The Debate: Taco Bell v. Debbie Gibson

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I can list the handful of writers who have truly inspired me throughout my career in journalism. Steve Buckley. Rick Telander. Steve Rushin. Dick Schaap. Dave Anderson. Mike Freeman. A couple of others. None, however, have had the impact of Greg Orlando, my former co-worker at the University of Delaware student newspaper and one of the best scribes I’ve ever seen.

Greg has worked for a handful of publications, primarily dealing with video games. He conducted the funniest Jason Giambi interview of all time (Question (feeling Giambi’s uniform): Is this thing velvet?), and once wrote an essay, “The Answer Man,” that continues to blow me away. Most important, he’s a good friend, and he’s agreed to contribute to jeffpearlman.com by taking one side in our weekly debate session. Hence, today Greg and I kick things off by contesting an issue of grave consequence: Taco Bell v. Debbie Gibson …

In defense of Taco Bell/By Greg Orlando

Vapid and Banal had a love child, and that child decided her life’s ambition was to create the most uninspired, pre-chewed bubblegum. She was Debbie Gibson, and utterly relentless in her mediocrity. Her musical efforts ensured she’d be swallowed up by the folds of time; a has-been predestined from birth to be a footnote; a “who’s that?” on the Hollywood Squares (but never, ever the center square), number one in your hearts while the iron is hot and number zero once the music died.

It’s no surprise Debbie Gibson never escaped the ’80s. The novelty wore off before the final pressings were made on her first album; she sang of love (blandly), and teenage angst she might have read about in some bleary tome of adolescent fiction. She wrote her own songs, which is remarkable considering the amount of schmaltz they contain, and was marketed as the girl your sons could fingerbang if only they could remain conscious long enough to attend to Gibson’s undergarments. America drank in Gibson, found her lukewarm water, and expelled her from its collective mouth.

Say what you will about Taco Bell, but it is not mediocre. It is a food meant for broken men to shovel into their maws at 3 a.m. while they ponder their shattered lives and cry in the manner of Jim Bakker after his spiritual depantsing. It is a culinary adventure in Manifest Destiny; we as Americans have taken Mexican food and turned it into a Barnum-esque freakshow. Taco Bell is remarkable: There is no flavor to be had, unless you are to readjust your world view to accommodate the notion of “hot” and “crunch” as flavor, and the result is always a lament, and oftentimes Biblical. Eating a Taco Bell taco, you are at once Moses, destined to look upon the promise land and forever denied entrance. You are Lot, and your wife has just become a condiment.

You will eat me, Taco Bell says, and you will remember: You will remember that life is hard, and that one day in the not-too-distant future you will find yourself wearing a sandwich board on the side of the highway shuffling for nickels. I am cheese and meat and the harsh punishment you deserve in the measure you deserve it. I am judgment, swift and severe, for 99 cents or less, served in the dark hours of the night.

I will tell you this, dear reader, I have stood before the box of tacos and realized my own mortality. I have run for the border, and then for the toilet. This is metaphor, of course, but it is also truth.

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In defense of Debbie Gibson/By Jeff Pearlman

The other day, while driving to Scottsdale from Los Angeles, I stopped at a Taco Bell drive-thru.

“I’m so hungry,” I said to the attendee, a young woman with neon acne.

“You must be,” she said, “to be here.”

I laughed. She laughed. Because we both knew the truth—Taco Bell sucks. It’s the bottom rung of fast food grub. Below Kennedy Fried Chicken. Below Arby’s. Even below Burger King—which, I’m quite certain, coats its grilled chicken in the collective mucus membrane of 1,000 flu-ridden gonorrhea sufferers.

Why is Taco Bell so dreadful? I could name 100 reasons without much effort. But I’ll start with one: Its “food” (quotes intended) has no taste. It’s akin to eating a warmed piece of cardboard, without the familiar texture of warmed cardboard. Some refer to Taco Bell as “Mexican food,” as one would (sans humor) refer to Johnny Manziel as an NFL quarterback or Greg Orlando as a man of distinction. It’s ludicrous. Worse than ludicrous. It’s inane.

But you know what’s not inane? The music of Debbie Gibson, who, in her mid-1980s heyday, not only brought us one of the great love songs of all time (“Lost in Your Eyes”), but was elected president of Slovenia, ate two pieces of white bread in less than a minute, protected Steve Balboni in the New York Yankees’ lineup, swam three laps in my pool, beat up Dan Quayle and rendered Tiffany quickly obsolete.

Yes, I will concede, Debbie never had the best voice around, and her lyrics and sentiments are a tad, eh, simplistic. Her dancing, too, was quite dreadful. But the people of Slovenia are rarely wrong.

And Taco Bell, truly, blows.

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