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The enemy of my enemy is my friend. – Arabian proverb

One of the most ballyhooed (at least by the Right anyway) strategies of Barack Obama’s presidency is his use of opposing viewpoints in his cabinet. Bipartisanship is the official name for it, but actually it’s more than that. Bipartisanship is like picking equal ratios of boys and girls to play against each other in kick ball. It’s something that is meant to be fair and inclusive, but in the larger scheme of things it’s unnecessary. Contrasting views can exist in the same party. Rejecting the partisan road, B.O. saw a larger picture.

Employing the frenemies model to our personal life presents similar merits. Having people around us who constantly hold us accountable for our views and actions surely prepares us for any external opposition we’ll face. Every person I know has at least one person in their life who they constantly disagree or verbally spar with; however the appreciation of these characters wane in the midst of temporary enmity.

And hence, the demerits. Who wants to have a hater around, always questioning what you’re doing, how you’re doing it, when you’re doing it and why you’re doing it? This becomes cumbersome and heightens stress levels, which generally makes the frenemy hard to be around. Nobody sets out to have a frenemy. It kind of just happens. Yet, we now have a president who willingly embraces dissenting opinions and paradigms from those in his circle. Certainly what’s good for the country on the macro level can be effective on the interpersonal level, no?

Below are my five favorite frenemies in U.S. (and pop) culture, in reverse order:

5) Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal
Three straight championships is all the proof needed to know that their feud was worth the dramedy. On the basketball court that is. After the two parted ways in an acrimonious ending (to put it mildly), Shaq continued to make no secret of his love towards Kobe, punctuated by the last six words of this chorus. Derriere delectability or not, it was clear that these two brought out the best in each other and the team. On the basketball court that is.

4) Berry Gordy and any artist on Motown circa 1957-1988
Have you read or seen any account of Motown through documentaries and film? Heed. The successes of Hitsville U.S.A. that monopolized the ears and hearts of adolescents and adults alike in the 1960’s and 70’s came with a price. But through the internal drama, the music never suffered, perhaps augmented by the tension. They say the best art comes from pain and suffering.

3) Martin and Pam, Larry and Susie (Tied)
This made the show, hands down. Pam’s “Arsenio Small, Shorty By Nature, Small In The Family “ ribs blended well with Martin’s “I just can’t beweave it!” and Jerome’s “got a new tune” jibes. This relationship was reminiscent to Fred Sanford and Aunt Ester, but where the former featured two aged combatants, the later provided a youthful (more playful) tone that never bordered on the uncomfortable side. Larry and Susie did the same for Curb Your Enthusiasm except their ribbing was more one-sided. It’s no coincidence that scenes were stolen because of these frenemic (don’t bother; I made the word up) relationships, and Tichina Arnold and Susie Essman’s careers were catapulted in the process.

2) Barack Obama and Fox News
Fox News just loves to denigrate Obama and enjoy inordinate ratings because of it. Obama has to grit and bear it and act like it doesn’t bother him because he’s the Pres. Simple as that.

1) Microsoft and Apple
Every one of these examples holds the beauty of close haters, but none make a more salient case for mutual disharmony than Microsoft and Apple. Apple’s contribution to Microsoft’s takeover is well known – Microsoft as a tiny start-up company supplied the BASIC computer language to Apple in 1977. Apple co-founder Steve Jobs was welcomed with open arms by Bill Gates and company in 1984 – Gates dubbed the Macintosh prototype SAND (Steve’s Amazing New Device) and stated happily “that half of our revenue in 1984 will come from the Macintosh”. But how quickly things change. In 1988, Apple sued Microsoft for breaching their copyright deal. In ’96, Jobs’ “the only problem with Microsoft is they just have no taste” statement wasn’t exactly Kumbaya. And most recently, the string of counter advertisements pretty much crystallized to the world what these two iconic organizations think about one another.

Notwithstanding all prior jabs and uppercuts, Microsoft still remains the largest third-party supplier for Mac computers. Neither company reaches the status it holds now without each other. People operate pretty much the same way. The ability to embrace proximate antagonism to achieve a mutually beneficial goal is the best skill one can have. If that route is good enough for ancient Chinese warriors, presidents and television execs, then it may be something that makes a little sense. So in the meantime, consider who your frenemies are, and take them out for drinks. Because you probably found just your key. Iron, after all, does sharpen iron.

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  • Pauleen

    AH…a Martin and Pam, Fred and Aunt Ester AND a Larry David comparison in the same paragraph…I think I went to online media heaven.

  • Another great piece ;o)

  • ceecee

    Iron sharpens iron – very true.