Wednesday, May 26, 2004

The Cosby Controversy

I haven't had much to say about the Bill Cosby controversy, because every time I start to write something, another columnist makes the point for me.

DeWayne Wickham did a good job in his USA Today column and Cynthia Tucker hit other bullseyes in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (link removed). I agree with each of them. Then there are those like Cal Thomas, who twisted the controversy into some sort of conservative vs. liberal political diatribe to further an agenda that has nothing to do with what Cosby was saying.

Still, all of those writers missed some points.

Cosby plays by his own rules. He did it in the 1980s with his NBC sitcom, when he had to fend off criticism that the Huxtables didn't accurately reflect a "real black family." That was nonsense, of course, because the Huxtables were based on Cosby's own family. To say there was no place on television for an upper-middle-class black family -- that the only true black TV experience was represented by life in the projects a la "Good Times" -- is to argue that the white side of the equation couldn't include both "Roseanne" and "Frasier."

Speaking properly is obviously one of Cosby's pet peeves. Last year, at the Emmy Awards, co-host Wanda Sykes was wandering through the audience, talking trash while pointing out and picking on celebrities. When she spotted Cosby, she stopped to ask him how he managed to keep a number one show for so long. Cosby could easily have given her some bland remark about the cast, the network, etc. Instead, he replied, "We spoke English!"

Cosby even makes his own rules on stage. My wife and I went to see him in concert a couple of months ago -- he was on the short list of comedy legends I'd always wanted to see but never had -- and we were amazed. He's still a brilliant storyteller, who sets himself apart from other standups by understanding the simple concept of pacing, the value of the pause, that there's no need to rush a well-written routine.

In Cosby's world, a concert doesn't have to take place at night, or in the early afternoon for a matinee. This show began at 4pm -- not because he was going to do another show that night, but because that's when he wanted to perform. It didn't bother the audience of 4,000 at the Fox Theatre, which rolled in laughter throughout.

About 90 minutes into the show, as he finished one lengthy story, Cosby announced, "Now, I'm going to walk off this stage for a couple of minutes to use the bathroom. But I'll be right back, so don't go anywhere." I had never seen a performer do this before, and wasn't sure if he was serious. Many others in the audience thought it was an intermission and headed for the bathrooms themselves. They were very surprised to see Cosby back centerstage three minutes later, launching into yet another routine.

He kept performing for another hour. That's a total of two and a half hours, a remarkable amount of time for a one-man comedy show. Most comedians consider their act to be complete at 75 minutes. Cosby did twice that. Not only did he never look fatigued, he was also all over the stage, up from his chair to prowl about as one character or another, even getting down on his hands and knees to act out one routine about his childhood.

Cosby is a true elder statesman of show business. To some, he may seem like a cranky old man, but that's unfair. When you achieve that lofty position -- earned through a combination of longevity, success, and respect -- you can express honest opinions without worrying about who might be offended. You don't care about political correctness anymore, because the truth is vital, no matter how much it stings.

Let's hope that at least some of the people who heard or read Cosby's remarks at Howard University take them to heart.

Bill Cosby released this statement to clarify his remarks and rebut the criticism.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Morgan Spurlock "Supersize Me"

On my show today, I spoke with Morgan Spurlock, the man who ate nothing but McDonald's food for a month and documented it in his movie, "Supersize Me." He explained the effects of the diet (major weight gain and sky-high cholesterol), the agenda behind why he did it, and the question of personal vs. corporate responsibility.

He also answered criticism from Soso Whaley, another guest who had a month of fast-food meals, but lost weight.

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Also on Harris Online...

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Soso Whaley Takes On Morgan Spurlock

As a response to Morgan Spurlock's documentary "Supersize Me," Soso Whaley did the same thing Spurlock did -- eat every meal at McDonald's every day for a month. Unlike him, she accepted the responsibility of eating wisely from their menu, and ended up losing weight and having her cholesterol go down. She came on my radio show to discuss the experiment, and the problems with Spurlock's movie, along with the agenda behind his claims.

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Also on Harris Online...

Monday, May 10, 2004

Carl Reiner, "The Dick Van Dyke Show"

Carl Reiner, creator of "The Dick Van Dyke Show," was back on my show today to talk about the reunion show he wrote, and the original series -- including the classic "Walnuts" episode, why he hired Morey Amsterdam, why the Petries slept in twin beds, and how the show was almost canceled after its first season. Carl also reports that he's started shooting "Ocean's Twelve."

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Thursday, May 06, 2004

Field Of Ad Agency Dreams

The announcement by Major League Baseball that they've essentially sold the sponsorship of the bases and other parts of the field for a weekend to the movie studio promoting "Spider-Man 2" should outrage anyone who's ever set foot in a ballpark.

Ballparks already have tons of advertising (they've even sold the names!), and you can't get a moment of silence between innings because some sponsor promotion is being blasted off the scoreboard screen. In what may have been one of the earliest product placements, even "Take Me Out To The Ball Game" has a mention of Cracker Jacks!

But until now, the playing field itself hasn't been touched, probably because no one dangled a big enough check in front of Bud Selig, for whom the national pastime is chasing the almighty dollar.

This is yet another example of the owners' greed, and another step closer to seeing uniforms covered with sponsor logos, a la Nascar (as some jockeys were allowed to do for last weekend's Kentucky Derby).

This is the beginning of a slippery slope. Once Spider-Man has taken over the on-deck circles and the bases, it won't be long before the naming rights for each base are sold to individual sponsors. Soon a batter can hit a long ball and get all the way to third base, renamed Viagra Base, where a stand-up triple really means something! The outfield grass could be cut into the logo of Toro lawnmowers, the foul line chalk replaced by Gold Bond Medicated Powder, and the pitcher's rubber brought to you by Trojan. Go ahead, put Pepsi on the ump's chest protector, have the foul ball girls wear Hooters outfits. Print Nike in the first- and third-base coaches' boxes. Anything for a buck, right?

MLB tried to soften the impact of its announcement by playing up a little public service. It seems they're planning to adorn the bases for two other upcoming events. On Mother's Day, they'll have pink ribbons, to promote breast cancer awareness (Patrick Hayes e-mails that if it's breast related, "shouldn't that only be on second base?") and on Father's Day, they'll have blue ribbons, to promote prostate cancer awareness.

I had no idea those ribbons were for those causes, or which ribbon goes with any cause at this point, except for the yellow ribbons 'round the old oak tree for hostages, of course. I guess that's why they can't use yellow for the prostate thing, even though it's a more appropriate color than blue. When I think "blue ribbon," I don't think "prostate cancer." I think "Pabst."

By the way, if you click that link to Pabst, as with most other beer companies, you're taken to an "age verification screen." That's because the brewers don't want to be accused of doing anything online that might attract underage drinkers. But once you're there, all you have to do is type in a date, any date, not even your own birth date, to proceed to the rest of their site. Surely, no 17-year-old could get past that! Just as, certainly, no one would have known about the Spider-Man sequel if baseball hadn't whored itself out.

Don't misunderstand me. I have nothing against advertising. It pays my radio salary, and it supports this website. But you get those services for free, in return for being exposed to the ads.

To the contrary, in the new MLB model, you'll pay to go to the stadium to see a baseball game, but have to sit through a commercial for a movie. Then you'll pay to see the movie, and have to sit through commercials for other products. Then you'll buy those products, and see cross-promotions for other products, including the DVD version of that movie, which will contain even more commercials!

Hey kids, see how you're helping the economy grow? Now, remember to pay Mr. Bonds $50 for his autograph, which he'll give you on the back of a poster for "The Hulk," brought to you by Balco, the company whose steroids can pump you up, too!