Point/Counterpoint is a beloved feature that first appeared in the fall ’72 Telex edition of the Weeklings. PC/P is the product of an intellectual tradition hearkening back to storied Oxford debate squads and the golden age of radio, in which two authors match wits over random subjects while being forced to choose a side and defend it on the fly. Readers are advised to stand back, as the heat can get intense. This week’s arm wrestle involves humorist, mother, dedicated poet, and rampant Miley Cyrus fangirl, Miss Whitney Collins.
Ladies and gentlemen, we are now on the clock.
Point (Collins): Meh on bacon. I have major bacon fatigue and I feel bad about that. Because bacon is like the chubby, homely, nice guy from junior high who just somehow happened upon monumental fame. All the cool guys adore him now, and he’s like: “Um. Dudes. Where were you when I was getting my asscheeks taped together?” This seems to be a big trend lately; not just the bacon, but the glorification of everyday, mundane, somewhat blue-collar/middle America products. It’s always strange to me when the culturally hip latch onto a concept like trucker hats or Twinkies or knitting or Pabst Blue Ribbon. Are they making fun of these things? Or do they genuinely like these things, but feel they can only admit that through irony? I may be digging too deep here, it’s just when I see the hepcats wearing John Deere t-shirts and smoking corncob pipes, I have no idea what to make of it, particularly as a Kentuckian. Should farmers be thrilled? Should they be offended? Should they counter by donning berets and going down to the feed store and beating on some bongos? Anyway, bacon sort of falls into this phenomenon of local boy-makes-it-big. It’s like watching Billy Bob Thornton on the red carpet. It’s both weird and refreshing, but still: I’m really tired of bacon. Bacon vodka and bacon condoms are making sausage links look pretty good right about now as my permanent breakfast meat go-to. So, no to bacon. I mean surely there’s something else that will eventually kill us that we can rally around? Like mayonnaise or Canada?
Counter-point (Beaudoin): Canadian Bacon! I was at a diner in the south not too long ago that offered “bone-in” ham steak along with the eggs. It struck me as Canadian Bacon’s poorer cousin, Vancouver to its Saskatoon. But I loved the phrase. It’s the perfect relatively innocent entendré, especially since the sweet-as-buttermilk waitress twice asked if I’d “like the bone-in with that?” and then seemed mystified by my friend’s laughter as I (so maturely) replied “all night long.” In any case, I share your bacon torpor. It’s too much, too often, too ironic, draped over every course like a sweaty wrestling mat. Is it not flagrant cheating when even the most lackluster meal attempts elevation, not through culinary skill, but the heavy hand of crackling pig? There’s a reason why two of the three major Abrahamic religions forbid all contact with bacon, and they are almost certainly correct in their condemnations. Shit’s bad for you. But can you imagine that first quick message from God, as received in the lusty, swine-fueled yurts of Galilee? It could not have gone over well: 1. Slice off your foreskin. 2. Easy on the adultery. 3. No fatback in those greens. Now that’s a pretty damn stringent set of edicts to (not) swallow. Fortunately, I’m mostly an a-religious sort. Which is not to say I’m lacking in spirituality. In fact, I understand the call of the nitrate on a primal, faith-based level. The thrall of smoked porker. The worship of a swine so divine. It’s a legitimate addiction, and should be legally recognized as such. In fact, if I could find a way to top off my Cobb salad with heroin crumbles right this second, you better believe I’d be fork-deep.
