- May 3, 2018 in Columnists
Stop blaming everyone but Bill Cosby
I grew up listening to Bill Cosby comedy albums. I can’t even count how many times my brothers and I listened to Noah, Revenge, the Water Bottle and Fat Albert (Buck, Buck.) We used to watch the Saturday morning cartoon, Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids.
Yes, I watched “The Cosby Show” and “A Different World” and I agree that Bill Cosby was an American icon.
When Andrea Constand sued him for damages claiming sexual assault in 2005 and a dozen other women came forward I wondered why it wasn’t bigger news. Maybe it was just too shocking a leap for everyone. It would be like finding out Mr. Rogers was a pedophile. Who’d want to believe someone with such a wholesome image could be so vile behind closed doors?
But despite the moniker of “America’s dad” and all the good memories we may have of William Henry Cosby, we never knew him. It certainly feels like we knew him. But we knew his act. We knew his performances. Just like Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, Louis CK and others, we knew what he wanted us to know about him.
Other than the horrible fact of the crimes themselves, one of the tragic things is that among many comedians and Hollywood players, Cosby’s behavior was known. If not his drugging of women it was known that he was a sexually aggressive abuser of women. Director Judd Apatow claims that Cosby’s behavior towards women was known in the industry even during the height of “The Cosby Show.” He relates a story of a relative who worked on a show where Cosby was a guest star. She was warned to stay away from him.
Coming to terms with the reality of an icon like this is hard. We don’t know this side of Bill Cosby. We don’t want to say goodbye to the person we thought he was. It’s hard to listen to those old albums now or watch old episodes of the Cosby Show without thinking of the predator who lurked behind the laughs.
But we should resist conspiracy theories. There’s no evidence of a 62 woman conspiracy to ruin Cosby’s legacy. The women have been met with accusations that they’re liars and gold diggers. For the vast majority of the women who have come forward there is no recourse. The statute of limitations has passed so it can’t be argued that they’re after Cosby’s $400 million fortune.
There’s no evidence that a cabal decided to take down a powerful black entertainer. There’s no evidence of some nefarious retaliation for Cosby trying to buy NBC in the 90’s. And it’s odd that the man who lectured blacks about blaming discrimination for their problems has a publicist now calling the trial a “public lynching” and actually compared Cosby to Emmett Till.
There is genuine racial injustice in America. And I’d rather spend my energy standing up for those victims of hate crimes, police brutality, job and housing discrimination, than a millionaire black celebrity who finds his blackness only when his liberty is threatened.
If Cosby had a single accuser then I could buy that she may have an ulterior motive. But here we have 62 woman, both white and black, describing similar scenarios. We have women who told people about their assaults at the time they occurred. We have a deposition from Bill Cosby where he admitted he obtained Quaaludes to give to women to have sex. When asked if he’d ever given women Quaaludes without their knowledge his lawyer told him not to answer that question. We know that he paid $3 million to Andrea Constand to settle her civil case.
Before writing this I listened to some of the old Cosby bits. And I still laughed. It’s a striking bit of cognitive dissonance to enjoy someone’s art but loathe the artist. “The Pianist” is one of my favorite movies even though it was directed by Roman Polanski, a man who raped children. Even though Harvey Weinstein is alleged to be a sexual predator people will continue to enjoy the 328 films he’s produced.
It’s an ignoble end for a trailblazing life. But if we’re going to blame anyone it’s not the women, the prosecutors, the media or any other boogeyman’s fault. Blame William Henry Cosby Jr. He preyed on women while at the same time he seduced an adoring public. He’s hurt people. Devastated them. Altered their lives. And for those of us who enjoyed his talent, his public image and his philanthropic work he’s cheated us out of an icon and positive role model. That’s a damn shame.