At The End of The Closer: Show Credits, Mixed Messages, and Self-Love through Disco Music
Growing up in a White Sox family, two things were drummed into my brain. The first was that we were a Chicago White Sox household whenever I was invited to a Cubs game, so I should not get too attached to seeing Wrigley Field. The second was that Disco Demolition Night ruined a doubleheader against the Detroit Tigers on July 12, 1979 at Comiskey Park. Disco Demolition Night was an attendance promotion for Comiskey Park run with radio station 97.9 WLUP. Local disc jockey Steve Dahl was running an anti-disco campaign on the rock station at the time. On July 12, 1979, attendees could get into the doubleheader for ninety-eight cents with a disco album, and between the two games, as a symbolic ending of the era of disco music, blew up the albums. The promotion was a success, filling the stadium during a low attendance season. After the explosion of the albums, the crowd stormed onto the field. The police were soon called in, and the White Sox had to forfeit the second game of the doubleheader due to the unplayable conditions of Comiskey Park.
I was just a kid when Disco Demolition Night happened, but Steven Dahl remained one of the top disc jockeys in Chicago, so I often heard about that evening. Growing up, I pieced together first-hand accounts from people who were at the event. How there were records thrown from the stands, chants of “Disco Sucks! Disco Sucks!”, and rushing to stomp on albums around a bonfire on the baseball field. This scene was not the intent of the evening and I would always wonder how it happened because I liked disco music growing up. Disco was bright, colorful, and hopeful during the downtrodden economy of the late seventies. The music and imagery were about moving past, opening doors, and going forward. Even Sesame Street had a disco album. But as I grew older and my circle grew outside of my white suburb’s mindset, I would learn how disco music represented the Queer, Black, and Latin communities as well as the women’s movement. Some critics looked at Disco Demolition Night as an act of bigotry by white males against disco music and its culture. The next year, my kiddie turntable started playing country music such as Alvin &The Chipmunks and John Travolta, and pop culture traded Saturday Night Fever for Urban Cowboy. Disco would go underground to later become house music.
With this context in mind, I found it odd that comedian Dave Chappelle ended his recently released Netflix special The Closer—which is about his issues with the women’s movement and LGTBQ+ community—with the disco anthem “I Will Survive ” (1978) by Gloria Gaynor.
Something to note: I will only be looking at the end credits of The Closer in this essay. As a white male, it is not my place to comment on Dave Chappelle’s act, speak for the trans community, or dissect the jokes made in the Netflix special. Instead, I will follow the best stand-up advice, to “talk about what you know”—which is why I feel that sharing my reaction to the end credits would not be out of place as someone who advocates for mental health awareness and has been an inpatient for suicide prevention.
The climax of the special—right before the credits—is Chappelle talking about knowing a trans woman who died by suicide and how that moment affected him. Then the end credits of The Closer are set to “I Will Survive ” by Gloria Gaynor, gliding over pictures of David Chappelle and celebrities, friends, and family, and ending with a photo of the late Norm McDonald. These credits succeeded in breaking the moment of empathy that I felt Chappelle built by sharing his story about a trans woman dying by suicide. “I Will Survive” has been an anthem for the gay community and the women’s movement. But playing it afterward over the cheerful photographs comes off as tone-deaf. We don’t even see the numbers for a suicide prevention hotline at the end of the special, making the song’s inclusion read like a statement about Chappelle surviving Cancel Culture and taking “I Will Survive” away from women and the gay community in another act of Disco Demolition.
As a person who used to live with suicidal thoughts, I look at the media as someone who has been in crisis and wonder where this industry can better destigmatize people reaching out for their mental health wellbeing or offer a lifeline when addressing the topic of suicide. By asking for help on one day, I am here today and do what I can to raise awareness for suicide prevention. I wish Netflix made available suicide prevention hotline numbers at the end of The Closer (particularly for Trans Lifeline & The Trevor Project, the world’s largest suicide prevention and intervention organization for LGBTQ+ youth). When considering my own experiences with mental health, Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” is about new beginnings, not endings, for me. It’s about moving past the toxic relationships in my real personal life. My no longer letting those past relationships back into my life is something I still work on in therapy today. I work on seeing the patterns and moving past them. An example would be decades ago when I was performing on the stage in comedy theaters. It was back before 9/11 and the internet was only crawling. If you wanted to film something in a club, the video camera wasn’t on your phone. And I am glad there isn’t a running record of myself as that person. At a time before cancel culture, I wished to cancel out this version of me with thoughts of suicide. During this period, I didn’t like myself or realize that I could change my situation, so instead, I struggled to make it through each day before I was finally diagnosed with bipolar depression and got proper medical help. Eventually, I was smart enough to cut off certain people who fed my self-loathing behavior. These people did not realize that I would rather love myself than chase their love of strangers on stage.
It would be over a decade before I got the clinical mental help that I needed but starting to surround myself with other people helped make that happen. Till then, I survived day by day, inning by inning, and made sure I was able to play the second game in my own life’s doubleheader.
There will never be a chance for the White Sox to play that second game against the Tigers in 1979. And The Closer has aired so those credits won’t change. But there are opportunities to learn from the past, move on and evolve. “I Will Survive ” is my anthem for self-love. For me, it is about being in the moment and loving who I am for who I am and not what I need or who I want to surround myself with. Self-Love is not about treating yourself or narcissism but focusing on one’s own self. It is not about building a social media photo wall to keep up with others but knocking past all the walls to stand present with my current energy and light. In that sense, I see the empowerment power of disco. And like disco becoming House Music, I personally find myself moving past the stigma of my seventies upbringing and working to destigmatize mental health awareness. The past is just the previous track on the album of my life leading into the next groove.
For those reading this article in need of assistance for Suicide Prevention, below please find the following hotline numbers :
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255
- Trans Lifeline: 877-565-8860
- Trevor Lifeline: 866-488-7386