In this issue of Banter M:
Return to Bloom County - Chez Pazienza hails the return of a legendary comic that provided savvy social commentary on the lunacy of modern life in the 1980's.
It's Not Your Fault - Ben Cohen pens a letter to himself about the ills of status anxiety
Scott Walker is Not Sexy Nor a Hero - Bob Cesca goes where no Republican dares and dispels the myth that Scott Walker is not a sex symbol.
Return to Bloom County
by Chez Pazienza
I'm trying to remember who the big heroes were during my teenage years. Who did kids look up to? Who did they want to be? Those were the Reagan years, the real "America, fuck yeah" years, when a slick but likely senile Republican president could B-list act his way through the death throes of the Cold War against the Soviet "evil empire." The shadow of the mushroom cloud always loomed large, but by that point it and the Russians themselves were also the property of Hollywood, whose every third action-drama -- and at least one memorable prime-time TV event -- was centered around the worst-case-scenario in our seemingly never-ending standoff with the commies.
The story of John Rambo began as a smart and powerful exploration of our lingering national trauma over Vietnam but quickly transitioned into cartoon jingoism; our biggest movie stars were literally the biggest, most muscular people we could find. Musically there was the second British invasion, the early rise of hip-hop and the proliferation of bad hair metal, but artists like Michael Jackson and Madonna towered over all of it like gods of all they surveyed. It was before the internet and social media came and split us all into millions of factions. One trend or star could still dominate our culture in its entirety. There were only three networks and one all-important Billboard chart to conquer. It was easier.
In Miami, where I lived, we were trying to pick up the pieces -- and scrape the bodies off the sidewalks -- as the cocaine wars raged on and the Medellin cartel eventually staked its claim to our city. Miami was never a normal place; I knew that even as a kid. I'd watch John Hughes movies and wonder why my high school dances didn't look or sound like that, the reason of course being that my city may as well have been on foreign soil. But that was what was so great about it: the place was a Latin-American Casablanca and growing up there was an exercise in trying to survive the daily onslaught of insanity. Everything was either a help or a hinderance in that regard; it made the lunacy go down easier or it served to pile it on thicker. 7 News scared the piss out of you with tales of crime and corruption, sure -- but then you had sunshine, great Cuban food and Sundays sneaking beer in the Grove with good friends. The danger of the drug trade was omnipresent, but then on Friday nights it became the stylized backdrop for Miami Vice. 125,000 Cuban refugees, many of them from Castro's prisons, had arrived and disappeared into the city, creating a daily nightmare for police -- but then, that helped to make driving around the city at night feel like you were riding a knife's edge, like you were the coolest person in the world. There was nothing like my hometown in the 80s. Can you look at where you grew up and say that it was called the most dangerous city in the world in Time magazine?
In my teens, I had a love-hate relationship with Miami and yet I secretly embraced so much about what made it so special. Top of that heap was TheMiami Herald -- in particular the Herald's Sunday magazine, Tropic. Nobody chronicled the madness of Miami like the Herald and the paper's sharpest minds seemed to pool within Tropic.
The magazine featured some of the best writers and journalists in the country, including people like editor Gene Weingarten, an eventual Pulitzer Prize-winner who hired the great Dave Barry; Joel Achenbach, who, like Weingarten, now works at The Washington Post and who wrote an article in 1989 that was so far ahead of its time in terms of cultural observation that I still reference it constantly today; acerbic Heraldfilm-critic Bill Cosford, whose class at the University of Miami I eventually took without even being enrolled in it officially, just because I respected him that much; T.M. Shine, another ultimate Post-er whose experiential reporting was without equal; and, of course, Barry -- Dave fucking Barry. These guys -- these were my heroes. These were the guys I wanted to be. I wanted to write like them, report like them and be as quick-witted as them. I wanted to sit somewhere -- in whatever the Miami version of Elaine's was -- and drink whiskey with them and shoot the shit. I wanted to be a writer and a journalist. I wanted to be accepted among people who'd taken my propensity for misanthropy and wise-assery and made careers out of it.
That was me at a young age: I looked up to those who talked back and did it well. I lived for political satire because it was obvious even as a kid that politics was a fucking circus. I read Tropic and the Herald front to back. I lived for mockery, especially mockery disguised as decency. This is why, unsurprisingly, I lived for "Bloom County." Berkeley Breathed's daily comic strip about a bunch of meadow-dwellers whose comings and goings somehow provided savvy social commentary on the lunacy of modern life was one of my favorite stops during every pore through the Herald. It wasn't local, but it felt like something created by the brains I loved in Miami; it meshed perfectly with the columns of, say, Carl Hiaasen and the weekly weirdness and beauty of Tropic. And now, after 25 years, it's back. "Bloom County" is back.
