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West Coast Writers
The 13th Boy
Dr Huxtable, Part 3
Posted by Fife, Stephen
Thursday , December 11, 2014
Stephen Fife
Some Final Thoughts on Cosby and our AGE OF OUTRAGE

In last night’s blog (#4), I asked the question, “Why such a reaction to Cosby’s crimes now when the public gave him a pass in 2006?”  My answer was that it probably had something to do with the increased effectiveness of social media.  Well, maybe, but this doesn’t really deal with “Why Cosby?” and “Why now?”  

No, to understand how this simmering fire grew into an inferno we have to go back to the origin of the flames: Hannibal Buress’s routine. To quote Buress: “Bill Cosby has the fucking smuggest old black man public persona that I hate.  Pull your pants up, black people.  I was on TV in the ‘80s.  I can talk down to you because I had a successful sitcom.  Yeah, but you raped women, Bill Cosby.  So, brings you down a couple notches.  I don’t curse on stage.  Well, yeah, you’re a rapist, so I’ll take you sayin’ a lot of motherfuckers on “Bill Cosby: Himself” if you weren’t a rapist … I’ve done this bit on stage, and people don’t believe.  People think I’m makin’ it up . . .  You leave here and Google “Bill Cosby: rape.”  It’s not funny.”       

In my opinion, even more important than what Buress said is the fact that he’s an African-American man.  I don’t think the public would have listened so intently if Buress was white.  Our sense of political correctness – especially acute when it comes to not offending middle-class blacks – would have forbidden it.  Perhaps Louis CK could get away with it – but it’s highly doubtful that he would ever try.  Too risky, in the sense that the spotlight would then be turned on any misdeeds in his own past.  Plus, for all his outspoken-ness, Louis CK doesn’t really like to rattle people’s cages in that kind of way.  Patton Oswalt or Marc Maron might have had some choice barbs to make to their comedian friends, but I can’t imagine them saying these in public for fear of the blowback. And every other major white guy comedian who comes to mind would have followed Jon Stewart’s lead in bowing down to their idol.

Would Sarah Silverman call Cosby out?  It’s possible, I guess, but she had ample chance and never did.  How about Joan Rivers?  Same thing.  In both cases, I think they’d be afraid of incurring the wrath of their male colleagues.  (Maybe radical women comedians like Lisa Lampinelli or Kate Clinton might have, but would their remarks have had national impact or would they simply have been seen as taking nasty potshots at a national icon?)  There seems to exist an unspoken agreement among comedians to defend each other no matter what.  (Witness the Tracey Morgan brouhaha of a few years ago.)  The one exception I can think of is the racial rant of Michael “Kramer” Richards, but even there only the scathing cracks of young African-American comics were really laughed at.  

No, it’s the fact that a fellow black comedian called Cosby out that caused his downfall and gave White America permission to pile on.  And in so doing, Hannibal Buress established the tone of Outrage at hypocrisy that I believe will define the age we’re living in, at least for the immediate future. 



Dr Huxtable, Part 2
Posted by Fife, Stephen
Thursday , December 04, 2014
Stephen Fife
Today brings two more items in the ever-burgeoning Cosby Chronicles.
  
First, there was the entirely predictable sight of Gloria Allred representing three new victims.   (My God, that man was busy!  So many girl-fans to rape, so little time.)  Besides the spectacle of more private pain being publicly vented, there was a deju vu aspect in this for me. Because Gloria Allred was also the attorney who represented twenty-five of the survivors of the Horace Mann Sex Abuse scandal, including myself.  

I found Gloria to be a very driven woman who never let down her guard; I assume she has a private side, but I never glimpsed it during the two-week mediation, not even for a second.  She had the disposition of a very important TV director, with a narrow, fairly un-nuanced view of the world which she did her best to present in black-and-white episodes that would shame her opponent into submission.  (She was the irresistible force who ran up against the immovable object in the Horace Mann BoT, because no amount of shaming would register on their consciences; they made it clear that they don’t give a crap as long as the donations keep coming.)  We survivors mostly felt disappointed with her in the end, because she promised us so much more than she delivered.  I hope she has better results with her new batch of victims, though her call for Cosby to waive the statute of limitations seems like the setup for a Cosby-type punchline.  (“Yes-siree, Gloria, come over here and let me sizzle your fa-shizzle!”)

