In this issue of Banter M:
The Death of Wonderfulness – Chez Pazienza asks the eternal question about separating the art from the artist in the light of Bill Cosby’s astonishing downfall. Does his impact on American culture vanish because of his crimes?
Why We Need Donald Trump – Ben Cohen argues that Donald Trump is the greatest thing to happen to America and the world in general. Why? Because he is the enemy we need in times of great danger.
Makin’ It – Tommy Christopher writes an ode to awful New Years celebrations, and the girlfriend that never was.
The Death of Wonderfulness
by Chez Pazienza
There’s a bit on Bill Cosby’s Grammy-winning 1966 album Wonderfulness that, to this day, I remember almost word-for-word. This is impressive when I think about it given that the routine is more than twelve minutes long. The whole thing is a story allegedly from Cosby’s own youth — as many of early his bits were — involving the terror he and his brother felt whenever they’d sneak away from their parents and listen to the creature feature radio shows of the time. The story crescendoes with the creepy radio announcer telling the audience that a menacing “Chicken Heart” monster had eaten its way across America and was now, at that very moment, coming straight for their homes. At that, Cosby the little boy loses his mind, smears Jello on the floor to make the (nonexistent) creature slip and fall and sets his family’s couch on fire to scare it off. His parents naturally come home and his father tears into him for being such an idiot. It’s exactly the kind of broad, safe comedy Cosby was known for and it was perfect stuff for a seven-year-old like myself. I listened to all my parents Cosby records, but Chicken Heart remains a favorite.
I say this to make the point that, to me, Bill Cosby isn’t Cliff Huxtable. He isn’t America’s Dad. He isn’t the gargantuan television star he was in the 80s. And he certainly isn’t, at least at first thought, the sanctimonious scold who used his status as an iconic entertainer to tell black people to pull their pants up. To me, Cosby has always been the guy who did the “Chicken Heart” bit, recorded Wonderfulness and I Started Out as a Child, and made me laugh out loud with his surprisingly acerbic story about giving his kids chocolate cake for breakfast. To me, Cosby has always been a comic genius and someone who broke barriers long before his sitcom ruled television. He was the first black person to co-starin a TV drama in America when he did I Spy. He was the utterly convincing burned-out private eye in Robert Culp and Walter Hill’s Hickey & Boggs. He was someone who could be and do it all. Once I moved into adulthood, I set aside any naive illusions I might have had about his brilliance as an entertainer translating into a personality brimming with kindness and magnanimity — but I didn’t care.
I didn’t care, that is, until it became clear that Cosby was a serial rapist.
It’s seemingly easy to fire off a hot-take or think-piece indignantly relegating Bill Cosby to the scrap heap of history and wishing him good riddance. It’s understandable to purport to do so easily and without thought in the name of all the women he’s accused of having sexually assaulted throughout the years. But it’s not that easy, not when Cosby is someone whose work you’ve respected for so long and who was such a significant part of your childhood to the point where he influenced your tastes. Then, you agonize over the fact that you can’t ever again listen to him without being 100% cognizant that his apparent good nature was the very disguise that provided cover to a monster: a raging narcissist who used the fame your adoration and respect granted him to get away with being a predator who drugged and sexually assaulted women — women who no doubt were as enamored with him as you were and that’s why they felt safe in his company. Put simply, it’s hard to let go of the Bill Cosby of my youth, a Bill Cosby that I now understand was nothing more than a phantom. The benign comedic voice he showed the world was a lie.
I’m very good at accepting that entertainers, particularly comics, have a dark side that’s often hidden behind the light. The very thing that draws people to comedy and entertainment can often be an inability to escape their own demons and a need to express them through laughter. Entertainers can occasionally need to entertain because they harbor a kind of psychic flaw — or maybe just a human flaw — that makes them simultaneously insecure and arrogant. So, no, I’ve never been unsophisticated enough to buy into the idea that someone who stands on a stage and willfully presents the image of a genial family man actually is a genial family man. There’s a reason it’s called an “act.” But it’s still difficult to reconcile the genius of Bill Cosby in public with his abhorrent behavior behind closed doors. While we can look back on it now, after years of Cosby promoting so-called respectability politics, and wonder whether he was preaching all along, it’s still hard to square the quality of The Fat Albert Show and the unqualified good it did in presenting the black community to America with the knowledge that Cosby exploited the fame from that show and others to drug and assault women.
