TCS Interviews, Artist, Cartoonist, and Overall Gadfly Ken Avidor about the “Free Speech Mall,” his Plan To Save Block E


[An airy apartment in an old train station. Early-afternoon. Tables are stacked high with books, papers, pens, pencils, drawings. The light glints of white walls. 

TWIN CITY SIDEWALKS, ever dashing, enters the room and sits at a table with a wry wink. KEN AVIDOR, a middle-aged man with a glint in his eye and a determined pace ushers him inside and motions to a table. ROBERTA AVIDOR sits at a computer nearby, carefully clicking a mouse.]

Twin City Sidewalks (TCS): Tell me about this. [motions to the piece of paper between them.]

Ken Avidor (KA): The idea of this was like, i was walking down Nicollet Mall and there’s all these street preachers there, and they’re loud and its gotta be really tough for the restaurants there.  You have these guys, they’re almost on every corner. It occurred to me that, instead of… Why can’t these people have a place to go where people want to see them? You know? Make a commodity out of free speech.

It’s outlawed in malls in suburban malls. But in the city, we don’t have quite the street life that a city should have. So there’s only in these small areas, Nicollet Mall, everybody’s crammed in there on their soap box, and it’s not really the right place for it.

TCS: Or Northrup mall. I interviewed Mike Gould one time.
KA: It’s another place people will walk, and people will do their soapbox thing. And everyone knows the famous place for soapboxes in Hyde Park in London.

But it occurred to me that they can’t seem to get anything in Block E that works. So why not try a free speech mall, that would have things like people could… It would have like a soapbox area, people on their  lunch break they would go in there and they would see people talking about the craziest things. Arguments, all free speech is allowed. The only thing that’s not allowed is violence.

TCS: Hate speech…

KA: [excitedly] Hate speech is totally allowed, everything! No matter how outrageous…

Roberta Avidor (RA): [quietly] But they could be booed.

KA: Yeah of course, it’s a free wheeling thing. You know, people would love to go there. You could see real neo-Nazis…

TCS: [cautious] Oh kay.

KA: You know, real KKK guys. Real communists! They’d all be there. They’d have book stores there.

And the big deal would be the conspiracy café, they’d have free wi-fi so people could download their conspiracies.

TCS: Where would that be on here? [motions to the paper]
KA: That’d be on the ground floor… and every Friday night the conspiracy café would have conspiroke.

I wasn’t the one that came up with that name. That was a great name. Conspiroke, where the person with the best conspiracy theory that knits together the JFK assassination, you know, all the assassinations. You know, UFO stuff, the Bilderberg Group, whatever, get it all knitted together …

TCS: Like Glenn Beck style with the chalkboard?

KA: Absolutely. All the conspiracies you know, gotta have Glenn Beck there. You could have all kinds of conspiracy superstars. You’d have Jesse Ventura...

TCS: So there’s like the main comedy show on HBO, but this is more like the comedy club, like the conspiracy club, people could come of the street, like an open mic night.

KA: [nodding] Exactly. Open mic conspiracy, kinda thing.

But its also a bookstore thing, you know there’s a commercial aspect to conspiracies. There’s a survivalist superstore, end of the world survivalists, selling you know pollinated seeds.

You see these things on the internet, but it’s more fun to meet these people in person and talk to them, that think that the world’s gonna end tomorrow. Its lots of fun!

This other thing about the internet, you look at the internet and you see crazy things, and people love doing that. But then you say to yourself, jeez, what are these people like in person?

RA: [quietly] As if you wanna meet them…

KA: But yeah… What it is, its like a free speech freak show. And people love freak shows

TCS: Like the state fair. Like the midway.

KA: Yeah, but it also has this wonderful constitutional aspect to it. Other thing, you definitely have bookstores. You have the soapbox section, totally open and free. You have the mini stage, with talk radio.

You know it’s the perfect place for talk radio. You already have your nuts there.

TCS: It’d be fun to see the Tea Party and Occupy next door to each other.

KA: [nodding] Oh totally totally. The other thing, is that there’s always anniversaries of controversy things. I’d make a whole JFK assassination conspiracy week.

Actually, on the top floor where you have the movie theater, you could show movies about … I forgot how many conspiracy movies are out there.

TCS: A million. Classic stuff. One of my favorites is called The Parallax View. From the 70s.

KA: [nodding] Great movie. Was that the one with Redford?

BL: No, that’s Three Days of the Condor.

KA: Great one. The Parallax View was with who?

TCS: I forget.

KA: But that was an assassination one.

TCS: Yeah. He gets framed for an assassination that’s about to happen. This unsuspecting journalist. It’s a good film.

KA: Right. I love those. I love this stuff. I don’t take it at all seriously. I don’t think anyone should take it seriously… You know, except for the people that do.