Appropriately, on Sunday, Berke Breathed posted an image of himself on Facebook,sitting at a computer and drawing out the familiar frames of a comic strip featuring a very familiar face: Opus, the sweetly existentialist penguin who was the breakout star of "Bloom County" decades ago. Above the frame were the words "Bloom County 2015," and below was a caption that read "A return after 25 years. Feels like going home." The message was clear: his beloved comic strip would be coming back in some form for the first time since he turned the lights off on it in 1989. Those like me, who grew up on "Bloom County" and who loved its cast of oddities -- Milo the cynical young reporter, who I wanted to be when I was a kid, as well as Binkley, Steve Dallas, Cutter John, Portnoy and of course Bill the Cat -- responded with excitement.
The promise of "Bloom County" coming back was wish-fulfillment, the perfect bit of commentary returning at the perfect time. As it turns out, in fact, current events played a role in the resurrection of the strip, being that one of "Bloom County's" favorite targets toward the tail end of its run was Donald Trump. (It's just staggering to think that Trump has been a blight on American pop culture for a quarter-century.) As "Bloom County" wound down, Breathed created a series of strips which saw Trump buying out the comic and turning it into, predictably, a monument to himself. "I want the biggest, tallest, most expensive, glamorous HERRING HEAD!" says an overhauled Opus with Trump's head attached to a penguin body at one point. The next couple of frames has Bill the Cat promising that the new "Bloom County" will "feature the ethnic and cultural sensitivity that is the hallmark of the Trump name," which is then followed by an image of Trump-Opus in blackface, wearing gold chains and singing, "Yo, I'm a rappin'! A hip-hop tappin'! And yo my DJ is scratchin'! Yo! Yo! Yo! Something..." Steve Dallas's comment is, "M*A*S*H was retired with more dignity than this," while Milo responds, "So was Manson."
The more things change the more they stay the same. It's now 25 years later and Trump is every bit the pompous, racist lout he was then -- only now he's running for president. As with other comedians for whom "Trump 2016" has been a boon, Breathed admits that it played a role in his decision to bring "Bloom County" back now. When someone pointed out that Trump should be the impetus for a "Bloom County" comeback, Breathed eventually fessed up upon the appearance the new strip. "This creator can’t precisely deny that the chap you mention had nothing to do with it," he said. As for any other reasons "Bloom County's creator may have had for picking up his stylus again: “Opus’s (voice) came screaming back at me."
So much has changed in media since the Reagan years, both in terms of creativity and distribution. At the same time "Bloom County" was winning a Pulitzer, Bill Watterson's "Calvin & Hobbes" and Gary Larson's "The Far Side" were beloved cultural staples. It was a good time to be a fan of comics. They've both long since shuttered, but Watterson recently reemerged for a brief moment to ghost-draw a series of frames for the comic strip "Pearls Before Swine." What is it that brings reclusive artists and talents out of the dark and back to the old drawing board? The Washington Post's Michael Cavna has a good theory in the paper's Comic Riffs section."I’m of the belief... that comic-strippers thrive and stay inspired if finding joy in their work, and it helps if the ever-shifting culture and arena remain receptive to their style of the 'silly,'" he writes. "Because that joy can be deflated or tamped down if it for too long comes up against too much pressure." He continues: "In the film adaptation of Stephen King’s 'Shawshank Redemption,' Morgan Freeman’s prisoner character says in omniscient voiceover: 'Geology is the study of pressure and time.' The same can be said of 'cartoonology.' You don’t get diamonds, or 'Pearls,' without the right sustained mix of Father Time and the grandfather clock." Maybe that's what's driving Berke Breathed: just the perfect amalgam of time and the pressure of a couple of cultural twists of fate. As Hunter Thompson famously said, "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro." The going is weirder than it's ever been before -- and Berke Breathed long ago proved he was a pro, so it makes perfect sense for him to come storming back.
What's great, though, is that he doesn't have to actually "storm" back and he knows it. The evolution of media has removed the need for him to go through "newspapers," such as they are anymore, to get his point across. He understand this. "Dead-tree media requires constancy and deadlines and guarantees," Breathed tells the Post.“This flattens the joy.” At this stage of his life and career, why should Breathed bother with anything that doesn't bring him joy? He can post when he wants -- daily, weekly, whatever -- and just as many people will read him as did when he was appearing in hundreds of papers across the country.
