Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Mark Twain Awards

Did you watch the Mark Twain Awards show the other night for Bill Cosby? Now the Cos is one of the great influences of my life so I think the award is long overdue and I am grateful that the award folks managed to get the award to him while he was still alive.

All that posthumous honoring is nice for the families, but it doesn’t do a thing for the one person it should be all about.

And there is no doubt that Mr. Cosby deserves all of the awards anyone can give him. He has made so many breakthroughs in his career and created so many opportunities for so many people that recognition is well deserved. The fact that he has earned millions I’m sure makes awards an unnecessary perk, but take’em anyway.

One of the many things Mr. Cosby has contributed to the culture is the rehabilitation of overweight people especially kids.

We have so demonized overweight in this country that it is the one bigotry still allowed in polite society. You can’t say the N-word without facing complete ruin, but attack a fat person and you get a free pass.

When the stories Mr. Cosby told about his friends growing up in Philadelphia became a cartoon, the lead character in fact the title character was Fat Albert.

Fat Albert and The Cosby Kids made all of the over weight kid in the country sit up and feel something they’d never felt before, pride.

Yes, Fat Albert was the Buck-Buck Champion of the Whole World and the fearsome roar of his battle cry, “Heeey, heey hey” made every pudgy kid scream and dance around the TV screen.

No more the long hours of watching some Spandex clad super hero save the world from those hideous space invaders, now we had a guy of our own, “Heey, Heey, Hey”

Now maybe I am just overly sensitive, having been one of those overweight kids and having the misfortune to be incarcerated in Gravel Pit Public Youth Indoctrination Center at the same time that Wagon Train was on television.

If your name is Roland and the theme song to the most popular show on the tube begins with “Rollin’ Rollin’ Rollin’…” there are going to be certain problems.

But not once The Cosby Kids came on. There he was in all of his giggly glory not only preventing the bullying of the younger kids but solving the gangs thornier problems, seems like someone forgot to mention to Mr. Cosby that fat people are stupid.

Sure there were other images of overweight people on those early televisions, Jackie Gleason, wonderful comic and actor but not an image an adolescent could cling to, Bill Bendicks, you know, “The Life Of Riley”, not much better and then there were the truly horrible images, Andy Devine and Sgt Garcia.

You try playing Cowboys and Indians, sorry, Native Americans, and getting to be only Jingles. It’s humiliating.

“Heey, Heey, Hey” but not any more that wonderful chant, that warrior’s challenge, that fantastic lion’s roar made it all okay. We had a guy who could speak for us.

Now I don’t know Mr. Cosby and I rather doubt that he had that particular effect in mind when he created Fat Albert, but once again it didn’t matter. It happened and we, all of the fat, pudgy, nerdy kids could hold our heads up finally and the halls of old Gravel Pit rang with “Heey’s” until the warden/principal made us cut it out.

But even though we couldn’t sing our heroes song of victory we knew, there was a Fat Albert out there protecting the rights fat kids and dorky kids and just plain lost kids.

So among all of the wonders that Mr. Cosby gifted us with over the last forty years I am especially grateful for Fat Albert. He made growing up in a backwater Texas town less of a life sentence and more of a weekend detention.

Now how does that make any artist sit up and pay attention?

One of the many strengths of Mr.. Cosby’s art is that he creates characters so good they ought to be alive. I don’t think for a minute here was a Fat Albert or a Russell, not the way Mr. Cosby describes them, but I believe with my whole heart that the notion of a little poor black kid in Philadelphia stealing five baby-coach wheels so he could have a Continental kit on his go-cart is so good, it ought to be true.
Mr. Cosby found a way to make what was then a separate culture understandable, he made the black experience so vivid  in a way which did not frighten Them and actually engaged them and made them want to find out about all of the wonders that happens in neighborhoods which don’t have gates.

So for Russell and Old Weird Harold and all of the Cosby kids and especially Fat Albert go find a way to make the art you do cross cultural lines and bring people into the art world. You know they think all artists are mad and smoke burning ropes and wear flowing gowns and tams and talk about finding the image in the canvas and even if that exactly what you do maybe you could make it a bit easier or everyone to understand.

Just remember there’s the sound of pounding feet, the ground is shaking and the trees are dropping their leaves, it’s getting louder and now there’s something else you can barely hear coming in this direction, “Heey, Heey, Hey!”

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