But more than anything else, there’s not only the nostalgia but the genuine appreciation for what Bill Cosby meant to many of our childhoods and what he gave our culture — all of it compared against his horrific behavior when the studio lights dimmed. That’s where it comes down to the eternal question about separating the art from the artist. You can appreciate the stone-cold magnificence of Chinatown and still recognize that the guy who directed it is a fugitive child rapist. Likewise you can watch the opening minutes of Woody Allen’s Manhattan and marvel at how overwhelmingly gorgeous they are and still consider that he may have sexually assalted one of his ex-wife’s adopted underage daughters while definitively having married another. I Believe I Can Fly is still a great song even if R. Kelly is an utter piece of shit. Time will tell whether we’ll at any point be able to separate Bill Cosby’s work from his acts, although I do think there’s a danger in the shut-it-all-down, shame-everything-to-hell internet culture of our current age, which strikes out with such force that nuance and compromise is nearly impossible.
Bill Cosby is a serial sexual predator. There’s no changing that. And whether we like it or not, it will change how we view his past work from here on out. It’s impossible to consider Cosby now without also acknowledging that what stemmed from it — what it provided him sanction to do in his private life — is poisonous fruit from an ostensibly healthy tree. But that fruit now, in many ways, retroactively infects the tree. It’s hard to see his shows, or watch his movies, or listen to his records, or see his smiling face and not feel a little hurt and angry for the fact that it’s now impossible not to consider the man behind them.
In order to write this, I had to go back and listen to Chicken Heart again. I still remember almost every word, every beat, of it — and it still made me smile.
But it also made me very sad — and that’s something entirely new. A little bit of the “wonderfulness” has been lost.
Why We Need Donald Trump
by Ben Cohen
Donald Trump is the best thing that could have happened to America and the world in general.
On the face of it, this statement is absurd. How could a greedy, narcissistic, racist be good for the country or the rest of the planet in any conceivable way? Over the past year, America and the world has been exposed to Trump in all his glory, and it is a frightening spectacle. Trump represents the grotesque egoic side of the American psyche and is the epitome of everything wrong with the country. His offensive bombast and brazen self importance mirrors the excesses of American psyche: the unfettered capitalism that destroys the weak and elevates the poor, the predatory nature of Wall Street’s sociopathic business culture, and the crass xenophobia blasted out on Fox News day in day out.
But this era is coming to an end, and everyone, including Trump — knows it.
Trump’s trajectory, in many ways, reflects America’s recent historic trajectory. It is a story of balls and bluster wining in the short term, but creating systemic, long term problems that the rest of us are left to clean up. As America invades enemy nations to build corporate capitalist democracies, Trump destroys land to build a whopping big hotels in his image. As America unleashes the destructive forces of free market capitalism on our natural environment for profit, Trump clears pristine land and its inhabitants so that the rich can play golf. Just as America believes the world will bend to its might and vision, Trump believes its voters will do the same for him. And Just as America’s empire is breaking at the seams, so is Trump’s — and this is their last hurrah.
A new generation of global citizen is emerging, and they know that the Donald Trumps of this world are selling them a false vision of the future. Trump is a dominator, and a pig of a man who gets what he wants, when he wants. The bloated, angry vestiges of white America have taken to him because he represents what they want: power, money and fame. They love him because he hates who they hate: Mexicans, women and black people. The believe Trump can restore their own standing in America where they will be free to become billionaires like him. If only the blacks would stop being lazy, the women so demanding, and the Mexicans insistent on coming into the country, all would be well.
Of course this is nonsense — Trump is selling them a dream he cannot possibly deliver on. He is an idiot, a half-baked adolescent who believes his own bullshit because it has made him rich in a country that has historically rewarded this behavior. The dream he is selling is no longer relevant though, because there is a growing consciousness emerging from the nightmarish world men like him have built that knows this cannot go on.
Greed, ambition and domination have created an ecological crisis of unprecedented proportions: our planet is burning, and we a matter of years to turn things around. Does anyone really think Donald Trump is the leader we need at this pivotal moment in human history?
While the hordes of frustrated, white American men have no interest in preserving anything other than the tires on their SUVs, the new generation of Americans understand that this is a real problem. As a recent Gallup poll indicated, 18-29 year olds are considerably more concerned about global warming than older generations, and they will not be voting for Donald Trump. The new generation wants to cooperate, share, and protect the weak. They believe the environment is to be protected, not raped for oil and exploited by oligarchs. They believe that the status quo is unsustainable, and are mobilizing to make change.
