Tagged: bill cosby

John Ostrander: The Power of Pop

Uncle Tom's CabinI had reason a week ago to watch Ken Burns’ classic documentary The Civil War – part of the research for Kros: Hallowed Ground, now fully funded at Kickstarter, thank you very much.

Briefly, the series mentioned Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the famed novel written by abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe and published in 1852. It was the most popular novel of its day and is credited as a cause of the Civil War. Lincoln supposedly told Ms. Stowe on meeting her after the war started, “’So this is the little lady who started this great war.’” The story is apocryphal, according to most historians.

Pop culture has the ability to change the society of which it is a part. Mind you, that’s not always its intent or even aim. Sometimes a comic book is just a comic book. And maybe it doesn’t change things as overtly and dramatically as Uncle Tom’s Cabin. I do think, however, that pop culture has considerable power.

Pop TV, by featuring black characters and, later, gay and lesbian characters, helped normalize the unknown to the wider audience. People who didn’t know (or realized they knew) or were friends with anyone who was black or gay or lesbian now welcomed them into their living room. Part of the sense of betrayal that people feel with Bill Cosby is that they thought themselves friends with Cliff Huxtable. It was as if they suddenly didn’t know him.

Roots also had a profound effect on the American audience at large. White people found themselves identifying with generations of African-Americans. The show was a phenomenon.

Hillary Clinton, in a semi-private discussion with members of BlackLivesMatter, recently said, “I don’t believe you change hearts. I believe you change laws, you change allocation of resources, you change the way systems operate. You’re not going to change every heart. You’re not. But at the end of the day, we can do a whole lot to change some hearts, and change some systems, and create more opportunities for people who deserve to have them.”

In many ways, I admire what she said. I thought it was far more direct, far more candid, than what you ordinarily hear from presidential candidates.

However, I disagree with it.

I think you do change hearts with the arts and especially pop culture. A show, a song, a movie, a play may reach people and open up their minds a bit because it first opens the heart in ways that arguments, sermons, speeches and so on cannot. In those cases, we’re a bit more guarded. We anticipate our thoughts, our beliefs, our biases being challenged and we may have our defenses up. These days, I post far less political stuff on my Facebook page, not because I believe in certain things any less but because I don’t see any of the discussions/arguments changing anyone’s mind – not mine and not with the person with whom I am having that discussion/argument. That becomes, to me, a waste of time.

I think the way to change laws, you change allocation of resources, you change the way systems operate is by opening the mind and that is done by first opening the heart, by creating a groundswell of demand within the population for that change. Pop culture can do that by skirting the defenses; after all, it wants to entertain us. It must do that first in order to have a right to speak its mind. Our defenses may be lowered and we may be more receptive.

I’m not saying that Pop Culture is the most important agent of change. It’s not Rosa Parks, it’s not the March on Selma, it’s not the Stonewall Riots, it’s not Harvey Milk, or any of a thousand other events that changed our world. However, it is a part of that change or, at least, can be. Sometimes. It reflects where we are, it shows where we can go. To make a change you first have to imagine and visualize that change.

As I said, Pop Culture doesn’t always do that and often, it’s not trying to do that. Sometimes, however, it can. Mrs. Clinton’s view is very pragmatic but, if she wants to win, if she wants to govern, she needs to engage our hearts as well as our minds. She needs to take a few lessons from Pop Culture.


Martha Thomases: Bill Cosby Remembered

Bill Cosby Snow White

Hello, everybody! This might be another column in which I am wrong.

Well, not entirely wrong. We’re talking about my personal opinions and tastes, and while you might not like them, you can’t exactly say I don’t have those particular feelings.

So, here it is: I think Bill Cosby is really funny.

I don’t think he’s a good person. I don’t think he’s the same person as Dr. Huxtable or Alexander Scott, because those are fictional characters with writers putting together the words they speak.

But I think his stand-up is, for the most part, really funny.

By his stand-up, I mean his stories and his jokes, the ones he tells about racing with his friends when he was a kid, or going out to dinner with his wife. I most definitely do not mean his lectures to the African-American community about pulling up their pants or not cussing.

Those jokes, the ones that I like, are something I’ve shared with my friends since high school. We could convulse each other by repeating them, no matter how many times we had laughed at them before. Those remain some of my fondest memories of bonding with the women who remain an amusing part of my life.

Is it possible to separate the work from the man? Can I ever watch The Cosby Show again and laugh?

I would like to. And I would like that choice.