Point (Beaudoin): It’s hard to conceive of now just exactly how demented and subversive a show The Monkees was when it went on the air in 1966. Amidst whitebread pablum like Family Affair and The Brady Bunch, it tore up the airwaves with a truly inspired brand of stoned humor, Dadaist sketches, non-sequitors, avant-garde camerawork, and blaring colors. Essentially, a bunch of acidheads and freaks got together after watching A Hard Day’s Night way too many times and then tried to graft the Santa Monica drug/surf scene onto the back of the Fab Four’s best fashion and creative cues. Sure, it was bald theft and in some ways a hatchet job, but so what? Much like apocryphal Welfare Moms and Trotskyite Assassination Plots, decades of Liverpudlian propaganda insists we dismiss the Monkees on sight as an artificial “construction.” As if the Beatles’ early Gene Chandler-inspired leather-and-Brylcreem days weren’t just another version of the same theft. Or their two week adoption of Indian instrumentation, Maharishi robes, and vague faux-Transcendental gibberish was any more honorable than Mike, Davey, Peter, and Mickey cruising around Malibu in a red GTO with surfboards strapped to the roof. The truth is, there are few more tedious groups than Beatles purists. With the possible exception of Brahms snobs, Clapton disciples, Rush acolytes, Phish sniffers, Red Hot Chili Pepper apologists, and/or Creed minions. But the worst group of all, by far, is Tork-diminishers. Yes, Peter Tork was a highly skilled multi-instrumentalist. And Mike Nesmith was a deadpan genius. We’ll give Mickey and Davey a pass just for being game. But, really, the true brains behind the Monkees were Bob Rafelson, who went on to direct Five Easy Pieces, Easy Rider, and Head; as well as the crack songwriting team of Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, who wrote “Last Train to Clarksville,” and played most of the backing tracks for the show. My feeling? Whether it’s George Martin, Malcom McLaren, Col. Tom Parker, or Kim Fowley behind the curtain–it’s still just a pop song in the end.
Counter-point (Collins): I hear you on the Beatles purists. And the Beatles themselves. Let’s just step back and see that whole mania for what it really was. I mean, the Beatles were decent enough musicians and songwriters, but as individuals and actors, to me they just seemed contrived and self-important and humorless (or rather: humourless), particularly when they got into the sitars. So, thank goodness for the joke-that-became-genius, the Monkees. They poked some much-needed fun at the Fab Four, and at one point became nearly as successful, which I think stunned even them. Granted, I only watched the show when it was revived by MTV in 1980s, so I was late to the game, but there was something about the perfect timing of every Monkees’ punchline and gaffe that really won me over. These days there’s a band called Big Time Rush (OK. I really don’t know. They may have been around ten years at this point?) that my oldest son was really enamored with for a while. They have a TV show that is The Monkees reincarnate. Dare I say it’s AWESOME? It is. I’ll also fess up about something else: I used to run Beatles albums backward to try my damnedest to hear the infamous “Pole is dead! Pole is dead!” So when I say Beatles fans can be annoying, I’m really talking about myself. (For what it’s worth, I also dislike Phish. In my opinion, the best place to find improvisational piano music is in a Peanuts TV special. But I digress…)
Selling Breast Milk Online:
Point (Collins): Um. No thank you. I’m sure I’ll get reamed for taking this stance, but I’m categorically against buying bodily fluids online. I’m also a little annoyed by this “breastfeeding at all costs” position. Look. I get that breastmilk is the best option for infants. I nursed my kids for a while — mostly for bonding reasons, but also because people had me convinced that if I didn’t, my kids would end up sickly and unintelligent and Rick Astley fans. But here’s the other deal: formula is also a decent option for babies. Particularly if you feel like you might need to resort to buying breastmilk ON THE INTERNET. How do you even know what you’re getting? It could be watered-down goat yogurt. It could be melted French vanilla ice cream. It could actually BE breastmilk, but it could be breastmilk from someone who just had a four-martini lunch and a handful of Valium. Or it could be enamel paint. The possibilities are just creepy as all hell. I can understand how a woman who can’t nurse and who has a preemie or sick child might want find a local lactating mom to help out by pumping. But in the case of most every other infant? There’s nothing wrong with mixing powder with water. I’ll get probably get a home visit from La Leche League for saying that, so let me go on and admit something else while I’m putting my balls on the table. I lied. I WOULD buy bodily fluids online. I just did a Google search for a vial of Javier Bardem’s sweat. So, you know: gotta run.