It's hard to put into words exactly what "Bloom County" meant to me. Again, it was a part of my Herald experience -- and it's impossible to truly communicate the power and influence that the Herald and Tropic magazine had on me as a teenager. I wanted to be a writer and I wanted something that summed up my feelings and which spoke to me in a language I could understand. It was important, being that I was a kid who had enough people around me but who often felt like a stranger in a strange land, not in terms of culture but in terms of how I thought. My friends and I were cynical smart-asses but we were amateur cynical smart-asses. We weren't, to once again borrow from Hunter, "pro." The plan within my life was always to come up through Miami, and eventually leave to see what the rest of the world was like. I wanted to turn pro. Gene Weingarten, Dave Barry, Carl Hiaasen, Joel Achenbach -- and even Milo Bloom, created by Berke Breathed -- were, in my eyes, pros. They were odd but brilliant characters who saw life differently and asked the same questions about the world that I did. Some were ferocious and tenacious, others just felt like they were crashing adulthood and upending everything that everyone took so damn seriously. They struck me as professionals who never fully grew up -- because punching holes in walls, pissing people off or making them laugh for a living didn't feel very "grown up" to me. Their social commentary -- every brand of it -- made me who I am. two-and-a-half decades later, I'm glad they're still out there and I can't thank them enough for their impact on an impressionable little asshole like me.
I'm glad I had them in my life years ago. And I'm glad "Bloom County," in particular, is back.
It's Not Your Fault
by Ben Cohen
To whom ever it may concern,
I am writing this letter to let you know that it is not your fault.
This may come as a surprise given the way you feel about yourself. I know that you suffer from crippling self doubt, anxiety, shame and feel a general lack of self worth. I know you have a hard time getting to sleep at night, worrying about what will happen tomorrow. Will you be able to make rent? Can you afford health insurance, buy enough groceries and have enough to go out at the weekend? You feel like a failure because success comes through hard work, and while you work hard you are not succeeding. The problem surely must be you then. Right?
This should sound familiar:
It's great you work so hard doing something you really don't like. We all have to work, though, and as the bible says: "hard work maketh the man". Waking up at the same time every day for 50 weeks a year, taking the same, dreary route to work and sitting at the same desk going over the same problems and dealing with the same office politics day in and day out may make you feel a sense of desperation and dread, but really that is why we were put on earth - to work, work and work.
Just remember though, if you put more work in, work harder, and work smarter, you would get your promotion. You're not lazy really, but you could show more enthusiasm (especially during morning meetings). You could also stay later to make sure you are on top of your goals for the month. Oh, and don't forget, the early bird catches the first worm and definitely impresses the boss. So don't be late.
On top of your job, you have your own business, right? A side gig you are actually passionate about and want to make a full time business one day. You struggle so hard to make it work, yet you never really try hard enough. There are always more hours in the day, weekends you could work, procrastination time you could avoid, and family events you don't really need to go to. If you really wanted to make it work, you could. Life is what you make of it, right? Just read some self help books and study the patterns of the rich. Maybe even take a Tony Robbins seminar. Rich people got rich by working hard, so if you work hard you too will be rich. You can learn from them (if you buy their books), so what are you waiting for?
Your friends are awesome, but remember, they have their own lives and they are probably really happy. Just scroll through their facebook pictures and you'll see just how great their lives are. They have babies, are going to amazing parties, have incredible relationships and work dream jobs. There's no need to burden them with you problems, so it's best keep them to yourself. In fact, you should probably pretend that your life is fantastic and start posting similar pictures yourself. It's quite easy really, just dress up, adopt a pose with your friends (or whoever is around you) and write a quick hashtag caption like "#lovemylife" or "#thisishowIroll" and voila, you attain immediate status. You could post photos of food you are eating in expensive restaurants to let everyone know you have disposable income even if you aren't paying. That often works a treat.
While you obviously love them, your family is kind of annoying. You mother always wants to talk, and your father always has some advice, usually right at the wrong moment when you are super busy and in the middle of something extremely important - like a text message. And what about those other relatives? Uncles, aunts, baby nephews and nieces. They're sort of nice people, but spending the entire day with them? Hell no! You have emails to attend to.
About your body - we really need to talk about this. It really isn't good enough. You are at least 5lbs above your ideal weight, and in bad lighting you can see your cellulite and belly fat. You are too thick, too short, too bald, too grey, too tall and too skinny to be attractive, and it's really all your fault. You should get up earlier, meditate harder, and go to the gym whether you feel like it or not. What about that soccer mom on instagram who has three kids, a full time job, her own business and a 6-pack? If she can do it (and she says she can on instagram) so can you! You just need to be more organized with your time and get a little more self discipline.
So what is your excuse? Why aren't you more successful, more productive, happier, healthier and a better friend/wife/husband/boyfriend/girlfriend? Success is all around you but you still can't quite catch up to it. If only you had a bit more money, a bit more time, a slightly less stressful job and a more understanding family, all would be well. You could afford that car you desperately want, that new iPhone all your facebook friends have, those expensive health drinks at Whole Foods, or that amazing wedding you saw in that Magazine.
