I am disgusted and repulsed and disappointed and furious and heartbroken over the news about Bill Cosby allegedly assaulting and/or raping the women who have come forward thus far.
At the time of my writing, there are 16. SIXTEEN.
But you know what? I’m more disgusted with the reason why I feel this way. I don’t know Bill Cosby. And yet, I feel let down. Betrayed, even. Ridiculous, isn’t it?
So what disgusts me? Well, I’m disgusted by the fact that we hold celebrities to such an appallingly high standard, that when they do something wrong we sink immediately into the pool of denial and turn our heads the other way. What is it about the celebrity (and I’m using the term as if I’m peering through a glass window at a rare and precious creature) that makes us lose ourselves? That makes us swoon? That makes us ignore any inkling of wrong-doing, any hint of moral decay, and dismiss it in much the same way we walk past homeless people: quickly and uncomfortably.
Um, Woody Allen, anyone?
Note: I am including myself in the collective “we” and “us.”
Like most people my age, I feel like I grew up with Bill Cosby. I first remember hearing his comedy routine when it was on HBO back when HBO was new. It seemed to be on an endless loop. I heard the routine about “Dad is great…he gives us chocolate cake.” And the one about his wife having their first child and the doctor at the end of the delivery room bed “looking like Johnny Bench with his catcher’s mitt on.” I watched as he entranced his audience and drew them into his conversation. He was a master storyteller. I was smitten.
And I learned something: You don’t always have to be crass to be funny.
I laughed a lot while watching him. In fact, it was around the time of his HBO special that comedians like Eddie Murphy and Andrew Dice Clay were making headlines. Their use of profanity was a stark contrast from the G-rated topics Mr. Cosby discussed. And so I learned to value and appreciate his talent. He was able to make things funny, without the crutch of the f-word. I would later admire this same quality in Ellen DeGeneres and Jimmy Fallon, both of whom (I believe) have perfected comedy and turned it into an art form.
And of course, all through the 80s I watched the changing sweaters and college sweatshirts of America’s favorite father on The Cosby Show. It was a weekly ritual in our home, as it probably was in your home, too. My parents, my sister and I would sit down each Thursday night and laugh with Theo, dance with Rudy, and shudder when Clair prepared to lecture one of the kids. It was a fabulous show and it was while watching that show that I, and the rest of America, were introduced to an upper class black family with two professional, working parents. They had African art in their home. They listened to jazz music and they even met legendary jazz musicians. Remember when Dizzie Gillespie was on the show and he did that thing with his cheeks? Amazing. I grew up in the whitest white town in all of America and so, sadly, The Cosby Show was my only glimpse inside the lives of black people. His show opened my teenage eyes and showed me a family that was different from mine in so many ways, but very much the same as mine when it came to the basics: love, family, kindness, sibling rivalry, respecting your elders, education.
And I learned something: No matter the skin color (or religious belief, or nationality, etc.), families struggle with and celebrate many of the same things. Just under a different roof.
I didn’t know then that he had been the first black man to hold a starring role in a TV show, long before the Cosby Show. But when I learned that fact, it made me appreciate him even more.
And so I held him in high regard just like everybody else did.
Even when, in recent years, he started to speak out against what he believed to be the problems with black youth in America, he had my unwavering support. Oh sure, I didn’t agree with everything he said, but I don’t know that I’m qualified to pass my opinions about the same things in the same way. In truth, I thought his approach to be a bit aggressive. But I still admired his wisdom and I attributed his forceful approach to his history and his accomplishments and yes even his celebrity status. He must know what he’s talking about…he’s a celebrity.
I don’t remember hearing the voices of some of these women who have made these claims in the past. Perhaps I wasn’t paying attention. Or perhaps the celebrity-obsessed media just drowned out their voices long enough so that I was distracted. I do, however, recall hearing about the woman with whom he fathered a child. I recall talk of an affair, and I know money was exchanged.
And still, my image of him as America’s father never wavered.
And then one woman spoke up, again.
And then another.
And there were voices immediately trying to discredit these women. More appalling, instead of trying to seek justice and the truth, these voices are now blaming the victim. None of us knows the truth in this matter. But what is quite clear is that the statute of limitations has long-passed for any trial to occur. Also, none of these women is seeking any kind of financial settlement. So why then would any woman put herself in such a vulnerable and painful position? Why come forward? Why now?
Because the truth matters.
I suppose it would be different if there was only woman in this saga. One woman accusing one man. Classic he said/she said. Might be a bit more difficult to dissect and arrive at some judgment. Yes he did it. No he didn’t. But it’s not that difficult. At least not for me.
These women don’t know one another.
They aren’t conspiring to bring down the jell-o pudding guy.
Their scars run deep.
Their truth has to be told. And so they’re telling it.
At the risk of sounding as though I’m trivializing this whole thing (which is not my intent at all), it made me remember a line from another favorite show of mine: The Golden Girls. (Oh god please don’t write me off just yet. Hear me out). The episode shows one of the women dating a man who is permanently disabled. He is in a wheelchair. At first, she’s unsure but then she softens a bit and decides to cut him a break. Show mercy on him. Go on a date, be nice to him – after all he is in a wheelchair. She walks on eggshells around him, assuming he must be frail and fragile and kind-hearted and worthy of her pity.
She finds out later that he’s married and he’s cheating on his wife with her.
She says to him (as she dumps him), “You know, it never occurred to me you could be a jerk in a wheelchair.”
Ladies and gentleman, Bill Cosby is a jerk.
And whether these women are telling the truth or not (and for the love of all that is good and decent OF COURSE THEY ARE TELLING THE TRUTH), is irrelevant to the bigger picture.
We are the fools. We feed the celebrity machine. It is our fault these women weren’t heard in the first place. Not because of who they are or what happened to them – but because they never stood a chance.
We were all clouded by the magnanimity being a celebrity brings with it.
We were too blind to see.
It simply never occurred to us that Bill Cosby could be a jerk.