America, and the planet is becoming connected at an astonishing pace. Social networks are brining people closer together than ever — we can speak and see people on the other side of the world using a cell phone. We can access any information we want about any topic we want at the stroke of a key. More than that, we can share that information with the rest of the world, spreading awareness and creating action so effortlessly that a social revolution has the potential to emerge at any moment. The feedback mechanisms the internet is creating with the world around us is mind bending, and it is a force our elites are no longer in control of. Donald Trump has mastered a nasty corner of the human hive mind, but it is a self reinforcing echo-chamber that has little to do with the wider reality.
Donald Trump cannot win in 2016. We know this because he cannot win without the Latino vote — a group of people who generally despise him. He also cannot win without the backing of the GOP establishment, and they are non too pleased with Trump’s behavior. Poll after poll show that Trump is a flash in the pan, an aberration that will soon evaporate. Trump can win only in his own mind, and while it is horrifying to watch his giant ego ejaculate all over our screens, it is merely the enactment of a sad, elderly man’s fantasies about power, greatness and a distorted sense of historic importance.
So why is this a good thing?
Because it gives us something to fight for — a clear enemy that requires little motivation to mobilize against. Donald Trump is quite literally the perfect representation of what is at stake for humanity. Do we revert to ego, greed and fear in times of great danger, or do we go towards compassion, cooperation and selflessness?
As the tragic consequences of America’s imperial ambitions reverberate in the Middle East and the decades of greed and ecological plundering come back to threaten our very existence, we can only imagine what Donald Trump’s actions would do to future generations should he become the next President of the United States. 2015 may have been the year of the Trump, but 2016 is where it ends. Because there is a biological instinct for self preservation ever present in humanity, and as the pressure mounts and our self awareness increases exponentially, the Donald Trumps of this world will be put in their place: in the doldrums of our collective consciousness and away from the love and compassion now needed for our survival.
by Tommy Christopher
New Year’s Eve has never really been my cup of tea. My earliest memory of the holiday is probably 1972 or ’73. My mom was single then, and she had some of her college friends over for a party, which I’m sure was fun for me. Her friends always got a kick out of me because I had such a weirdly adult vocabulary — mainly because I spent most of my free time talking to my mom. I only remember two specific things about the occasion though, one of which is that there were sparklers.
The other is that along with the noisemakers (a concept that I still didn’t understand after t was explained to me), my mom passed out rolls of streamers, which she told me I was supposed to throw at midnight. More precisely, you were supposed to hold one end, and throw the roll so it unspun harmlessly into the air, but I didn’t get the memo, so I threw the whole thing intact, nailed one of her friends in the face, and made her spill her drink — which of course I thought was awesome.
Ever since then, though, New Year’s Eve has always been an occasion for morose reflection, usually with a side-order of Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve. Even as a little kid, the whole thing just sort of depressed me, and not even in that good, poetic way. Seriously, what kind of seven year-old laments the inexorable march of the years to come?
That’s why I decided to rip up my first idea for this week’s magazine, because no matter how good a year I’ve had personally (and this one was pretty good), looking back on it ruins it.
Looking forward to next year is even sadder. It always reminds me of one of my favorite songs, “Makin’ it” by David Naughton, which was also the theme song to a disco sitcom starring David Naughton. He’s the guy who did those great “Be aThe problem is that the “this coming year” Naughton was referring to was 1980, not the best year to launch a disco career, or to build your acting career around a disco sitcom. Needless to say, 1980 wasn’t Naughton’s year, although he did star in An American Werewolf in London the following year. That song, and its accompanying context, encapsulates my feelings about New Year’s Eve.
So does my most memorable New Year’s Eve (which, I have to say, is a low bar, since there are only four that qualify as memorable at all). I will warn you now that if you don’t already want to slap the shit out of me now, you will, and very soon.
It was 1987, and my fianceé and I were on a two-week breakup. It was particularly traumatic for me, since at that age, I was still in the grip of crippling abandonment issues. That’s at least half of why I was engaged in the first place, the other half being that she was beautiful, smart, and similarly commitment-minded. We were both very young when we met, and clung hard to the time we put into the relationship.