Counter-point (Beaudoin): I read something that claimed virtually all breastmilk sold online is tainted. Tainted by what wasn’t entirely clear. USA Today says it’s disease-causing bacteria and “fecal contamination.” So, sorta making a highly unappealing prospect exponentially worse. Plus, apparently 19% of shippers do not include dry ice or “any other cooling method,” which, unless the milk is shipped within nine minutes of pumping and from two houses away, seems like a bad idea. Finally, the milk-sharing chatrooms I monitored all week posing as “Brenda,” a 17 year-old new mom who (due to recent changes in marijuana enforcement laws in Washington state making powerful purple kush bud laughably accessible) did not feel comfortable nursing her own child and was therefore looking to “acquire some clean white by the gallon.” The responses were numerous and strident, but ultimately inconclusive. As concerns Javier Bardem: you stepped all over my line about purchasing the lactate of She Who Is Too Obvious To Be Named straight from the source.
Point (Beaudoin): One of the things I found particularly distasteful about the mid-90s (among the many, many things I found seriously distasteful about the mid-90s) was the sudden surge in popularity of people like Daniel Johnston (Kurt Cobain’s favorite unstable icon), Jad Fair, and Wesley Willis. Willis was a schizophrenic homeless man from Chicago who played very bad (to the point of sometimes verging on excellent, but still) Casiotone ballads on the street for change. Somehow Jello Biafra got a hold of him and released an album, which slowly began to garner a cult following among the sort of people who also were obsessed with copies of Apocalypse Culture and all varieties and aspects of DIY genital piercing. Wesley, who was severely paranoid and delusional, became a hip-reference for a wave of fans who thought wearing knit caps and getting Gore Club tats got them an onion skin closer to the street cred that Willis’ madness seemed to confer. A dark and genuinely depressing cultural moment.
Counter-point (Collins): I’ll admit it: I wasn’t very familiar with the concept of outsider music, other than American Idol’s William Hung, until I did a little research, and holy shit. My mind just got blown. Um. Lucia Pamela? A musician, bandleader, and eccentric known primarily for her album and coloring book about her trip to outer space? A woman who studied at the Beethoven Conservatory of Music in Germany, who was voted Miss St. Louis in 1926, and who was featured in Ripley’s Believe It Or Not for memorizing 10,000 songs? A woman for whom Stereolab recorded a tribute? A woman who joined Ziegfeld’s Follies, who played the accordion, and who truly believed she had time traveled? A woman who described her visit to the Moon as including “an Indian wedding, lots of Asians, smoking dogs, nut people, no taxes, and excellent acoustics”? What. The. Fuck. I guess what I’m getting at is I have no counterpoint. None. I’m just going to read about Lucia Pamela all day on the Internet and try to brush up on my extra-curriculars. I am boring as all hell.
The Actor You Will See Any Movie For, Just Because They’re In It-
Point (Collins): Okay, okay. I admit it: I will see anything Tom Cruise is in. DAMMIT! I hate saying that. It seems like such a mainstream answer. Not to mention, Tom has gone completely batshit/is a pretty shitty dad/seems totally delusional about how the real world works. That said, I’d say every movie he’s ever done — except Legend and maybe that vampire one and maybe that samurai one and maybe that Hitler one — is really, really good. Not to mention, Tropic Thunder completely redeemed the entire Brooke Shields fiasco for me. But seriously, let’s take a look at the highlights of his cinematic resume: The Outsiders. Top Gun. Rain Man. Born on the Fourth of July. A Few Good Men. The Firm. Jerry Maguire. The Mission Impossible series. And my personal favorites — that hat trick of absurdity — Eyes Wide Shut, Vanilla Sky, and Magnolia. Does he just know how to pick a script? Does he just know how to act? Or is it that Xenu is on his side? Whatever the case, Tom is THE classic Hollywood story wherein a boy of below-average height endures a nomadic, abusive childhood and ultimately moves to California, changes his last name, and spends the rest of his life trying to prove his self-worth on screen. There it is. There’s the reason he’s so successful. He’s trying to validate his very existence in every role he takes on. L. Ron Hubbard would be proud. It’s my prediction that Tom will do movies for another ten years, his swan song being a remake of Frankenstein, in which he plays the role of Frankenstein, and then he will become a recluse, hiring John Travolta as his male nurse.
