Friday, November 28, 2014

The Innocence of Bill Cosby

If you’re under 35 you likely didn’t experience Bill Cosby the way the two generations before you had.  But even if you never heard of the man, all you need to know is that his work in comedy is legendary.  He had one hit TV show after another, wrote best-selling books, did popular commercials on TV for Jello Pudding Pops, and was seen in a positive, family-friendly, father-figure light.  He broke racial barriers on television and racial perceptions in Middle America. With the wake of recent allegations by a slew of women and teenage girls that date back 50 years, accusing him of rape, a new disturbing picture has begun to form.  

This story is bigger than Cosby, whose attempt to re-launch his career at 77 was hit by cancellations from Netflix, Comedy Central, and NBC.  I can’t prove what’s truth or fact but there appears to be a preponderance of evidence that at the very least, he’s a serial cheater and at worst, a rapist and a liar.  The statute of limitations has run out on these cases so no criminal charges will ever be filed. 

Unless a more recent case pops up, he’ll never see a jail unless on a comedy tour.  Popular opinion is the only judge and jury around.  But as I said, this is bigger than Cosby.  The real stories are these:

1. How does someone commit so many crimes and not get caught and punished?  Why is our judicial system a failure?

2. What’s wrong with men who think they can do this?

3. How do we, as fans of the performance art, separate his body of work from the ugly truth about him as a human being?

You can say things like:

·         Well, all of these celebrities feel entitled to do what they want – and others let them get away with it.

·         Who knows if there’s any truth to any of this?

·         If he didn’t get convicted or even charged with a crime, why are we talking about it?

Excuses.  Bullshit.  Warped thinking.  But we need to love Cosby the comedian of the past, not the man.

Let’s just face it.  The human condition is damaged.  Cosby is not as much the exception to the rule as he is the rule.  Society, systemically, behaves badly.  Those who rise to fame, riches, and power often abuse it.  They are risk-takers who are motivated by greed and power, so once they are in a position to abuse others, they do so.

Sure there are clean athletes, honest politicians, and drug-free actors, but scandal after scandal shows us too many people abuse people and resources once they have something to use.

Michael Jackson, child molester
Woody Allen, incestuous child rapist
OJ, killer
Cosby, rapist

You could start a Hall of Fame (or shame) of all the public figures we’ve come to discover committed serious crimes, abused drugs/alcohol, committed adultery/domestic  violence, were abusive parents, or performed some other unethical deed or amoral act.  The ones we know of are just the tip of the iceberg.  Hugh money, corrupt cover-ups, and extortion or bribery have silenced many other stories from coming to light.

Americans react, in typical fashion, in the following way?

First, shock and disbelief.

Second, denial.

Third, start to believe everything bad is true.

Fourth, villainize the person it previously lionized.

Fifth, begin to allow forgiveness and redemption to take hold.

Sixth, a new generation doesn’t know of the past, good or bad, but judges anew on the
present performances of its celebrities.

Seventh, time passes and we forget the harshness of what was exposed to us while new figures experience new scandals, putting the old ones further back in our thinking

Eighth, we come to the conclusion that our celebrities are flawed and we chose which crimes we can stomach, and which heroic performers outweigh their drawbacks.

I would like to say I boycotted losers like Woody Allen, but the truth is, after a pause, I embraced his movies again and appreciate his later work as much as his earlier stuff. He is someone I’d love to meet but someone I’d also like to see in jail.

Michael Jackson bothered me more, but does this mean I don’t think Thriller wasn’t one of the greatest albums ever?  Of course not.

Cosby will always be Fat Albert to me.  I grew up on that show.  Overall, he wasn’t a favorite comedian.  He’s too slow and drawn out when telling a joke.  He was more of a storyteller than a witty one-line guy.  I didn’t watch The Cosby Show but I recognize its success.  None of that will change. His legacy of work speaks for itself.  But he should be disgraced for what he’s done.  He’s a lesson – upon many others – that we never know what lurks behind the stars we glorify.  We can love the performance, but hate the performer.

It puts us in a tough position.  We don’t have a switch in our brain that can erase all the good Cosby had at one time represented, nor can we ignore or water down the criminal picture that has now crystalized.  We need to reconcile the two.  We need to be allowed to laugh at Cosby on TV and to be able to yell at or cry over citizen Cosby.  Should he never perform again?  

He’s doing standup shows across the nation right now.  I don’t see how you could attend a show and applaud the 2014 Cosby version, no matter how much you want to compartmentalize the legend and the letch.  If I met him today I’d want to punch him in the face.  He drugged and raped or took advantage of women, some just 16-year-old girls.  It’s not a joke.

But as time passes, will I boycott watching a rerun of Fat Albert?  Of course not.

This isn’t Russia, where they rename streets based on the political mood of the moment.  I can’t simply erase the good side of Cosby, no matter how monstrous he appears to have been.  But I will mourn his passing – and I will once again remind myself that today’s star is tomorrow’s scandal.

It’s human nature, and something I’ve come to accept.

Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer, Media Connect, the nation’s largest book promoter. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2014

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