supporter. God bless her, she never thinks I'm crazy, even when I propose some absurd project. I also have a number of friends back in Pennsylvania (who I just got to see for the first time in several years) who appreciate what I do. I don't know if they always understand my motivations, but they like to hear the stories and laugh in the right places and that has some value. Seriously, they may think I'm nuts but they like me anyway (which is pretty much the definition of "friend," right?)

As for detractors, well, I've run afoul of a few radio management types who hired me on the strength of what I had done in the past but then didn't have the courage to let me find my audience. Oh well, their loss, I guess. I've also pissed off a few news organizations by exposing them for the bogus "journalists" they are. One I faked out about ten years ago I just fooled again two weeks ago. I'm debating how to let them know they've been had again. I'm sure they won't be asking to join my fan club.

Who are some of the most irresponsible, and down right "dirty" companies in America?

Oh man, where to begin? The bigger they are, the creepier they are, I think. The scales fell off my eyes about American corporate business back in the 70's when I got to do some work for one of the Fortune 500. I was in the projection booth for their board room where I got to essentially attend a few of their highest-level meetings. I couldn't see them but I could hear every word. Let's just say that everything you may have ever suspected about Big Business is true. Just for starters, all that rah-rah, yay America stuff is strictly for domestic consumption. They'll package their product in whatever way will work in whatever country they're trying to sell it to. "Amoral" and "sleazy" doesn't begin to cover it. Since you asked, though, heard anything about Enron lately?

Those bastards screwed every user of electricity in California and the Feds can't seem to find the time to indict any of them. They're too busy busting Cheech Marin for selling bongs on the Internet (I'm not endorsing drugs--I hate them--but come on! They have time for that nonsense but none for the largest corporate crooks in America?)

The fact of the matter is that we currently have a fully-operational fascist government (in the dictionary definition sense of the word) in the U.S. There is NO discernible line between government and Big Business in America at the moment; they're one and the same. The same creepy bastards are in control of both of them.

What's wrong with "call centers"? (if you have the space and time to explain). **an operator one said to me "we are just a call center you know", and I replied, "yes, I know. I couldn't have put it better myself"!

"Call centers" are a symptom of 21st Century Corporate Behavior. The whole idea is to pay as few people as little as you can legally. They don't know anything because training costs money and spending money on anything that doesn't immediately return a profit is against their religion. You may be interested to know that the "pro-America" Republican party has sent at least 50 of its fundraising telemarketer jobs to India. The callers are given American-sounding names to use because all those good God-fearing Republicans out there wouldn't like it if "Sanjay" was asking them to contribute to the President's re-election fund. They even bullshit their own!

What are the worse crimes both America and Iraq have committed on mankind?

In a strange way, Iraq has provided a benefit to America by giving us something to hate. We haven't had a good "heel" (as they call villains in the professional wrestling world) since the fall of the Soviet Union. For reasons that may require a better intellect than mine to figure out, we seem to need a focus for our collective anger, like the Nazis needed the Jews.

Don't misunderstand, I'm not saying that Hussein wasn't a miserable S.O.B. He got that way in part, though, because of the help the U.S. gave him. That makes us worse in my view, because we're supposed to be better than that. For all my cynicism, I really WANT the United States to be the envy of the world, the country that shows the rest of the world how democracy can work and all that stuff they taught us in grammar school. I want us to be Earth's Boy Scout and I feel disappointed when we aren't. Right now, I think we look pretty damn stupid and ugly to a lot of the rest of the world and I think it's going to come back to haunt us for years to come.

As Europe starts to think that it can't count on us, I suspect it will develop its own industries and stop buying stuff from us. Since a major portion of our economy depends on making crap and selling it to other people, that doesn't bode well. In short, I think we're screwed for the foreseeable future.

Are we heading towards World World III?

I sure thought we were a few months back. Right now, I'm not quite as sure. I do think the current economic troubles in this country are going to get worse. The Republicans live in this dream world where a handful of enormously wealthy people and a nation of minimum wager earners constitute a good economy. My worst fear is that we're going to end up with something like they have in South America or South Africa where the rich live behind barricades with armed guards and crime soars as jobs continue to disappear.

It isn't World War III in the conventional conception, but it isn't very pretty either.

What needs to be done to ban spam and to protect children from internet porn, and other net nasties?

Why should a Republican-controlled government want to control spam? It's would-be entrepreneurs trying to bullshit vast numbers of other people for personal gain. Hell, that's pretty much their modus operandi.

