I wasn’t going to throw my hat into this ring, but the Bill Cosby cluster currently in the news is messing with my nostalgic head.
I’m 37 years old … I mention that because, as a young Gen Xer, I was a spectator during what were arguably Cosby’s most active years. We played Picture Pages together first, then I spent a few years imitating Fat Albert’s signature Hey, Hey, Hey greeting.
When The Cosby Show first aired, I was too young to stay up and watch it, so I would creep out of bed and crouch on the stairs where I could see the TV through a small window in the kitchen. When I did graduate to an 8:30 bedtime, I’d watch in my parents room, sitting on the floor with my knees tucked under my chin. I got a special treat once, being allowed to watch his comedy special Bill Cosby: Himself with my parents and cousins… I didn’t understand all of the jokes, but his impressions of his wife breathing through labor and after Novocaine at the dentist had me in hysterics. And even after a first taste proved I didn’t really like them, I still asked my mum for Jell-o Pudding Pops every week.
Cosby’s influence continued into my pre-teen years with A Different World, a spin-off that took place at the fictional Hillman College. In thinking about it today, I realized that the show might not be why I went to college, but it was one reason why I was excited about the prospect from middle school right on up to graduation.
I don’t know if the allegations we’re hearing now are true, or if some are true and some are false, or if Cosby’s silence is an attempt at refusing to dignify lies or avoiding an admission of guilt. Some of the stories we’re hearing have a disturbingly true ring to them, others don’t.
What’s most notable to me, though, is any other public figure from my past probably wouldn’t have me thinking about it so much. If we were hearing about Ron Howard, John Cusak, or another champion of the eighties, I’d probably absorb the headline and wait to see how the story panned out. This one just has me feeling alternately sick and sad. If Cliff Huxtable is an inescapable sod, how will we be able to rein in our cynicism and suspicion of others moving forward? Is this the tipping point at which we enter a world where every celebrity, role model, or influential figure is viewed with a raised eyebrow?
Moreover, will every explosive accusation from now on be analyzed to death by a slew of talking heads who pore over every clip, every interview, and every article looking for something inflammatory, whether it’s the truth or not? Yes, we see this kind of ‘reporting’ already, but the Cosby Circus really has me ruminating on what our media coverage is turning into. In my eyes, the women coming forward are being turned into a side show. If they are telling the truth, that’s another assault on them. If they — or some of them — are lying, they’re positioning themselves as the next permutation of low-rent reality TV. We’re in a world now where a CNN anchor has been given a platform to tell women they should just bite the penis of the man forcing them to perform oral sex. I won’t even get started on how ludicrous that is, but what’s next — a demonstration?
For decades, Bill Cosby has been synonymous with World’s Greatest Dad. I used to put him up on a shelf with the best dads I knew, including my own. I can’t do that anymore, whether it’s the result of his own actions or those of damaging stories spinning out of control. It’s getting too hard to tell… and we need to change the channel. Quick.