The other item I found was on Decider on the New York Post website (so confusing!), under the headline “30 Rock Episode Slyly Called Out Bill Cosby For Sexual Assault Back In ’09.”  This referred to Tracey Morgan cursing out Cosby (played by an imitator) for “what you did to my Aunt Paulette … 1971.”  The only problem with calling this prophetic is that it was based on information that had been out there for years, as Cosby had fended off accusations and lawsuits from women starting in Jan. 2005 and culminating in a People Magazine article detailing his rape of Barbara Bowman in a Las Vegas hotel room in 1986.  And yet Cosby was able to go on making comedy without paying any price – other than the money he paid off his accusers with. 

So the better question in all this may be: WHY NOW?  Why is Cosby “toxic” now and not eight years ago?  That is, why do people suddenly care when they didn’t before?

I don’t have a definitive answer – if one exists – but my guess would be that the emergence of social media is behind it.  In 2006, celebrity wrongdoers (along with lesser-known wealthy scum) could still hide behind expensive legal mouthpieces while throwing money at their accusers.  But that doesn’t work so well anymore.  The news media has become decentralized to the point that a blogger with a slew of followers can write about an injustice in the morning, and—if it starts trending—by that afternoon it will become a part of the 24-hour news cycle, and people everywhere will be aware.  

Which is great for the victims of Cosby, whose cries are finally being heard.  

Now if only people would put that kind of pressure on Horace Mann to grow a conscience and stop blocking an investigation, then we’d really have something to talk about.  



Dr Huxtable, Part 1
Posted by Fife, Stephen
Wednesday , December 03, 2014
Stephen Fife
So Bill Cosby … yeah.  Really?  So that must have happened, huh?  

So one day he’s a Comedy Legend, famous as Doctor Huxtable.  He appears on Jon Stewart’s Daily Show this fall and Stewart literally salaams to him, bows to his Comedy God.  And then a week or two later, the black comedian Hamilton Buress includes some cracks about Cosby’s misogyny in his act, and suddenly women are coming forward, every day more women, with stories about Cosby, about his drugging and raping them in their teens or twenties, about being forced to pleasure him orally or give him a hand job before he disposed of them like dirty tissues.

And then Cosby is ruined, he’s “toxic,” his comedy appearances and NBC’s plans for a new sitcom are cancelled, he is even forced to resign from philanthropic boards that he had been a part of.  All with no legal actions, no trials, no cross-examinations.  Just Janice Dickinson and other women describing horrifying things that Cosby had done to them in their youth.

But how could this comedy genius, this Huxtable who we loved, have done such sick and sickening things, things that we associate with villains of the worst kind?  And was it fair that he lost so much simply on the basis of uncorroborated stories?

My answer to all this is: yes.  Yes, it’s fair.  Yes, it’s right.  Yes, this does feel like justice.

As someone who has experienced abuse at the hands of an authority figure and then spoke out and was not believed, I am very sensitive to the plight of others going through something similar.  In this case, people may feel like these women (most in their sixties now) must have a motive for speaking out.  If not money – since none filed a lawsuit – then they must want publicity for themselves or revenge on Cosby for using them for his pleasure and then going on his way.

But the fact is, no sane person really enjoys this kind of publicity.  No sane person enjoys publicly airing these kind of grievances, in which they are shown as being duped and humiliated.  And clearly none of these women were just angry ex-lovers (as Cosby has claimed), who were made promises that were then broken.  In each case I heard, the women’s voices were filled with a different kind of anguish, the kind that comes from being taken advantage of by someone they had deeply admired.

I recognized this tone from my own voice years ago, after my sense of trust had been abused by a revered teacher.  I lived with this experience for 40 years before writing The 13th Boy.  During that time, I would tell most women I became intimate with about this terrible event in my life.  Sometimes the women would tell me their own terrible stories.  One woman’s story was about being asked out by Bill Cosby when she was in her late teens.  He took her to a bar, got her drunk, then shoved his tongue down her throat and proposed going back to his hotel.  She was not drunk enough not to be horrified and was able to stagger away and avoid further damage. 

Unlike the sad-eyed women of today, who weren’t so lucky. 

Twas the Night Before
Posted by Fife, Stephen
Wednesday , December 03, 2014
Stephen Fife
My first installment of this blog ended with a cliffhanger:
 
‘Twas the night before THE 13TH BOY book party, and all through the upper West Side apartment, only one creature was stirring, the jittery author.  One might even say the more-than-usually-jittery author, because of the nature of this book: a raw and soul-baring memoir that described the abuse I suffered at Horace Mann School long ago – but thanks to the scars left behind, still feeling very present even now.

And “How did that book party work out?” you ask.
Well, like most things in life, it was both really great and kind of disappointing.

