Blair Nye, the Social Guy?
By Charles Sutphin
Blair Karsch cares about kids. He wants to help them make good decisions by utilizing the media in a positive way. On his public-access television program On Your Level, Karsch raps with adolescents and inspires them to thing about the BIG issues of life: sex, race, crime, the media, education, family values. He believes that, if given the opportunity, he can make a significant difference in the lives of thousands of children. But therein lies the run – if given the opportunity.
Who out there in corporate America, or the dens of the philanthropically-inclined, will give Blair Karsch a chance to show the city how much he can do to improve the lives of its most precious resource? Who will invest in Blair’s cause and help the lad reach the pinnacle of his desires? After three years of knocking on more doors than Imeida has shoes, including Disney, MultiMedia and King World, after years of determined pestering of everyone he knows (and doesn’t know), the answer remains nada (as in nobody, no one, not on your life). Rightly or wrongly, for better or worse, Blair remains a hoarse voice in the wilderness who is, however so slightly, beginning to doubt the outcome of his own zealous efforts.
So who is this man named Blair, and why should I care? Karsch is a 39-year-old self-taught poet, one-time Hollywood star, former entrepreneur and current substitute teacher whose primary claim to fame is a television show that appears weekly on public-access channels of Comcast and American Cable (Carmel, Zionsville and Noblesville). On Your Level is an amateur production produced on less than a shoestring budget (more like a thread). What makes the show noteworthy is the honesty and spontaneity exhibited by the participating students. In a phrase, the kids dig Uncle Blair, who, in turn, is a passionate advocate of their needs in a world where their best interests are frequently overlooked.
“Why do we sell kids down the river when we could sell them up the river?” asks Karsch. “The answer is because it’s easier’ there’s more profit involved. Who do you thing is pushing Ricki Lake? It’s not the YMCA or Young Life; it’s a bunch of profit-driven people who have no regard for society. In capitalism, if you have a chance to make money and hurt society, most people are going to take the money and run.”
On Your Level attempts to bring teenagers of diverse backgrounds into a television studio, where Karsch primes them to express their feelings about a variety of controversial or troubling issues. With his hair pulled into a ponytail halfway down his back and his casual appearance, he has little difficulty connecting with the kids and stimulating them into expressing themselves.
“The premise of my show,” he says, “is to provide students with sound bytes, little wisps of information, that can subliminally, tactfully, and enthusiastically attach themselves to subsequent decisions.” In other words; a word here, a sentiment there, can have a profound, if not immediately noticeable, effect on the life of an adolescent in search of guidance.
Like the title of his self-published book of poetry, Karsch attempts to project an image of Bigger Than Cool. The extraordinary thing is the shtick seems to be effective. Explains Stephan Keith, the principal of Westlane Middle School: “The kids love Blair. He connects with them almost instantaneously.” This sentiment is echoed by the principal of Carmel Junior High School, who says, “Blair has the ability to relate to students and encourage positive behavior. His rapport with (them) is excellent.”
In addition to long hair and a “cool” look, Blair has a natural ability to relate to children, especially teenagers, about the issues of the day. “I listen to these kids innately and sincerely,” he says. “When someone is speaking to me from the heart, I listen. How often does a kid have a parent or teacher speak to them and listen in an environment (like my show) established just for sincere expression? And the kids really want answers to difficult questions, because they understand that the questions that evade them now are the ones that later lead to bad decisions.”
Karsch wants to be the Art Linkletter of the ’90s, a “good” Howard Stern, if such a thing is conceivable. And like Stern, he is the proverbial boy who never grows up, which does not mitigate from either the intensity or worthwhileness of his vision.
“I’m not a megalomaniac,” he says. “I haven’t sent out hundreds of media kits because I want to kill trees. I believe I was born to inspire, to put together all the weak links that are not available to the kids, which end up turning them into individuals making bad choices.”
Megalomania or not, the business world has been unimpressed with Karsch’s requests for assistance. The reason is obvious: Blair is a strange fellow who will be the first to admit his style and appearance is alienating to many adults. He considers himself to be an enigma: the kids love him for the very reasons adults find him alarming.
“I’ve been advised by people in the business,” he says, “that when I pitch my show, I need to tell people right away that what makes me likable with the kids is something they might not understand and might resent. They might see me (as) unorganized and with the shittiest handwriting in the world, but that shouldn’t discount my message. I’ve spoken with a lot of people who’ve said, ‘Blair, you’re great, but something about you won’t get the decision-makers to take you seriously.'”
“It’s my belief that what I possess in terms of personality, charisma, sincerity and intellect is a lot more important than nice handwriting, a pretty haircut or a pair of socks.”
Another problem hindering On Your Level is the poor production quality of the shows. Though the potential of the project is evident, the current offerings are afflicted with poor camera work, lousy sound and patches of uninspired dislogue. In other words, the viewer gets bored, although the participants do not.
To the city’s credit or shame, Karsch, in the absence of a partnership, is contemplating taking his show on the road, perhaps to Seattle, Chicago, or Salt Lake City. The “charming motormouth in ponytail and denim,” as referenced by television writer Steve Hall, plans to travel to Seattle and meet with the PBS affiliate who produced Bill Nye the Science Guy.
Perhaps someday America will wake up to Blair Nye, the Social Guy – stranger things have happened.
For more information about On Your Level, including show times and station availability, call the program’s hotline at 971-2626. Karsch’s book of poetry, Bigger Than Cool (now in its second printing at $15) is available in 30 locations throughout the city, including Borders and the Broad Ripple Book Shop.