Counter-point (Beaudoin): Wow, did you really like Vanilla Sky? I would rank it as one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen entirely sober. Cameron Diaz, in the end, does not seem to have been much of a good luck charm for Tommy C, since Knight and Day sucked astonishingly hard as well. Hey, did you know that Vanilla Sky was a remake of the vastly superior Spanish film Open Your Eyes (1997), which had the great advantage of also featuring Penelope Cruz without inexplicably making her seem brittle and loathsome in every frame? But I don’t dislike Cruise nearly as much as you seem to be girding yourself against. To me he’s like the post office; long lines and disinterested federal employees are never much fun, but the letters eventually get there, don’t they? So, yeah, T delivers. And the Scientology? I give him a pass. Suddenly becoming a worldwide franchise on the strength of having just slid into frame in your underwear while lip-synching to Bob Segar’s third least-interesting song would mess with anyone’s mind. Oh, and I would pretty much see any movie with Bill Murray in it, no matter what an irredeemable piece of shit it was. Also: Michael Caine, Barbara Stanwyck, Lee Marvin, Julie Christie, Mark Ruffalo, Catherine Keener, Monica Bellucci, J.T. Walsh, Hedy Lamarr, Sterling Hayden, Yves Montand, Pam Greer, John Cazale, Tura Satana, and Romain Duris. Plus Gina Gershon, ’cause no matter how bad the movie was, I could always just tune it out and stare at her lips.
Steroids in Sports-
Point (Beaudoin): I love the juice. I’m all for mainlining that shit in. I think A-Rod should be allowed to ‘roid up like a balloon crammed full of vanilla pudding so that he can hit .460 and knock in 100 home runs a year. I want to see Mark McGuire and Barry Bonds waddle around the bases well past their fiftieth birthday, so jacked with protean delts and back acne that they can barely turn their heads. The hysteria of the Old School and the pundit class is irrelevant. Hypocritical outrage over cheating in a sport in which practically every other strategical decision involves rampant cheating; including stealing signs, throwing the ball at someone’s head, and/or signing a light-hitting shortstop for untold millions because he suddenly put on thirty pounds of muscle during the off-season, is farcical. What, in the end, is really the moral or ethical difference between getting Lasix surgery, or harvesting a cadaver’s hamstring to repair a blown-out elbow, than ramming one’s ass full of HGH and Clenbuterol? Hey, first there was Arnold Rothstein fixing the world series, then the spitball, then segregation, then Eddie Gaedel’s strike zone, then greenies, then Charlie Finley selling off his players like used Camrys, then the Bash Brothers, then Lenny Dykstra’s freebase strut, and finally Sammy Sosa’s corked bat. Steroids are just the next step. Legalize them now. Really, the only thing ruining baseball for sure is the DH rule.
Counter-point (Collins): If there’s one thing I can’t stand it’s a cheater. Give me your thieves and whores and drunks and sloths, but show me a nerd who’s written a calculus formula on his palm, and I’m disgusted. I don’t know why, but cheating REALLY pisses me off more than any other transgression, and in my book, steroids are the ultimate cheat. That said, I also REALLY dislike baseball and football (and all other sports that take the better part of an afternoon to complete). So, in theory, shouldn’t players loaded on steroids be able to finish a game in a shorter amount of time? Shouldn’t ‘roids make athletes both stronger AND more efficient? If so, then I’m all for golfers, baseball players, football players, and cricketeers (is that a word?) getting completely loaded. Because it’s illegal how long those games last. They are excruciating for someone like me to watch. And by “someone like me,” I mean someone who’s completely monogamous to college basketball. Personally, I like my sport of choice to be riveting, face-paced, and completed indoors in less than two hours by young, unpaid, passionate people. So, I’m okay if base- and footballers want to endure sudden rage, breast formation, liver failure, and shrunken testicles in the name of performance; if anything, cheating may lessen how long those games last in the backgrounds of sports bars and Superbowl parties I’ve been forced to attend. But don’t get the juice anywhere near my UK/Duke game. I like that sort of glorious, nail-biting agony to be pure and completely drug-free. That is, other than an entire bottle of Maker’s to see me through.
