He was many things... a First Amendment warrior, a womanizer, a hipster and a junkie... but the one thing a comedian is supposed to be funny and he wasn't.
He was many things … a First Amendment warrior, a womanizer, a hipster and a junkie … but the one thing a comedian is supposed to be—funny—he wasn’t. “Take away the right to say ‘fuck,’ ” came one of Lenny Bruce’s most famously self-serving lines, “and you take way the right to say, ‘fuck the government.’ ” Thanks, Lenny. We’re now allowed to say “fuck” in certain special circumstances. But the government fucked you harder. You turned rat on your drug-dealing friends, and it’s safe to assume your morphine overdose in 1966 was a hot shot delivered as street vengeance. “The white race is the cancer of human history,” wrote the ostensibly white Ms. Sontag.
A hypocritical rad-chic darling who derided capitalism while gorging on huge foundation grants, she thought Against Interpretation was a catchy book title. Lost in metaphors, she spouted nonsense such as, “If there were no speaking or writing, there would be no truth about anything.” Wrong—truth existed long before postmodern writers came along. And if you’d never likened white Americans to cancer, you still would have been a white American who died from cancer. Inhabiting a make-believe world with children into his 70s and employing a character named Mr. McFeely (his middle name) to do it, one might be tempted to suggest pedophilic undertones in Fred “Mister” Rogers’s oeuvre. After all, normal heterosexual adult men don’t want to have anything to do with kids, and when you start throwing hand puppets into the mix, it seems like something from the McMartin preschool case. But I’ll take the high road. Fred Rogers’s chief crime is that it was always a beautiful day in the neighborhood and he liked you just the way you are.
Though he sang of impoverishment and repatriation to Mama Africa, Bob Marley’s father was a relatively affluent pasty-white plantation overseer and Navy officer. And though several reggae artists released music far superior to anything Marley ever squeezed from his dreads, he has achieved mythic status mainly due to his belief in Rastafarianism, one of the stupidest religions ever concocted. When skin cancer was discovered on his big toe, he declined life-saving amputation because his religion “don’t allow a mon ta be dismantled.” The cancer quickly spread to his brain, stomach, and lungs. Haile Selassie? Highly retarded. The Beatles were a great rock ’n’ roll band except they couldn’t sing, play their instruments, or keep a beat. Despite claims of being a “working-class hero” after he’d salted away millions, and in spite of his prophet-of-peace shtick even though he was an overweening sourpuss who couldn’t even get along with his bandmates or wives, this sanctimonious junkie is still embraced as a beacon of childlike truth-seeking. He was shot dead by precisely the sort of true believer his massive ego helped spawn. His murderer, Mark David Chapman, reportedly used to lead schoolchildren in singing a parody of his hero’s signature song: “Imagine there’s no John Lennon.” It wasn’t hard to do. The Weather Underground facilitated Leary’s escape from prison after a weed bust in the early 1970s. Upon his recapture, Leary spun around and ratted on his accomplices in order to receive a reduced sentence. “I would prefer to work constructively and collaboratively with intelligence and law enforcement people who are willing to forget the past,” came the frightened-into-complicity statement of the snowy-haired Brain Yeti who encouraged us to “question authority.” The fact that he turned snitch on people who tried to help him forces me to question his authority to tell anyone to question authority.
Cody gained his fame as the “crying Indian” in the 1970s “Keep America Beautiful” campaign. In the most watched public service announcement in U.S. TV history, we watched a teardrop snake down his craggy, presumably Native American visage after motorists chucked a bag of garbage near his feet. But although he claimed to be Cherokee, offered supplications to the “Great Spirit,” and was America’s Token Indian for decades, he was an Italian poseur born “Espera DeCorti.” His TV teardrop wasn’t even real—it was a li’l squib of glycerine. Cody was to Native Americans what wiggers would become to blacks—a patronizing, insulting attempt to vampirize someone’s culture without having endured any of the attendant suffering. After witnessing the daily terror faced by black Mississippi sharecroppers whom he’d helped register to vote in 1964, Savio returned to the white-bread safety of his Berkeley campus and fancied himself facing the SAME SORT OF OPPRESSION when university officials forbade him from raising political funds on campus property. Savio spewed some holy drivel about throwing your bodies against the evil machine to make its wheels stop. He pioneered the “sit-in” and led students in choruses of “We Shall Overcome.” He later admitted his antics were partly designed to impress his girlfriend. The father of the Free Speech Movement died while performing some Basic Couch Movement in 1996—he suffered a coronary trying to hoist some furniture. Rubin typified 1960s radicals in that he grew up in an affluent neighborhood and for this reason deemed himself fit to speak for the downtrodden. The quintessential slummer, he was the smelliest, most egotistical and annoying manifestation of this loathsome breed. Even more grating was his shameless metamorphosis from yippie to yuppie—he switched breezily from 1960s Amerikan-nightmare pig-baiter to 1980s American-dream venture capitalist. At least his yippie friend Abbie Hoffman never sold out and had the good sense to kill himself. In 1994, Jerry Rubin was struck dead by a car while jaywalking. Most obituaries needlessly point out the fact that he was jaywalking—that’s how much of an asshole people thought he was.