The “great” part was the supportive environment provided by Rob Boynton and Peter Brooks of the Horace Mann Action Coalition, by my manager Barbara Ligeti and PR rep Jen Prost, by Amos Kamil (who broke news of the scandal in the New York Times Magazine) and Sharon Cotliar (who wrote the recent follow-up article in People Magazine), by my good pal Billy Hayes (of “Midnight Express” fame) and by Judge Leslie Crocker Snyder, who is doing her own investigation into the school for the HMAC.  Most of all, though, it was by the 40 or so people who showed up.  Among these supportive folk were three other survivors (whose names I can’t say because of their family concerns) and the real-life Mitch Bronfman (his pseudonym in my book).   Mitch was my best friend in high school, my soul brother, but our friendship couldn’t survive all the emotional changes we were going through, especially the pressure put on me by the teacher, Robert Berman.  Our bond of brotherhood was severed in Italy in a soul-crushing way.  Through the years we have come together warily, hung out a bit, then split apart.  But now it appears that we’re ready to be friends again, and it was great to have him there – he alone of all those in that room was a witness to so much that had happened.  He was in all my classes with Berman, and he was the one friend I could have told what was going on who would have done something about it.  But I couldn’t do it. So here we were, 40 years later, the story finally told, all secrets revealed.

The highlight for me was reading some pages aloud, a scene where Berman is trying to seduce my soul.  I was surprised at how difficult it was to get through this.  But then it led to a discussion, where those present aired their own feelings about what each had gone through himself.  One HM alum spoke about being friends at Princeton with Mark Wright until one evening Wright groped him, ending the friendship.  (Wright later returned to Horace Mann, where he abused several students.)

The “disappointing” part of the event was that it didn’t feel momentous enough.  It felt like something was supposed to happen, something which would change everyone’s life in some significant way.  But it didn’t.  People gradually left until I was alone.  I wandered the streets of downtown NYC until I ducked into a bar, had a few drinks, watched football, then went back to my mom’s apartment and slept.  
    
     

Book Launch Nerves
Posted by Fife, Stephen
Friday , November 14, 2014
Stephen Fife

I promised my publisher that I would write something about the book launch party for my memoir, THE 13th BOY, planned for this evening at the NYU Journalism School.  The problem is, I’m nervous about it, quite nervous, and nervousness is not a condition that makes me want to write.  In fact it has the opposite effect, making me want to think of anything other than the thing that makes me nervous.  But a promise is a promise, and my publisher is not a man to be trifled with.

What makes me nervous,though, is not the book itself – I mean, I’ve written the book, it’s finished, I’ve done the best I can, and it is what it is. It’s not like anyone’s opinion of its shortcomings is going to send me back to the keyboard, typing frantically. That, to be frank, has already happened, and it will happen no more.  No, what makes me nervous, specifically, is New York City.  But it’s not because it’s so big and glittery, not because it’s so hallowed and elegant, not because it’s the home of the rich and powerful – that is, it’s not for the usual reasons.  Because I grew up here.  In fact, I grew up in the household of one o fthe rich and powerful.  And then I moved out and lived like a professional beggar here for the next twenty-five years, before taking my broke ass to that other coast, the one comprised of sunshine and purple haze (which, yes, are also two kinds of LSD – you make the connection).

During those lean years in the city that never sleeps (as neither did I), I had some successes, writing articles for The New York Times, Village Voice, New Republic and any other publications, having a few plays produced in downtown venues, managing not to kill myself while married to a manic-depressive actress.  Several times these successes – which across the board were ill-paying, forcing me to slave in office temp and phone jobs – brought me to the edge of a major success, one that “could change my lifeforever” (to use the words I whispered to myself late at night, when I should have been sleeping).  Yes, money, fame, OPTIONS – these comprised the carrot that New York City kept dangling in front of me, feverishly pursuing, until the moment when I confidently thrust my hand out to grab it – when it would be yanked just out of my reach. And then, fearful of missing out, I would lunge for it with everything I had – and fall right on my face every time. Still penniless, but now with a bloody nose and a bruised ego and the uncertainty of whether that prize would ever come within my reach again.

Well, here it is, the eve of my coming-out party, and all the ghosts are back again, laughing like young stockbrokers when the mail guy tips over his cart.  (Okay, yeah, that happened at one of my jobs.  And yes, right again, I was the mail guy.)

So what’s it gonna be this time, New York City? 

Are you gonna crush my dreams one more time?

Or will it be different now, will you be kinder – or at least, will you be less unkind?

I guess we’ll find out soon enough, won’t we?





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