TCS: What about all this NSA stuff? That’s a real thing…

KA: You know. [looks furtively around the room] Can we talk about that?

TCS: Yeah

KA: [laughs] Whatever turns your crank as far as paranoia. You should be able to go someplace and vent about that. And not just on the internet. You should be able to go out in public and really let your conspiracy freak flag fly. If that really bothers you, you should have a place to go. And you’ll find like-minded people there.

And it’ll take a lot of that stuff, the religious guys on soapbox stuff… They’ll be here, instead of bothering people who are trying to eat their linguine. 

TCS: Tell me about the second floor?

KA: The second floor. As I recall there’s three floors. As I recall there was a food court there, and nothing did well there.

TCS: A giant sinkhole
KA: And if Block E is a giant sinkhole, you want something big, something enormous that can fill it up. And there’s nothing more enormous than the crazy things that people talk about these days, conspiracy.

But on the second floor… Well, you’d have your bars. Someone else came up with … well you came up with that. 

You’d have drinks… What are they? You’d have the Grassy Knoll. What was the other one? The Single Bullet

TCS: No, the Magic Bullet.

KA: The Magic Bullet. [laughs] Yeah, you could have all kinds of great conspiracy drinks. And another place you’d have events, conspiracy dance parties, and stuff.

TCS: The one angle you’re missing is story telling stuff, just people, water cooler stuff, like there’d be a free water cooler where you’d stand around and talk about he weather at…

KA: [Nodding] I don’t want to just limit it to conspiracies. It could be people just talking about their, you know… What’d be great is a place where people could talk about their boring mundane lives.   

You know people send you a link to a blog, something that they think is interesting, but you think is the most boring thing in the world. But there should be a place where people can go and connect with other people that do that too.

TCS: This reminds me of the cat video festival that became hugely popular. Here you could have cat videos from the internet that stream constantly.

KA: Yeah, here’s an example of something from the internet that became really popular, and then people wanted to do it in person. And it seemed like an unlikely thing but it worked. And people spend a lot of time talking to their phones and in front of their computers, and they want to really interact the old fashioned way, even if it makes them sick. Its just a nice antidote to all that electronic stuff.
But the other idea that I had, that this place would be ideal, is that a lot of … This is gonna be somewhat controversial…

But a lot of nonprofit stuff, they get their fundraising from corporations. So they’re not really able to talk about stuff that’s controversial, that may make corporations uncomfortable.

And this would be a for profit thing. So one of the things, I think, would be the storefront science museum, where it would have it would just do really controversial science, like global warming, genetically modified stuff… Like really do it from a real science thing… Or creationism…

And this is stuff that people get really heated or excited bout, but most museums don’t want to handle it because it could potentially piss off a lot of funders, not to mention members. But this is a museum that’s really devoted to science that’s really controversial, that pisses people off.

TCS: Right, its all about creating that conflict, or finding that conflict that’s already out there and…

KA: Most scientists are doing dull stuff, but then there’s these guys that are real poo flinging monkeys, that are causing trouble. You start with Galileo, and these are guys who really wanna push the envelope.  

And they’re not popular. You know, Galileo was not popular with the Pope. You know, people who point out really uncomfortable things. The guy who… people who are climate scientists…

TCS: I’m thinking of even psychology stuff, about people’s innate… That one experiment about putting people in the prison scenario.

KA: Behavioral psychology stuff, that’s really controversial. People argue about it, or how about the guy who made people electrocute other people?

TCS: Milgrom.

KA: … to see if they were compliant and he found out … That’s real fun science, and there’s websites and there’s books.

But you go to the Science Museum of Minnesota, and I love the Science Museum of Minnesota… 

But you go there and you really don’t find that stuff. I mean, you get picketed, that stuff…

And that’s the point of free speech mall! There’s no point in picketing, because everything is allowed there. I mean, there’s holocaust deniers. You can go in and yell at them.

TCS: You like bring the picketers in to the place and give them their own space.
KA: Absolutely. Everybody gets… You get all of them. The funny thing is that they become the entertainment.

And people…  The money part of it is the food, the bar, those are things that are going to be paying at… and the top floor, the movies and stuff. People have to pay for that.

But in the soap box section, that will be free. 
People can just wander and argue and yell ate each other. Always fun. There’ll be bookstores that will have to rent space. And there’ll be like when you go to a convention and they have people tabling outside, you have to pay for that. 

You could have a room that’s just people with tables, with all their crazy shit, and they have to pay a certain amount. Somehow we’d have to work that out.

TCS: The details have to be worked out.  But this is the concept huh?

KA: By the way, this is an open source concept, because I don’t want to have anything to do with it. [laughs] So if anyone is out there that really wants to do this, they have my blessing.

[TWIN CITY SIDEWALKS drinks a glass of water, rises from the table, and leaves the room.]

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What an asshole!