At that time, I was attending community college studying business, which was my first and last attempt to get myself into a respectable career. On my first day in Accounting 101, the professor had us all pair up for a semester-long accounting project, and I wound up paired with the hottest girl in the class. This just annoyed me, because aside from already being engaged, I assumed she would be stuck-up and entitled, and probably mean. She looked like Meg Ryan, but only if Meg Ryan had blue spheres of ice where her eyes should be.
Her name was Peggy, and she was kinda mean, quick with the sarcasm and obviously as annoyed to be paired with me as I was to be paired with her. We turned out to have several classes together, though, and before that first week was over, we bonded over our shared conflict with our Business Organization and Management professor, who was not happy with our penchant for wiseassery.
It was a weird friendship, for sure. For somereason, we adopted feeding ducks and geese as a pastime. I have no earthly idea how that happened, but we discovered that a feeding frenzy of waterfowl was hilarious. We even skipped classes to do it sometimes, and found a Wonder Bread outlet to score huge sacks of expiring bread from. This is what idiot 19 year-old me did with the Meg Ryan girl in my accounting class.
In order to keep things on the up-and-up, I was constantly talking to her about my fianceé, and to my fianceé about Peggy, which didn’t really amuse either of them. When the breakup came (for unrelated reasons), I of course leaned on Peggy, who was my best pal by then. It was the week before New Year’s, and so she gruffly insisted that I come out with her instead of sitting in my room cutting myself. I reluctantly agreed.
We went to a place called Club 35 in Sayreville, and the plan I devised was that we would wingman for each other, but make sure that nothing went beyond the self-esteem booster stage. I was still desperately trying to figure out how to get my fianceé back, but also feeling like crap. We agreed that if we didn’t find someone to kiss at midnight, we would kiss each other and pretend it was someone else, because otherwise it would be gross. We were pals after all.
I always thought it was weird that a looker like Peggy couldn’t close that night, but there we were at the countdown, literally minutes after I had tearfully and pathetically called my ex (from a payphone, which were a thing in those days) and tried to get her mom to convince her to get on the phone with me, standing in that club getting ready for our awkward, chaste pal-kiss.
Pal or not, I’m only human, so it took every skill at my command to crush the nuclear fireworks that were going off onside me, not only out of loyalty to my ex, but for fear that Peggy would stop being friends with me because I’d made it weird.
Mission, I’m sad to say, accomplished. We stayed and danced until the place closed, and parted as pals that night.
Just so you know, this had absolutely nothing to do with any deeply-held moral convictions orprudishness or anything. I have literally turned down, like, no women ever, had succumbed to every vice imaginable, and was only making this stand out of terror at losing the only steady relationship I’d ever been in, and a stubborn will to be a “good guy for a change.”
My ex and I got back together a few days later, and Peggy and I were still pals for a few months after that. After that kiss, though, I started to develop feelings for her, and so I naturally sat her down for a talk about it. It felt dishonest not to. We were sitting in her car after a long homework session at a diner, and I remember telling her that I was really sorry, and I didn’t want it to affect our friendship, and I assured her of my utter loyalty to my fianceé. Peggy testily suggested that we “just get it over with,” but I didn’t want to be unfaithful or “ruin our friendship,” so I suggested that we just hold each other.
The whole scene ended with me standing in the rain and Peggy angrily driving off. It was like our friendship had meant nothing to her, and that was that.
Years later, I was looking though some old photos with a girlfriend, and I came across a picture someone had taken of Peggy and I that night at Club 35. They had a girl circulating with a Polaroid (which was a thing in those days), and she fairly insisted that we pose for her, even though I assured her that Peggy and I weren’t together.
I hadn’t thought about it much over the years, but the picture brought it all back, so I told her the whole story. When I’d finished, the girl I was with looked at me and said “Are you a fucking idiot? That girl wasn’t your pal!”
“Huh?” I said, taken aback because I am a huge fucking idiot.
“You think that girl took you out on New Year’s Eve because she was your pal? You think she cut classes to feed ducks with you because she was your pal?” she said. “Jesus, just look at that picture!”
I did just that, I looked at that stupid-ass Chess-King-wearing morose motherfucker in thaticture with the hottest, funniest, smartest girl in his accounting class on his lap, and it was like that scene at the end of The Sixth Sense, where they go over all the clues you missed.
So fuck New Year’s Eve, fuck it right in the ear.