You Millennials - may I call you Millies? You Millies are so much more enlightened than previous demographics, and it’s so heartening to see a generation raise the pop culture consciousness in the way that you have. With that enlightenment, though, comes a new level of sensitivity, and when we tiptoe around strong words and people’s feelings, when this offense-aversion mindset manifests as things like approved non-oppressive insult lists, and anti-ableism think pieces, and whatever else you’re on about this week, we end up with some interesting cultural side effects.
Case in point: the “shocking” Sacramento morning show interview with Cara Delevingne that’s being passed around today with adjectives like “awkward” and “cringe-inducing” attached to it. (I could link it, but in an empty gesture of moral superiority, I won't.) I have no real comment about how Miss Delevingne opted to deal with amateurish, dull and eventually nasty questions from two empty-eyed mannequins languishing in the 20th-ranked television market in America. But the internet outrage over Miss Delevigne’s rather chill candor has caused me to shake my head and chuckle softly to myself, like a wizened old pappy havin’ a sit on my Southern porch, muttering about how you sensitive, enlightened kids don’t know what it was LIKE in my day!
To that end, here’s what it was like in my day.
Here’s James Brown live on CNN in 1988, out of his mind on something and avoiding (via song) questions about terrorizing his wife. Sonya Friedman tries her best to steer The Godfather Of Soul back on track, but he’s having none of it. Surely we can agree that Miss Delevigne’s eye rolls don’t quite reach these heights.
The Sex Pistols' December 1976 appearance on Thames TV's Today with Bill Grundy seems absolutely tame today, especially in light of, say, every interview John Lydon's done since. But in 1976, headlines were made by the event. Grundy, something of a drunken provocateur himself, was keen to have the punk band on his show, and when the shy band members were halting and reticent after getting smashed backstage, Grundy goaded them into acting out. They complied, with Steve Jones joining in after Grundy hits on platinum-haired Siouxsie Sioux.
This interview segment between Tom Selleck and Rosie O’Donnell, conducted a month after the 1999 massacre in Columbine, gets hot pretty quickly as O’Donnell puts Selleck’s feet to the fire over his association with the NRA. Both sides handle themselves more or less courteously, but it’s clearly an unplanned and uncomfortable discussion, and it’s a bit of a surprise for viewers who might only recall Rosie O’Donnell’s talk show as a bit of empty fluff. Real awkwardness, about real issues!
When things went south for Mel Gibson in 2010, this interview got a lot of airplay. And justifiably so - it’s awkward while still being hilarious. But Gibson did a lot of interviews that year, and the clip we present here goes past cringe-worthy straight into chilling. It’s partly a trainwreck due to how cheerfully vacuous Gibson’s interviewer is as he opens the can of worms, but the steely turn Gibson takes as he delivers his little spiel at the 57 second mark makes this one an all-timer.
Lastly, here is Richard Pryor on a coke-fueled tirade from the set of Stir Crazy. Some sources claim this interview was for a high school’s public access channel; certainly we hope that’s the case, but I can’t find solid confirmation of that. What’s undeniable is the discomfort of the hapless interviewer as he bears witness to what at times feels like Pryor hitting spiritual rock bottom. Twitchy and irritable, Pryor goes off on Wilder, America, gays and Jews. (Nothing but kind words for Steve Martin, though.) Watch for shit to get self-loathingly real at 3:50, where Pryor notes “they’re payin’ me two million dollars to do this movie. Do you believe it? My grandmother didn’t make that (in) all her life, and she was a better woman than you are a man.” The moment feels as if Pryor, slipping in and out of lucidity, is talking to himself. The interview obviously never aired, but has been circulating on VHS bootlegs since before the internet. (You can read a great, detailed essay on this infamous interview here.)
Sorry for the misleading header image; you'll have to look up R. Budd Dwyer's press conference on your own. Paper Towns is now playing in theaters. Break a leg, Cara!