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Tuesday, January 20, 2009


I was watching VH-1 last night (I AM ashamed to admit it, really) and there was Danny Bonaduce in all his red-haired glory making an ass of himself as usual. For those few who have missed Bonaduce’s checkered career (and how could you?), Danny first became a star as the wise-cracking guitar-playing son of Shirley Jones on the 1960s sitcom "The Partridge Family." Somehow the show that was supposed to be a showcase for teen idol David Cassidy became a focal point for the freckle-faced Bonaduce to hone his skills as a pint-sized smartass.

After three years, "The Partridge Family" was cancelled, and Danny disappeared for several years, as often happens with child stars. During that time he spent most of his teen life and twenties in a drug-fueled haze. He appeared in a couple of crappy movies, but he couldn’t hold a regular job because of his addictions to booze and the Bolivian Marching Powder until he landed a gig as a radio personality in the late ‘80s. That didn’t last either (Gasp! Quell surprise!), but his former co-star Cassidy came through and hired him as his opening act in the ‘90s, which was the best thing to ever happen to Danny professionally. After that, he was seen as ‘reformed’ by the media, though his own behavior didn’t do much to keep his image out of the gutter. He married his second wife, Gretchen, on the same day they met, and remarkably, she stood by him for 17 years, despite his constant drinking, drugging, carousing, cheating with other women, and, most notably, getting arrested for assaulting a transvestite
prostitute after soliciting “her” for sex and then discovering that “she” had more up her skirt than he had bargained for. No one can claim Danny isn’t a class act. Low class, but class.

In 2005, fairly desperate for money, Bonaduce and his wife starred in "Breaking Bonaduce," a reality television show on VH1. Cameras followed the volatile personality everywhere for several weeks, capturing his every foul word, threat of violence, bits of parental neglect and abuse, as well as his serious misuse of drugs and alcohol. He didn’t seem to care when the filmmakers recorded him shooting up steroids or gulping down an entire bottle of vodka and then playing in traffic. Apparently he didn’t care if his kids have a father or not. Who knows? Maybe they’d be better off.

So the reason I bring up Danny is because I doubt there is a person out there who would look at him and consider him a role model, someone they’d want to emulate. Well, I suppose there may be a few whacked out gingers somewhere, but most sane people would either call him a complete a-hole or just shake their heads and make a big “L” with their fingers over their foreheads to indicate that they think he is a complete loser. Of course, (I hate to say it, but you know it’s true) this is because he’s white. In our culture, it’s only acceptable to criticize a white man who is a lazy, wife and child abusing, drug-addled, boozing, self-absorbed, lying, cheating, violent and dirty-mouthed jerk. If a black man does the same, he gets a movie made about him and is elevated to sainthood, and you’ll get called a racist for daring to point out that the guy is basically a douchebag.

I’m talking about Notorious B.I.G., a major league rapper who was shot down in a spray of bullets by still unknown assailants on March 8, 1997. The film
Notorious is a told-in-flashback bio-pic of the life and death of Christopher Wallace, aka Biggie Smalls (also known as Notorious B.I.G.). B.I.G., as his friends called him, lived his life very similarly to Bonaduce. But unlike Bonaduce, I’ll grant that B.I.G. was a very talented man, someone who could throw together rhymes in seconds and store them in his head like a computer. The problem is that they were inevitably raunchy and demeaned women, promoted drug use, and spread hate speech. Hate speech, you say?

I don’t mean to bad-mouth hip-hop culture per se, but sitting in the theater and listening to African Americans call one another “The N Word” for the 500th time in less than two hours got to be real old real fast, and I don’t care who says it, black, white, red, brown, or yellow; it is “hate speech” as far as I am concerned because that word was born to demean, and even if you are calling your twin brother one, you are insulting him whether you think so or not. Of course, not to be content to wallow in “The N Word” alone, script writers Reggie Rock Bythewood (Reflections) and first-timer Cheo Hodari Coker also have their main men calling each other “mother-you-can guess-the rest” at least another 300 or so times, until it becomes as repetitive as the beat of the rap music itself. Throw in the tit-tit-titillation of a faux Lil’ Kim (Naturi Naughton, in a revealing debut), wearing as little as possible while still avoiding an NC-17 rating, swinging her pussy around like it is starving for a can of cat food, and you’ve got a mess of nastiness that would make a crack dealer blush.

The deal is, I used to work at a homeless shelter for African Americans with HIV/AIDS, most of whom were real life crack addicts, and a lot also sold themselves on the streets ~ male and female
~ to support their habits. I didn’t judge them then and I don’t now, but I do see such a huge disconnect from the thinking within the community that looks at rap stars like Biggie Smalls, portrayed in Notorious with great charm by debuting Jamal Woolard, as heroes. Because they amass great wealth and can buy whatever they want (including women, drugs, cars, and flashy clothes), these “celebs” achieve iconic status quickly and without seeming to work hard for it, so it is easy to understand why young people would find it appealing. And, let’s face it, it’s got to appear a whole lot hipper than listening to your grandma and a bunch of old church ladies preaching to you to aspire to follow the tenets of Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and those religious leaders who urge young people to get an education and work their way through the established “white” system to make change for all.

Of course, the latter has nothing to do with Notorious, and it is irrelevant to the film itself. This is as much a look at competition as it is about just one man. Biggie Smalls, under the tutelage of Sean “Puffy” Combs (Derek Luke; Definitely Maybe), rises quickly to fame as a creative and original rap artist, and he is signed to Bad Boy Records, an East coast recording studio. As he shoots to fame and wealth he marries songstress Faith Evans (Antonique Smith; Across the Universe), promising her fidelity, but in reality poking away at anything female he can find that will say “yes,” and a lot of girls will say “yes” to a star with a pocketful of cash and a bag of reefer. Somewhere along the road, Suge Knight (Sean Ringgold; tv’s “One Life to Live”), the head of Death Row Records, located in L.A., and his number one artist, Tupac Shakur (Anthony Mackie; Eagle Eye) involve B.I.G. in a national turf war over which coast makes better rap, a stupid gangsta feud that ends up with both men eventually murdered, Shakur at 25 and B.I.G. at 24. While much was (and still is) made about Tupac’s death being a hit arranged for by B.I.G. and B.I.G.’s murder being in retaliation for the Shakur killing, nothing is implied of this in the movie, and when Shakur is mowed down, the filmmakers show B.I.G. as being completely shocked at this turn of events. Uh-huh. Either way, both of these deaths are a total waste.

It’s ironic that I write this as I’m sitting here watching the inauguration of President Obama. What a dichotomy of life amongst African Americans in the past twelve years, not that the life of Christopher Wallace (aka Notorious B.I.G.) as portrayed on-screen is all that different from the lives of millions of people today, but it is truly sad knowing there is yet another generation of young people who still worship a self-described thug like this when they could just as easily strive to achieve the accomplishments of a man as great as Barack Obama.
When is somebody going to make a movie about him?

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