Tuesday, February 12, 2002

PULFER: Losing Cosby

Do we need celebrity approval?

By Laura Pulfer
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        So, Bob Dole sells Viagra. Michael Jordan sells shoes. Halle Berry and Britney Spears sell cola. Fergie and Monica sell skinny. Johnny Bench sells banking services. Jim Scott sells windows.

        Marketers apparently believe we'll buy anything from a star, even something completely unrelated to the famous person's area of expertise. Ken Lay selling offshore piggy banks. Or Greta Van Susteren flogging the services of a cosmetic surgeon. That makes sense. But why would we look to Anthony Munoz for advice on furniture? Why would we care how Terry Bradshaw receives his telephone calls?

O.J.'s imperfect pitch

               And how about O.J. Simpson, appearing next month to promote “healing” in Over-the-Rhine? Promoting Ginsu knives or Bruno Magli shoes maybe. But as a peace ambassador? Is there anyone so besotted by celebrity that he is able to repeat this with a straight face? Not counting Anthony Pierre of Mactone Investments, who is selling tickets to a hip-hop concert at Music Hall where O.J. will tell jokes and toss autographed footballs to the audience. And promote healing, of course.

        Hey, O.J., didn't you get that letter from the Coalition for a Just (and Empty) Cincinnati about boycotting this city? I'll be happy to send you a copy.

        Bill Cosby, of course, did receive a copy of the letter and decided to cancel two concerts here, saying he feels “uncomfortable” performing in the city's racially charged environment. Last June, Mr. Cosby talked to the graduating class of the University of Cincinnati about the April riots and condemned violence on all sides. He challenged the audience of 13,000. “I want you all to do something about this city of Cincinnati,” he said.

The singer and the poet

               And in the ensuing months, people as diverse as WDBZ talk show host Lincoln Ware and Cincinnati Police Chief Tom Streicher have talked publicly. Together. Republican City Councilman Pat DeWine and Democrat Alicia Reece worked together on their New Economy Project to recruit high-tech companies. Leaders of the Progressive National Baptist Convention worked with Mayor Charlie Luken.

        Harry Belafonte came to town in November for a two-day Urban Peace & Freedom Summit, hosted by the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. Then the singer walked the streets of Over-the-Rhine, talking and listening. Poet Nikki Giovanni, who has impeccable civil rights credentials, came here to speak Feb. 2 and will be back here Feb. 22 for a poetry reading at the University of Cincinnati.

        Famous personalities are different from actors who simply read a script gushing about beer and clothes and pharmaceuticals. We listen to celebrities a little more closely because we trust them, sort of. Even though we know better, it sounds like a personal recommendation to those of us in the cheap seats.

        Bill Cosby doesn't have anything more to say to us, won't be keeping his date with the Aronoff. This is not good for our city. Because he is famous, the news was picked up by wire services all over the country and stories appeared in British and Canadian papers. Just as the coalition knew that it would be. And just as Mr. Cosby himself must have known it would. But Nikki Giovanni and Harry Belafonte are still talking to us.

        That's the difference between using your name and using your voice.

       E-mail Laura at lpulfer@enquirer.com or call 768-8393.


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