Some time around high school, I realized that I’ve never liked anyone who tried to make me like them. Someone who is so insistent that they’re likeable that it gets heavy handed and inauthentic and tactical. The type of person who turns on you when they realize you’re not buying into their bullshit.
Some time around college is when I started to feel this way about Bill Cosby.
We all love(d) The Cosby Show and there have been lots of #CosbyThinkPieces written that elucidate how important the sitcom was in terms of getting Black faces on prime time and helping White folks feel more at ease. Ain’t a brown skinned girl alive who hasn’t had someone tell her she looks like Rudy in her baby pictures. And the entire Urban Outfitters franchise and the pilgrims of urban music summer festivals are forever indebted to the iconography of Lisa Bonet, the original blipster.
But there’s something weird about Bill Cosby and his commitment to perfection, his scripting of the perfect family, the way he proudly wears the insignia of academic distinction during commencement ceremonies and on his collegiate sweats. Cosby, a child of Philadelphia’s Germantown neighborhood, criticizes working poor Black Americans, and says little of his own history as a college drop out and diploma-equivalency student – albeit a talented one.
Talent has been the saving grace of many a man who fell short. See also: Woody Allen, Robert Sylvester Kelly and Kobe Bryant, just to name a few. There is a simple system of checks and balances we make as a culture: The human sin can be overlooked if the art he creates is God’s work.
For many of us, it’s hard to see where Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable ends and Cosby begins, despite how accessible the sordid details of his sexual improprieties have been throughout his career. Whether or not you believe the latest in the series of sex-related scandals (including the $100,000 in hush money he paid to Shawn Upshaw to keep their affair under wraps), there’s something disturbing about his need to be perfect – and for all of us to be respectable, too.
It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable and William H. Cosby are not one in the same; the Cosby brand has grown almost entirely around the idea of responsibility pragmatism, and fatherhood. It’s not so much that sex corrupts or endangers him – greater legacies have been squandered for less – but its lurid, and often criminal nature according to the complaints against him. A closer reading reveals that it’s not so much that Cosby is infallible, it’s that he uses his money and influence to hide his real problems.
Cosby’s got an issue with mess. Especially the kind you can see.
In the last 10 years, Cosby’s legacy as a race-man has been fluxed with a more staunch conservatism that has been joked about as a type of senior moment senility that makes it easy to forget how complicated Cosby really is. With reports for Cosby to come back to NBC, it’s worth thinking more about the man known as America’s Dad and the allegations against him, even if the picture isn’t a perfect one.