In the wake of all the terrible allegations (and disclosures!) about the real human being, Bill Cosby, a large number of media outlets have stopped running his programs. And I understand that, because these media companies need to be conscious of their bottom line, and they can’t seem to supporting a serial rapist.

Because, apparently, a lot of people can’t tell the difference between Dr. Huxtable and Bill Cosby.

Nothing I’m saying should be interpreted as a defense of Cosby. I’m not saying that the crimes he is said to have committed are less important than my need to be entertained.

I’m saying that The Cosby Show didn’t commit any crimes. The work is separate from the star, even when that star is the creator and producer.

There are people working in comics who, in their personal lives, act abominably. I’m not going to call out any one in particular, because none of these people is a public figure and I’m not talking about criminal actions, but I tend not to support their work with my entertainment dollars. I won’t stop you from doing so, if you enjoy the work.

I’m much more likely to noisily air my displeasure when the work itself is repulsive to me, either personally or politically. For example, I’m certainly not going to watch this new Adam Sandler movie when it comes out, unless reviewers tell me the depiction of Native Americans is the exact opposite of what the link describes. And I’m going to have trouble with Mr. Sandler’s work in general, because of this story told by Rose McGowan and others.

Is Adam Sandler the only person in Hollywood with offensive politics? No, of course not. Do I sometimes find myself at a movie that I wouldn’t want to support? Yeah, it happens. I’m not consistent. I contain multitudes.

In the meantime, can someone bring back Barney Miller? That was really funny and, in my memory, was remarkable inclusive and understanding for its time.

Marc Alan Fishman: Bill Cosby, Subway Jared, and Arthur Suydam

Fat AlbertAre there good guys anymore? Perhaps just you, my loyal readers. This past week we’ve seen enough to be stark (no, not Tony) raving mad.

First, the Associated Press finally caught Bill Cosby with his pants down – so to speak. Any more of his bluster is now faced with the truth that under oath he admitted to having drugged women prior to engaging in sexual activities.

Speaking of sex crimes… Subway’s own Jared Fogel was detained this week under suspicion of owning child pornography. To be fair, he may yet be absolved – a former employee of his was previously caught with the same material – but the PR damage is done.

And in our little neck of the blogosphere, artist Arthur Suydam was caught pilfering adjacent tables at a recent comic-con akin perhaps to Hitler’s taking of Poland. Maybe I’m being a bit harsh? I was all soft and gooey last week. Screw it. Let’s get snarky!

The story, as Artie would have you believe, was that he arrived at the convention and was shown to his table. He set up as normal, and life was wonderful. Apparently you see, the promoters mistakenly displaced several artists in order to meet the request of Arthur taking on four tables in the Artist Alley. Now let’s be clear: no one was denied a table space. However, the promoters did have show materials (guides, programs, etc.) with those aforementioned detainees placed next to Suydam. Clearly as folks made their way around the show, trying to find those people who clearly weren’t Arthur resulted in a stalwart fans having to do a bit of unnecessary sleuthing to trip over their intended artists. Was Arthur in the wrong?

I’ve only a little doubt that he took up four tables rightfully. As I recall at several shows I’ve been at with him, he does typically squat over a larger footprint than others. This is necessary so he can display his mammoth one-note zombified prints. I’ll not deny he has artistic talent. And as a businessman, if he’s somehow able to make profit by paying for what constitutes a vendor-sized space selling his posters? Who am I to nay-say his entrepreneurial spirit!

Wait! I remember… I’m an indie creator who has to play by the rules with conventions. Conventions that likely never let individual artists usurp multiple tables within the Artist Alley. Why? Because the exhibition space is sold for those needing more than an eight-foot table to their name. And while Arthur himself may be more noteworthy due to his run as a Marvel Zombies cover artist then, say, a completely unknown artist, that shouldn’t necessarily grant him carte blanch to take a table away from someone who deserves an opportunity to be at the show too.

Now, I’m not a convention promoter, nor am I an event coordinator. But certainly if someone asked me to purchase multiple alley tables, my instinct is to immediately offer a space on the show floor proper, if real estate is so sought-after. The only time I’d be apt to let a man become his own island is if my Alley has more space than interest. At the comics convention Suydam attended, I sincerely doubt there weren’t a few people on a waiting list who would have chomped at the bit to be at the show. Instead, the comic convention world at large had an opportunity to call out Arthur on his bad practices.