Male Sluts and Their Resultant Lack of Shame
Point (Collins): So, I just weighed in on the whole slutshaming trend recently with regard to Miley Cyrus, basically saying: “Come on. Let’s leave the sluts and their slutty behavior alone.” So, I don’t really think it’s my place to criticize men who are slutty. If a fellow wants to whore around a la Warren Beatty, then I say go for it. But let’s get some consistency here. If the press and mommy bloggers and all of Twitter aren’t going to give John Mayer a hard time for being whoreish, let’s not give Lindsay Lohan a hard time for being whoreish. Maybe that’s when we women will know we’ve really reached gender equality. Not when we’re making the same salaries as men but when we’re all able to slut it up shamelessly together. Most of this culture is actually perpetuated by women themselves. It’s a big women-ganging-up-on-other-women party. Like when Sinead O’Connor wrote an open letter to Miley telling her how to behave? SHEESH! I prayed Miley would tear up a picture of Sinead on SNL after that. But back to the point, men aren’t going around giving other men a hard time for being floozies. Men aren’t going around giving other men a hard time about much of anything, because, by and large, guys feel less shame — about sex, for sure, but also about bodily functions and how they come across at a social events and what they look like in a bathing suit. I’ve seen too many hirsute, Speedo-wearing men with terrifying toenails strutting down the beach like they actually look like David Beckham to know that guys, generally speaking, are far less critical of themselves than women. So, when it comes to man whores, there’s a lack of shame. Guys aren’t beating themselves up and no one else is either. Ladies, take note.
I loved your essay because I am so tired of sex-negative hypocrisy, particularly as it relates to The Internet weighing in on the morality of public figures whose behavior is either influenced by (or brazenly calculated to poke at) exactly the same voraciousness for scandal and dimwitted bread-and-circuses that made those figures public to begin with. If Miley is indeed a slut, I congratulate her on reveling in the flesh while she’s still young and unhinged, as opposed to when she becomes Lindsay and appears strung-out and bloated in exploitative shit written by Bret Easton Ellis. Like, for instance, The Canyons. Guy Sluts cannot by definition be ashamed, but to everyone’s relief tend to get their karmic comeuppance by occupying the same sad poolside tiles as Van Damme impersonators, taint-waxers, and recently fallen bottle service hosts.
Point (Beaudoin): I have never at any point in my life voted for a candidate at any level who came even remotely close to sharing my actual political views. This saddens me. And perhaps explains a certain accretion of cynicism that I wear around like a gunslinger’s dirty poncho. It’s not just the cultural issues (upon which I am so far left that I might as well found a Utopian cult) but the meat-and-potatoes political ones as well. Why is there never a candidate, even one, who proudly steps to the lectern and declares their full and unequivocal support for immigration amnesty, abortion rights, free contraception, gay rights, raising the minimum wage, prison reform, strict environmental regulation, a national railway system, a $10 per gallon gas tax, legalized drugs and prostitution, guaranteed affordable health care, a single-payer plan, a Greed Tax, the end of Institutionalized Plutocracy, strict gun control, and a massive overhaul of the military industrial complex? Because, essentially, we are a nation of pussies, too cowed by received opinion, television dogma, and the fear of labels to actually discuss any given issue in depth. “Liberal” has become an epithet, “democrat” a joke, “Marxist” a cudgel to be used against those with the temerity to question class divisions, and “nihilist” too unappetizingly plausible. Leaving only “socialist.” Which makes sense, given that so many of the institutions we enjoy and rely upon (the post office, Major League Baseball, Medicaid, Social Security, the automotive industry, corporate welfare, industrial farming and food production, etc.) are entirely socialistic in nature. So I am definitely a socialist in temperament if not party allegiance, as long as the definition can be divorced from decades of propaganda and finally be taken to mean what it has always meant: that the fantasy of creating an even reasonably just society is far more important than blind allegiance to markets, open or otherwise. Hey, did you know that seven of America’s ten richest people come just three families? So why worry about socialism when we don’t even live in a democracy anyway? This country is, and always has been, a Cash Monarchy. At the very least we should all give in and pass a constitutional amendment dictating that at least one of the Walmart heirs be photographed standing behind President Obama at all times, holding a scepter and wearing a crown fashioned from the bones of Alexander Hamilton, Milton Friedman, and Tom Joad.
