Got into a little bit of a dustup last night on Facebook on one of the show's two fan pages (that I know of). No, this wasn't a theist, but one of our legion of atheist viewers, taking the position that, because we were allowing too many atheists to call the show and prattle on ad nauseam, and weren't doing what we should be doing, which is painting the walls of the studio with Christian blood, that we had lost touch with our fan base, grown boring and complacent and didn't give a shit any more. And so on. I did my best to explain just what it is we can and cannot control about the program (among the latter, just whether or not any theists are watching at all, let alone feeling inclined to call in), but all my explanations were basically brushed off as lame excuses followed by more haranguing on how to do a show like this, which we've been doing 13 years, properly, from someone who hadn't done one ever. You get that from time to time.
Happily, we simmered down and ended on a more friendly note than we began. But I felt I ought to address, in particular, this assumption some folks seem to have that we're just totally oblivious when the show is being boring because some dude is yammering on about this or that and Matt or Russell or whomever isn't hitting the hangup button fast enough.
First off, you should know some history. It's true that the AETV a lot of you wish you were seeing now was the show you pretty reliably got each Sunday, back in the first half of the aughties. After that period, something new was added, and that something was the Internet.
Sure, the 'tubes existed just fine back in the earliest days of the show as well. But back then, most people were still on dialup, video streaming wasn't what it is, podcasts weren't yet around, YouTube was just a twinkle in some programmer's eye...that kind of thing. To give you an idea how different things were, there was a brief time when I redesigned the ACA website with a spiffy logo and all the rest of it, and lots of people complained because the fact there were JPEGs on the home page was glacially slowing their load times. (That the current site hasn't apparently realized it's not 1999 any more is a topic for another day.)
What this means is that, before, say, 2005, if you wanted to watch AETV, you watched it on ChannelAustin, which was then Austin Community Access. Shitty non-digital picture, titles typed out on a vintage 80's character generator, the primitive works. This meant that the overwhelming majority of our viewers were Christians, stumbling upon the show while cable-surfing and getting their WTF meters blown right into the red. So on any given show, all but perhaps one or two of our callers would be a Christian, and often a righteously pissed-off Christian. We ended up with our regular weekly trolls, like Steve the Creationist and Prophecy Tim. The hosts of Christian shows on the other Access channels would call and yell at us. Truly these were days of milk and honey.
Flash-forward to the present, and what has changed? Well, along came YouTube, and all at once, AETV burst out of its Access cocoon and went not local, not national, but global. We have fans in countries Sarah Palin has never heard of, which would be most of them. We became one of the most, if not the most, popular atheist media programs currently produced, and to date, no one's really doing it — live call-ins! — like we are and have been for a decade or more. And this of course means that, now, atheist fans of the show, who barely existed in the early 00's outside of the regular ACA bagel-shop meetup group, vastly outnumber any Christians who chance upon us via a fortuitous clicking of the remote. And those fans, every Sunday, queue up to call in and talk. Which further means that, now, screaming matches with indignant fundies are a far more rare occurrence on the show.
If you're one of the many folks kvetching in the UStream chatroom about this fact, pause for a moment to consider how those of us who lived the glory days must feel. We know what hijinks you're missing, even more than you do. You guys know the "I'm gonna punch you in the head" dude? Imagine that kind of wacky (not so much the direct threat of violence, but the general loss of temper) all the fucking time, and you'll have a good picture of the show from around eight or nine years ago.
Now, having said that, consider this.
What are we gonna do? Just tell our atheist fans not to call ever? Of course not. Most of you are fans in the first place because the show filled a very special niche in your life, one you probably didn't know you wanted filled. If I had a buck for every email we get from a viewer who thanks us profusely, who thought that they were all alone in their nonbelief and didn't feel anyone understood them or relate to them...well, I'd have a few bucks. The point is, the fans — the very people who are, ironically, complaining their own calls on the show are overrepresented — are profoundly important to us. And AETV is not simply intended as a weekly believer beatdown. It is also an outreach to isolated and lonely atheists. So if someone calls with a heartfelt question about, say, dealing with an alienated family member, we're not just going to boot that guy off the line because all you bloodthirsty psychos in chat are itching for us to go Leatherface on a creationist. That call may be a bore to you. But it is certainly very important to him. A lot of your godless brothers and sisters do live the proverbial lives of quiet desperation, and if we're the only people they have to talk to about a serious problem, we take the role seriously.
And yet, we do want more slugfests, like we used to get. And we are aware that a number of calls from atheists are allowed to prattle on. There were at least a couple of callers last Sunday I'd like to have seen Russell hit the button on about five minutes sooner than he did, but that wasn't my call to make. To put it in its most direct terms, if you've found the show disappointing in its lack of interesting and heated on-air exchanges, remember the following:
- In live TV you never know what you're going to get.
- Not every caller will be a stupid fundie we can tear to pieces.
- You will find some calls interesting and not others. (Corollary: You will find some entire episodes interesting and not others. We sure do.)
- We're all just enthusiastic amateurs at the end of the day, volunteering our time to do this because we enjoy it so much. That said, though I'd say we've gotten pretty good at it over the years, our efforts will always be imperfect.
We appreciate that we have an international fandom now. And perhaps it's because we make this look so much easier than it actually is, that a number of our viewers become so vocal about how we could fix it. But while we simply cannot force more Christians to call us (and when they do, trust me, they get moved right to the top of the queue), there are ways you can help us make the show better, brisker, and less inclined to tedium. While I'm no longer the full-time host and it's not my prerogative to set standards for callers, I don't see that Matt or Russell would disagree with me too strongly over the following suggestion.
If you, as one of our atheist fans, want to call the show, be prepared. Make sure you have an interesting and pertinent question. When we take your call, ask your question, allow us to answer it, and then once we have, allow us to move on to the next caller, instead of putting us in the position of having to cut you off. Once we've answered your question, don't think Huh, what else can I talk about? to keep us on the line. Fifteen minute epic calls that aren't about something damned interesting can be pure pain to endure. Check the ACA FAQ before you call, to make sure we haven't already addressed your issue. Moreover, check Iron Chariots if you have some complicated question relating to counter-apologetics. In short, when you call, be on point, get to the point, and stay on point. Short and sweet.
And who knows, if we get in the habit of blowing through, say, eight or ten callers an hour instead of only four or five, we might get a better variety of callers being far less long-winded. And some of those might just be the indignant Christians you've been hoping for! With everyone doing their part, we may yet return to the days of milk and honey. And blood.