It would seem, akin to the aforementioned Cosby, that Arthur Sudyam is a long-time criminal offender without an actual rapsheet. Many folks who can continue to enjoy their anonymity came forward during Tablegate (or the better coined #Sudyamized) to denote their stories of Arthur usurping space much like the shuffling zombies of his milieu. And given that Sudyam had to have his people respond to the allegations that swam across Bleeding Cool, Comic Book Resources, and Newsarama, it only makes him feel that much more guilty.

Beyond the small guys proclaiming their hatred, the well-named (and wonderful) Erik Larsen and Mark Waid stood tall to declare their spite as well, showcasing Sudyam’s posting of twitpics with obviously Photoshopped crowds to prove his, ah, drawing power.

Artie’s response: In a few words, he chalked it up to his people posting on his behalf as a representation not only of his line but the con experience in general. No harm, no foul he said. Sorry. I cry foul.

Simply put, Arthur Sudyam’s enterprise preys on show promoters, and blots out the sun of neighboring booths. While it’s not like he himself forces gawkers from lingering away from smaller tables to his mountain of material… it stands to be noted that it’s purveyors like him that make Unshaven Comics feel infinitesimal when all we have to our names is a 30” wide pop-up banner. But the mob has spoken, and Arthur Suydam’s name is unmistakably synonymous with ill-will. I’d consider that a win for the good guys.


John Ostrander: Busted Icons

Bill Cosby Robin WilliamsYou’ve probably seen the news feeds – 77-year old comedian Bill Cosby is accused of being a serial rapist, of drugging women and then raping them. He neither confirms nor denies (however, his spokespeople deny); he simply looks sad and shakes his head. We are left to wonder and question but there are 20 women accusing him and where there’s that much smoke I’ve found there is usually a fire.

And, yes, I believe the accusations. Sadly, I think they are true.

You wonder why he would do it (assuming he did). He was Bill Cosby. He was famous; he was rich. He could probably get or buy as much sex as he wanted. Which underlines the fact that rape isn’t about sex, it’s about power. It’s an act of violence in which a penis is substituted for a club. It’s every bit as brutal.

Does it matter? Another celebrity caught in a sex scandal. The only thing less surprising is a politician caught in a sex scandal.

I think it does matter. When The Cosby Show debuted in 1984, it was a game changer and not just for television. It was a sitcom that showed an upper middle class family of African-Americans. I remember the Eighties (and the Seventies and the Sixties; I go back a ways). I lived in Chicago. Not every neighborhood was integrated. When I was growing up, I rarely saw a person of color. When you don’t know anyone of a certain color or ethnicity, it’s easy to make assumptions about them, to classify them as a group instead of individuals. Prejudice comes easy.

The Cosby Show changed that. They gave us people that we could know, that we could identify with. The Huxtables were relatable. Their problems and situations were like those in most families, black or white. We welcomed them into our homes, our living rooms. It changed things.

And Cosby himself was a wonderful father figure. Warm, funny, sometimes beset by his own family. The show was smart and it felt true. That was part of its success.

It wasn’t just the show. Cosby did stand-up, telling stories about his life and family. His Jello commercials were great because he knew how to react and talk with kids. Cosby was avuncular; he was good company.

How do we separate those images now from his image of a serial rapist?

I don’t think we can.

I believe in separating the artist from their work. Picasso was a son of a bitch but he was a great painter and the paintings exist in their own right. However, the image of Cosby as a comedian, as a TV star, cannot be separated from Cosby the person. His persona is based on his life. The work is not separate from the man.

Cosby isn’t the only one. Robin Williams’ suicide changes what we thought we knew about him. He was a zany, a madcap. He was brilliant; his mind moved like quicksilver. Didn’t like this joke? Never mind; here comes another.

He was also in pain that must have seemed inescapable to him. I don’t know if I can watch Mork and Mindy or his stand-up specials and not look to see the pain underlying the mask. He and Cosby were both icons and, in the end, both are broken. We didn’t know them as we thought we knew them.

Just like the rest of us.


The Point Radio: CRISTELA and MARRY ME Make TV Comedy Magic

This season, some of the first cancellation casualties have been situation comedies, but beyond the cast offs there are two shows which have made their marks in ratings. Stand up superstar, Cristela Alonzo, brought much of her charm and her act to CRISTELA and she explains why it was so important for her to keep it old school. Meanwhile, NBC’s MARRY ME has plenty of comedy cred with stars Ken Marino and Casey Wilson who don’t even finch when you call them cute.

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