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Sunday, September 16, 2007

MAN ON FIRE: What ALMOST happened to protest uniforms at Reidsville schools

This morning I was going back though the past few months of blog posts looking for something I'd written pertaining to education. In the course of searching I found the video of WGSR's Star Talk on June 14th where Mark Childrey interviewed me about my plans to address the July 9th meeting of the Rockingham County Board of Education while dressed as a Jedi Knight. It was all to protest the "Standard Mode of Dress" (legalese for "school uniforms") at Reidsville Middle and Reidsville High schools that the board had approved.

As was reported here a few weeks later, the board wound up rescinding the earlier vote to implement the policy after POTSMOD (People Opposed To Standard Mode Of Dress) turned the meeting into a media spectacle with picketing by students, black armbands and not just a Jedi but an "escaped convict" too :-)

Well, I watched the video again and it got to the part where I was alluded to Mark that I had "something much more outrageous" in mind if the board continued to refuse to acknowledge us. What this was, I told Mark, would "drop jaws all over the place".

Fortunately, the board did hear us out. And we are thankful that they did and that they overturned their initial vote for the uniforms.

But I was not bluffing. There was something that I had planned to do if the board, at the July meeting, continued to deny our protests.

If the Jedi Costume didn't grab their attention, I was seriously intending to escalate this thing, big time.

The only people who've known about this before now were my wife Lisa, Samantha Fettig of POTSMOD, Richard Moore, "Weird" Ed Woody, and just a few others. They were all sworn to secrecy about it. They also, every single one of them, tried their darndest to talk me out of doing this.

But after studying it long and hard and figuring that (a) if it was in the public interest to do this then I'd have no problem with attempting it and (b) it would be an awesome experience if I survived, I was all the more bound and determined to be ready to do this.

So what was it?

If, after the July 9th meeting, we could not help but believe that the Rockingham County Board of Education was not interested in our concerns about the school uniforms and why we did not want them, then I was going to pick a date and send out a whole wazoo-load of press releases, telling every TV and radio station, newspaper, blogger and whoever else came to mind to be at a certain spot at a certain time.

When the press was all situated, I was going to come out wearing one of those flame-proof suits that cover you from head to toe, set myself on fire, and with the cameras rolling stand there with a sign saying "SCHOOL UNIFORMS BURN ME UP!"

The effect was hopefully going to be like what you see in the photo on the right.

The plan was for me to stand there for several seconds all lit up holding the sign, long enough for everyone to get good footage and pics, and then have volunteers with fire extinguishers douse out the flames.

So intent on going through with this was I, that the announcement of my plan for it was written into the first draft of my speech before the board. Luckily a cooler head (bad pun I know) prevailed and the "threat" didn't make it into the second version of the remarks. But I can only imagine what the look of horror on the faces of all those board members might have been, had I gone through with publicizing it that night...

...and especially what the reactions from a certain few of the members would have been. You see, they're the ones who know me. We've been friends for many, many years. And they would be the first to tell you that they KNOW that I am outrageous enough to try something like this! Emphasis on "try": they're well aware that I would take a stab at it even if success wasn't guaranteed. If the stunt might be glorious and spectacular, that's all I need to know to want to attempt it. Although so far as physical danger goes, this would have been one of the more daring things that I'd have ever considered.

Would I have really done this? For my brothers and sisters in POTSMOD and for the kids at Reidsville Middle and Reidsville High schools, you bet that I would have.

Thankfully (and I really can't stress that nearly enough), things didn't get to that point at all. The board voted 7-3 at the July meeting to overturn the uniforms policy at the two schools. So ever since classes started a few weeks ago the middle and high school students in Reidsville get to wear whatever they want, so long as it adheres to the reasonable dress code.

But for a few weeks there, in the summer of 2007, Rockingham County was almost the site of its very own version of the Burning Man tour.

Look, it could have been worse. At least I didn't have The Wicker Man in mind when I hatched this crazy plot...


bmovies said...

You would have gotten yourself killed. And if you had survived, arrested. There's more to it than wearing a flame proof suit and having a few friends standing by with fire extinguishers. I once saw a video on television of a guy who did a stunt of setting himself on fire (for an audience. Cant recall what it was...a local stock car race, a carnival) and having friends standing by with fire extinguishers/ He went on fire, his frinds came in to extinguish the flames....only the extinguishers werent doing the job. The fire extinguishers were running out and the guy was still on fire. Finally, they brought in a guy with a high powered hose to finally douse him out.


Read this:

Stunts With Fire

Any scene where fire is involved is a dangerous one. Let's take a look at some of the most common stunts that include fire.

Burn scenes

Scenes in which someone is actually set on fire are among the most dangerous ever filmed. The stuntman wears several layers of protective clothing, including fire-resistant materials like asbestos. Special gloves and a hood cover the hands and head. In most burn scenes, the hood is clearly evident, though its appearance can be minimized by good editing. Inside the hood is a small breathing apparatus connected to a small oxygen tank. The performer is then coated in a specially prepared flammable gel. They are not simply doused in gasoline -- that would be suicidal. Before the burn is lit, multiple extinguishers and paramedics must be at the scene. The burn itself is carefully timed.


"A stunt man's worst nightmare is when stunts and pyrotechnics are combined. Such effects include the stunt men being close to an explosion. If the script calls for a character to be next to a car when it explodes, the filmmakers will do just that. The stunt man would be specially suited up with protective clothing and a flame retardant gel smeared over his skin."


So, did you also plan on a small breathing aparatus connected to an oxygen tank and the fire protectant gel?

Save it for when we will use it for your next movie. ;-)

Chris Knight said...

"So, did you also plan on a small breathing aparatus connected to an oxygen tank and the fire protectant gel?"

Actually, yes! :-)

I studied the stunt VERY carefully (or as carefully as a non-professional stuntman can examine the scenario). Getting hurt or killed was not something that I wanted to happen.

You'd be surprised at how far along the planning on this got. And how much assistance I was set to receive for this (mostly from out-of-state).

I'd be lying if I said that I wasn't glad that it didn't get to that point. Turning yourself into a human torch is not something to relish doing. But hey, at least I learned how to do something like this if it's ever needed for a production :-)

Anonymous said...

YOU ARE NUMBER TEN CRAZY! But I admire your passion and imagination and desire for justice. We need more people like you to shake things up and challenge everyone to think about things.

- Sarah