Ed.: 042818 – Words: 1484 – Audio: N/A
I am asking you, the reader, especially female readers, to try and separate the emotion, the #MeToo, and the appalling treatment of women by those we once respected and held prominent in our lives… to explore a bit how Cosby’s betrayal also went beyond his disrespect for women.
Once the verdict was handed out in the courtroom, the release of emotions by those who were Cosby’s victims was more than understandable; they were vindicated and justice was served. There may even be more victims coming forth in the future, suggesting Cosby’s past alleged crimes against women was pretty widespread. The man is now a convicted felon, proving the validity of the charges of his accusers, who themselves will still go through their lives with the trauma of their experiences, but having some legal vindication. We.. the rest of society… are left with two questions. What happens to us who were not his victims… and, is it even important?
Cosby’s popularity rose to prominence for the Baby Boomer generation…. overlapping a bit in the early Millennial generation with “The Cosby Show”. I seldom watched a complete episode of “The Cosby Show” primarily because I just couldn’t wrap myself around what I perceived at the time as being a “upper middle class black family with white family issues”; while I could easily acknowledge that at the time period of the show (1984-1992) that there were in fact, in real life, dual professionally successful black parents, but that they were likely rare.. then why have a sitcom not being culturally identifiable? Now, very likely there are other folks who thought the show was some cutting-edge of black American family identity. After all, it was popular and it worked for many folks. Was my cultural bias showing through at the time? I was never racist.. but I will accept I had some bias simply because I had absolutely no point of reference in my world at the time to suggest otherwise.
I first encountered Cosby during the early 1960’s and into the early 1970’s. Comedy record albums were popular in those days… comedian David Frye did a great Nixon, there was George Carlin, of course… a guy named Vaughn Meader did a hugely popular comedy album called “The First Family”, in 1962… about the Kennedys. In 1963 Cosby came out with “Bill Cosby Is A Very Funny Fellow…. Right!” (the title was a spin of his comedy routine where he would end a joke with “…RIGHT!”). I recall laughing all over the floor in our living room to his rendition of Noah talking to God just before the Great Flood. (HERE)
“Cos”, or, “The Cos”, as he became known to the world back then, was a standup comic and did all the current variety shows of the day.. then in 1965-1968 did the dramatic spy-theme TV show, “I Spy”, with Robert Culp. In the 70’s he still did standup and introduced in his routines characters from his neighborhood… “Mushmouth”, “Weird Harold”, and the famous “Fat Albert” (who would always show up saying, “Hey, Hey, Hey… I’m Fat Albert!”). These characters spun off to a children’s TV animation, “Fat Albert & The Cosby Kids”.
In the late 70’s I caught his standup at a local playhouse in Chicago. In fact, it wasn’t long after my attending a Don Rickles show a few weeks earlier at the same place. Contrary to a Rickles show, Cosby never uttered profanity in his routines. I was doing real LOL’s when he did his rendition of a visit to the dentist office and working through the effects of Novocain.. along with his most popular “Noah” routine from the album 15 years earlier.
Going into the 80’s and 90’s his doctorate in education, his philanthropy, and causes for African-American families became his hallmark. He also became a regular guest on The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson… and even had his own TV show.. “The Bill Cosby Show”, for a couple years. A speaker, honorary degrees from many institutions… outspoken about family life. In the early 2000’s he became outspoken on the improvements needed in black parenting.. the famous “Pound Cake” speech of 2004 is an example.
So what’s my whole point going down memory lane here about convicted felon Bill Cosby? He was a social participant in my life. As a kid I respected his comedy and acting. As an adult I respected his dedication to family, some of his political views, and certainly a perspective that African-Americans need to help themselves more, and black parents need to change their educational priorities. He was not afraid to include a level of black responsibility for their own economic and educational plight, as unpopular as that was with black civil rights organizations. He also had a run of family tragedy, placing him as being susceptible to fate regardless of monetary success.
So… what do I do with all that? It’s common with public opinion to want to erase a person’s accomplishments if they fall from the grace the public has bestowed on them. “The Cos” got convicted of rape.. and there’s likely more to come. Now we have to shun him.. turn him into a social outcast… make him into a “non-person” by tearing down the monuments to him and erasing all history and influence and popularity he has ever had in our society. The colleges and universities have or will have rescinded their honorariums and titles. There’s been some mumblings about his charity work and financial donations from decades ago being returned to him in order to place distance from being associated with his identity. Collectively we are forcing ourselves into not appreciating all he has done and all he has contributed in his entire career. His rape conviction means everything else he has done doesn’t count… shouldn’t count. We’ve reached the point of the old adage… separating the art from the artist.
Here’s the absolute truth… you can’t erase how any person has affected our own personal development. More sadly is that Cosby’s victims cannot erase the effects of what he did to them either. Yet the truth remains that his career accomplishments were substantial and a complete credit to his talent, charity, and compassion for youth development… in and outside the home. No question he betrayed a public trust to us all with his crimes. But there’s no denying the good to society he’s done either.
On the other hand.. “looking the other way” for some greater expediency is not uncommon in our land of bounty and freedom. One glaring example in my own book of cultural absurdities-turned-positive is the science fellow, Werner Von Braun. A full-fledged registered authentic Hitlerian Nazi from WW2, a former SS officer who developed at least two terror weapons of mass destruction, the V1 and the V2 rockets, that clobbered London and terrorized, injured and killed thousands of non-combatants. He and a few fellow scientists avoided capture by the Soviets by surrendering to the Allies.. and then avoided the Nuremberg war crime trials by striking a deal with the Americans to continue development.. that ultimately became our venerable Kennedy-let’s-go-to-the-moon space program.. and in turn ended up promoted to director of one of the NASA facilities. Now.. this little history lesson is meant only to illustrate that shunning celebrities and famous folks who have contributed a positive career, then being convicted of a major felony, is not necessarily some traditional norm here in America. We, the public, are a finicky bunch. In the history books Von Braun is looked upon as the father of the American space program… not a former Nazi SS officer who led the German rocket program in developing weapons of mass destruction, that killed many thousands, by using Jewish forced labor in factories in which many perished in the process.
But nonetheless as the years progress Cosby’s name of course will not be anymore identified with his accomplishments. As us Boomers die off and the early Millennials age, Cosby’s name will fade as a result of his crimes and those who were affected by his true accomplishments to society will be gone. Perhaps that is the true outcome to all this; knowledge of his good legacy will have vanished forever into the fog of historical criminal infamy… as it likely should. But the lesson here is not just “oh we sent a rapist criminal into the slammer where he belongs for the rest of his natural life; the bastard!”. That part just satisfies the justice system. The lesson is how we handle the legacy of accomplishments of such people who actually did some good.. before they did the bad… or in the case of Cosby.. doing his “good” while he was doing the “bad”.
He gets to appeal. His story is not yet over. But there’s no question he’s already been judged by the public… and that will affect his legacy however this all turns out.