Instead, you worry. You worry that your business might never take off, that your dreams of being your own boss never materialize. You worry that you will never amount to anything, never make enough money to have a family, never have enough to save, and never be what they told you you could be. Maybe you just don't have it.
But don't worry to much, neither do I.
All of us.
Scott Walker is Neither Sexy Nor a Hero
by Bob Cesca
In the daily routine of doing whatever the hell it is I do, I often stumble onto stories that still manage to shock me. I consider this a positive sign for my mental health, that I haven't lapsed into a cynicism coma during which nothing shocks or alarms me any more. Here's an example of something that came as a mild shocker the other day.
Apparently, the doughy, sweaty, kinda' dopey-looking governor of Wisconsin and newly minted clown car occupant Scott Walker is a "sexy hero" in the eyes of much of the conservative entertainment complex. Here's a selection of love letters (via Media Matters):
--Fox News Channel's Dagan McDowel described Walker as "the unknown sexy guy."
--Fox News Channel's Andrea Tantaros said Scott Walker made "her toes curl." Ewwww.
--Syndicated radio host Mike Gallagher described Walker as "a hero," and that he's "beloved to the heartland."
--Rush Limbaugh called him a "genuine hero," to which Sean Hannity replied, "I say ditto."
Advertisement — Continue reading below
--Limbaugh also urged Republicans "to hoist [Walker] on one of those chairs they used to take Caesar through the crowds with."
--Dick Morris described Walker as "energetic, young, charismatic and fresh."
Yep. They're talking about this guy:
Hold on now, don't try to grope your computer screens, ladies -- it's just a picture of an apparently "sexy" and "fresh" presidential candidate, and you'll only ruin the screen by attempting to pinch his adorable cheeks. Seriously, I think regardless of our personal sexual preferences, most Normals have a pretty good sense of who's sexy and who's a gorky doofus, and Walker is absolutely a gorky doofus. In fact, one of my Facebook friends pointed out the ultimate Walker celebrity look-alike, and it isn't pretty.
Yep, he looks like that lazy-eyed entomologist guy from Silence of the Lambs. Mmm. Even my toes are curling now, Andrea Tantaros!
But as near as I can tell, there's more energy and charisma in that glob of mung that gathered on Trump's mouth during his announcement speech than is exhibited in Walker's entire political career. He's not a particularly gifted speaker, nor is he anything resembling what we'd consider energetic, especially given the high bar of the current president on both fronts. Walker, compared with President Obama, looks more like one of those translucent-skinned nematodes that live in total darkness. There's simply nothing there.
Seriously, though, Walker groupies and fanboys are clearly blind as well as desperate for a real leader -- they're craving an actual grown-up leader, and no one in the GOP is stepping up. Given how there's no clear leadership in the GOP right now, I suppose they'll settle for just about anyone. (Quick experiment for your Republican friends: ask them to name the leader of the Republican Party in five seconds or less. They either won't be able to, or each Republican friend will name someone different.)
While it's true that among the GOP presidential hopefuls, Walker is one of the few candidates who's actually accomplished something -- in his case, taking on the unions and winning -- it hardly makes him "energetic, young, charismatic and fresh," as Dick Morris said. There are very few other accomplishments to speak of.
--Walker promised to create 250,000 private sector jobs in his first term. He only created 146,795.
--Walker cut taxes by $541 million. Good for conservatives. But the cut turned what would have been a $1 billion surplus by the end of 2014 into a $283 million deficit. Can you feel the pulse pounding heroism?
--Walker promised to veto all tax hikes, but ended up signing several increases into law.
--He promised to repeal a 2009 tax hike on rich people and failed to do so.
--He promised and failed to remove all pork projects from the state budget.
--Walker promised to implement tough immigration regulations similar to those in Arizona. Fail.
--Weirdly, Walker promised to legalize smoking inside places of business, and failed.
Don't get me wrong. His roster of failures and broken promises is certainly good news for Democrats, not to mention his Republican opponents in the primaries. But in terms of being some sort of sexy, charismatic hero, he managed to get a few things done, but stupendously failed given Republican control of the state legislature.
Still, Walker has a serious shot at winning the nomination, and it'll all depend on how the conservative entertainment complex continued to package him as this knight in shining armor, even though the shining armor is flop-sweat. But as I've written many times before, if there's one thing the GOP can do, it's marketing. The party itself might be in total disarray, but they know how to sell rancid crap-on-a-stick as as three Michelin Star delicacy. And it will go with Scott Walker.