A talented comedian can find humor in tragedy. So maybe, just maybe, this post won’t be a labored slog into a rape case. Maybe the legacy of Bill Cosby should be defended, and I can accomplish that with my typical mix of empathy and sarcasm. Maybe.
Unfortunately, I’m no comedian. This post will be laborious, the Cosby legacy deserves some reconsideration, and “sarcastic empathy” makes no goddamn sense. I have no idea where I’m going with this, so let’s just spin into darkness together, wanton and bewildered.
Because I might be defending a serial rapist.
For the uninitiated/willfully naive, here’s a brief rundown. A woman named Andrea Constand accused Cosby of battery and sexual assault in 2005. The lawsuit mentioned 13 Jane Does, all with similar stories of sexual misconduct. Cosby settled out of court, with no admission of guilt. Done, except not. Few things are that simple.
Now, the Jane Does are telling their stories. This prompted more women to come forward, more discussion online, more jokes from comedians, and fewer Cosby Show reruns. As accusations pile, Mr. Cosby has been stonewalling journalists. A perfect shitstorm of drama and controversy.
I remind you, these are alleged acts, and I’m not prepared to deem Bill Cosby innocent or guilty. Far smarter people are going to hash that out. But if you want more info, here are some horrifying Newsweek articles.
More, weirder info? Here’s a video of Cosby gibber-stuttering around journalist inquiries.
But whether or not he’s guilty, I have a problem with these allegations. Well, a lot of problems. It’s a rape case. No amount of funky sweaters or pudding pops can make that less disturbing. But I have problems beyond the natural response to forced sex.
In my research, I found many comments yearning for ignorance. People who “wouldn’t tell their parents,” who were “raised with Bill Cosby and refuse to imagine him as a criminal.” Many possess a yearning to retain his legacy, as it were. To them, Bill Cosby is somehow “too good to be remembered this way.” “I’ll just ignore all this til it blows over,” wrote one individual.
Frankly, it’s disgusting.
Maybe I can’t understand. After all, I have no childhood memories of The Cosby Show. I was raised on Nintendo, The Simpsons and Homeward Bound, none of which star real people I’d recognize. Mario wasn’t a personal father figure (phew), Bart Simpson wasn’t a role model and Sassy the Cat didn’t commit crimes in the years after her Incredible Journey.
But no matter what, putting someone on a pedestal is grossly unfair. It’s what children do while still young and stupid, before they find out their parents are actual people with flaws and downfalls.
No one deserves the infallible label, because no one can live up to that.
It’s this willful naiveté that I find disturbing. Maybe these allegations are false, and this has become a witch hunt. Maybe the women are finding mild celebrity in this (most are not seeking financial compensation, so that dose of victim shaming can be disregarded). The Cosby scandal could dissipate and leave us with halcyon reruns.
But imagine these allegations are true, and we resign to willful ignorance. So what then, possible rape cannot be addressed because we like the guy? Ooh, he’s silly, he couldn’t have done this? Sins are impossible because he’s funny?
What kind of message does that send?
Imagine the trouble respected celebrities could get into with that kind of immunity and non-accountability. Bill Cosby doesn’t deserve that. No person alive deserves that, because no person can retain humanity under those circumstances.
But in equal measure, we shouldn’t rush to demonize.
According to this Huffington Post article, Raven-Symone had to refute rumors that Cosby molested her while she was on his show. If you recall, she was practically a baby. And adding “pedophile” to a list of possible wrong-doings should only be done with prudence and careful restraint, not haphazard rumor milling.
But that’s what we’ve become. We either deify or demonize, and see no area or possibility for gray. Gray isn’t bold and simple like black or white, but most of the world possesses that shade. We should probably grow up and get used to it.
Granted, careful consideration is hard. This Cracked article addresses why it’s easy to ignore the allegations, and this Boston.com article talks about the difficultly of separating Bill Cosby from his beloved TV character. It’s hard. But we can’t ignore the truth simply because we need The Cosby Show. It’s not fair to anyone, including Bill Cosby.
And eventually, maybe we can separate Dr. Huxtable from his portrayer. One day, The Cosby Show can start to recover. But no amount of fondness is worth denying the possibility of serial rape. Once The Cosby Show‘s back… just, um, ignore Dr. Huxtable’s profession.
Hell, if nothing else just watch it for Clair.
Does putting Phylicia Rashād on a pedestal make me a hypocrite? Perhaps. But I mean dayum.