Counter-point (Collins): Here’s why I think Socialism is so hard for Americans raised on the theory of unfettered capitalism to accept: because it teaches the most difficult of human lessons — SHARING. What’s the first thing they teach in preschool? Sharing. What’s the last thing a lot of the elderly are doing? Hoarding fruit cocktail and writing loved ones out of their wills. It’s a hard, hard lesson, this concept of “spreading the wealth” because our lowly human nature makes us like suspicious wolves carrying off our kill to eat alone, while our higher moral nature, if we really listen, is free of this fear of lack. One of the wisest economic perspectives I’ve ever heard comes from Kentucky’s Wendell Berry — farmer, writer, philosopher, and environmentalist. He wrote an essay for Harper’s a few years back where he explained that America’s “current predicament is well-represented by the Renaissance drama The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus” — a man who “wants all the knowledge and world for himself but is supremely lonely and finally doomed.” Berry’s right in that we put way too much importance on me and mine. He’s also spot-on in that “the problem with us is not only a prodigal extravagance but also an assumed limitlessness.” We Americans tend to believe there is no limit to wealth or natural resources or personal debt or economic growth — that it all goes on forever. It just doesn’t. In my opinion, the country that has somehow found a successful balance between the government and the individual, and growth and restraint, is Finland. In theory, Finland is not really a socialist country, because the means of production are not state owned, however, high quality health care and education are available for all, courtesy of the public sector. Of course, its citizens are taxed out the ass, but few of them notice or care — probably because they’ve got all their basic needs met or are hypothermic and drinking really good vodka. Whatever the case, Finland is somehow the tenth richest country in the world and Finns, generally speaking, are safe, smart, and content. (Not to mention: Angry Birds and smoked meats!) Anyway, sharing is something we need to do much more of, and if it takes government intervention to make us share, I’m fine with that, as long as it leans more toward the eating-chocolate-by-a-windmill lifestyle and less toward the subsidized-cheese-with-no-freedom-of-speech lifestyle. All of us run our own homes in a socialized manner to ensure the young, the old, and the ill in our families are taken care of, and we should strive to do the same nationwide — or at the very least, state by state. All these good intentions said, there is a mean, ruthless, anarchistic streak in me since becoming a mother. If everything ever goes to complete shit and I find myself in a post-apocalyptic city street and there’s some little old lady tottering along with a jug of potable water, I will whack her with a rake if it means my kids won’t have to go thirsty. (Is that anarchistic or just bitchy? I don’t know. I just know I’d cut someone for a Fruit Roll-Up if push came to shove.) Just being honest here.
Ladies and gentlemen, we have reached the finish line of this week’s Point/Counter-point. Thank you once again for participating. The votes are being tallied and will be released to the public after they’ve been verified J.D. Powers and Associates, as well as the Washington State Attorney General.
Whitney Collins (@theunpoet) is the author of The Hamster Won’t Die: A Treasury of Feral Humor. She created the humor sites: errant parent and The Yellow Ham. Her humor appears on The Huffington Post, Story Magazine, HowAboutWe, McSweeney’s, The Big Jewel, Loop, and The Dead Mule.