As for Internet porn, I think the "danger" is exaggerated. Yes, there's a lot of creepy stuff on line, but you have to go looking for it. It isn't as if it's sitting on your desktop when you boot up. It's certainly a good idea to keep younger kids from viewing stuff they won't understand and which would probably be disturbing to them but who's letting a ten-year-old surf the 'net without supervision? What kind of irresponsible parent does that?

I think the real problem here is the puritanical notion (which comes from religions that want to control people) that seeing a uncovered tit will cause a child to become a serial rapist or something in later life. The funny part is that most Americans are aware that the European attitude toward nudity and so forth is considerably more casual than that in this country yet we don't think of Europeans as being fundamentally immoral. Amazing how we can disconnect like that, isn't it?

Most adults got their hands on a Playboy or something like that at least once when they were kids and they didn't become social liabilities yet somehow we think that if our kids see nudity, they're going to grab a Tec-9 and shoot up the high school cafeteria. What's up with that?

Is the government doing enough?

About what? As far as I'm concerned, they're doing way too much about things they should leave alone and not nearly enough about the things they legitimately should be involved with.

Is there a New World Order? (not the wrestling version)

Funny you should put it that way. When I tell people this, they think I'm kidding or being ironic, but I honestly think that geopolitics operates on exactly the same principles as professional wrestling. As I said before, I think that Iraq is functioning in the "heel" role that the Soviet Union used to occupy (at least from the point of view of the U.S.).

If you're familiar with wrestling, you know that wrestlers sometimes "turn" (go from good to bad or vice versa). I think that countries operate in the same way. What I see is that the former Soviet Union is heading toward "face" (good guy) status and the U.S. is slowly turning "heel". Ultimately, I think the purpose is the same as in wrestling--to provide a plot to entertain the "marks" (citizens).

My only question is who is the promoter, the person or persons who develops the storyline?

What's your views on homosexuality in the church? ..and what is God's (if you believe) view on this?

Well, I'm far from being convinced that there is a God. If there IS one, I suspect He views homosexuality the same way He views left-handedness--as something that deviates from the norm, but ultimately isn't a big deal. There is NO evidence for the notion that a person "chooses" to be gay. It seems to be a brain wiring thing. If we accept this, then we have to ask why God would make a person that way only to condemn them for something over which they have no control. I'd like to think that someday we'll be at the point where we view the notion that homosexuality is evil or a "choice" the same way we now view the idea that an epileptic is "demon-possessed".

How many times does science have to refute silly religious concepts like that before we stop taking religion seriously on the subject of human nature?

Historically, it isn't exactly batting a thousand, you know?

What is wrong with "Reality TV"?

You have to start with the realization that it exists not because it's good or the best use of the airtime. It's there because it's CHEAP.

It's like what I said about "call centers"--it exists because it's the cheapest way to produce something that looks like programming. The insidious thing about it is that because it's called "reality TV" and it LOOKS real, people think it's an accurate representation of something. It's totally fake, absolutely perfect for post-9/11 America. I liked what Johnny Carson said about Survivor. I'm paraphrasing, but he said that people forget that besides the "cast", there's also a crew, staying in a hotel on the other side of the island. He said that he was in more danger at his dinner table than the "survivors" were on the island.

What are you yet to accomplish in the internet space?

International fame and fortune. I'm still working on it.

How have you made a positive difference to the world? eg - freedom of speech and free thought....

If I've made even a few people view things differently, that's great. I'd like to make a LOT of people question the nature of the world around them.

In 50 years from now, how would you like to be remembered?

Man, if I'm remembered in ANY way in 50 years, I'd be thrilled. If I can be remembered as someone who changed the popular perception of how things work (and don't work), I'd be ecstatic. If anything I did caused even one person to become someone who changed the world for the better, well, I don't think I could ask for anything more than that.

Bob, that's a lot of questions I know. The more in depth the answers, the better. Many Australian and international media figures and political types visit my website, and this is your big chance to to really stick it to them. Thanks for your time, interest and goodwill.

I will be visiting the US and UK on a working holiday within a year or so, so if we progress satisfactory we could potentially meet up for a beer and discuss the shape of the world at that time.

You bet! I don't drink, but I'd sure be happy to share a pastrami sandwich and a Pepsi with you. Let me know when you're going to be over here. By the way, I was in Oz back in '88 and I loved it there, especially Sydney. Great country and great people.

You may also be interested in being a contributor to my website. I delight in publishing things other "traditional" media outlets won't touch.

Say the word. What kind of things are you looking for?


Editors note: I'm looking for many things, and I'm sure glad I found this guy. I'm looking for truth, justice and the Media Man way : ) This guy kind of reminds me of me. Questions everything, suspects everyone, especially "big brother".

See part 2 of the interview with Bob, conducted on the 5th July 2003.


Cranky Media Guy