Wednesday, January 14, 2015
Bill Cosby vs. Bill Cosby
Friends, let's have a chat about Bill Cosby.
Recently, I picked up a DVD of 'Bill Cosby: Himself,' and reveled in the old jokes from that 1970's on-stage performance. I used to like hearing from that comedy routine when I was a kid (even though some of the more adult material went over my head). He'd already come a long way from his near-starting point as one of the original cast members of the PBS kids show, 'The Electric Company.' Of course, we all watched his career go on from there, with further comedy skits, Jell-O commercials, appearances with the Muppets, The Cosby Show, and on and on. When his only son died, killed tragically by the perpetrator of an attempted robbery in 1997, I felt certain that a future great leader had been denied all of us. When Bill subsequently started doing tours and talks, donating generously to charities and exhorting young black men to take responsibility for their lives, I was one of his biggest cheerleaders.
What the hell do I do now?
I've previously called him a "giant among men." His image has been on my wall as part of my "wall of mentors" collection of heroes I look up to - one of only five African Americans to have ever graced my home in this way. (The other four are Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., W.E.B. DuBois and Frederick Douglass.)
I must also confess, I have been among those who have made him the butt of jokes lately.
But where should we really stand regarding the man? Under the law, we regard people as innocent until proven guilty. But while that's granted, statutes of limitations prevent us from ever proving things one way or the other. It's frustrating to all concerned, perhaps even Cosby himself. But he IS innocent under the law.
The court of public opinion works a little bit differently.
I like to think I'm a little bit fairer minded than the court of public opinion. Nevertheless, I am overwhelmed by the many women who have come forward, accusing Cosby of rape with no expectation of personal or financial gain. The stories they tell are chillingly similar: A few drinks, a few pills, perhaps something slipped into the drink itself, and then a rape while the poor woman is in her drug-induced stupor.
Because these women have little, if anything, to gain, and quite a bit to lose in some cases, many people believe Bill to be guilty. Somewhat fewer others (in my opinion) believe him to be innocent. Some even say there is a conspiracy to assassinate Bill's character because he tells hard truths to black youth. There is something to be said for not taking the similarity of each woman's story as evidence in and of itself. After all, it's easy to mimic a story once the first one's been told. (That's how all the alien abduction stories evolved into the same tale of oval-eyed greys with large heads.) But even if the stories were made up, there are many other, better targets to choose from than Bill Cosby for character assassination. Neil DeGrasse Tyson, for example. Or President Obama. Also, without a clearly established money trail leading up to these women, any claims about the rape stories being made up are merely conspiracy theories.
On the other hand, drugging a woman and then raping her is the sort of thing that only complete losers do to get laid. Rich and famous men like Cosby simply don't need to cheat in this way. The women come to them! There are plenty of fame-chasing women out there who are willing to sleep with men of wealth and stardom just for the thrill of it, and comedians are nearly as coveted for such sexual trysts as rock stars. There's probably not a single woman who has accused Cosby that the man couldn't have had without any drugs! So why on earth would he do something like that?
I try to envision scenarios how someone with Cosby-level fame and fortune could want to resort to the low-down, dirty tactics usually reserved for ugly and broke men, and to be honest, I can't think of a good one. Could he simply be a sociopath? I doubt that very much. Sociopaths don't have much of a sense of humor. Could he simply be awkward around women when he's off stage? Maybe. But that probably wouldn't affect his ability to get laid, not with his level of fame and fortune. Women like shy-famous guys even better than the cocky-famous ones. Are there just certain women who fancy him so much that, on occasion, he feels he has to eliminate the element of chance so that he can definitely have her? That doesn't make sense to me, either. When you're rich and famous, things come easy to you. Just throw money, and... problem solved! So for men of wealth, the risk inherent with the seduction of beautiful women is an essential part of the appeal. She has to have the ability to get away, or else it's no fun luring her in!
The only possibility that seems to make any sense to me is that, just possibly, way back before he became a household name, Bill drugged up a woman or two in order to have sex with her while she was passed out, and it became an acquired taste. But this is the worst possibility of all. It means that he was like this from the very beginning, possibly even doing things like this as a college freshman. It means he did it repeatedly, very early in his life and career. It may even have been his very first sexual experience. (They say you never forget your first.) If that's true, then all the fame and fortune that happened afterward, happened to someone who was ingrained with this behavior, and kept repeating it all throughout his long life.
I really, really don't want to think that! But it's the only thing that makes any sense in my thought-experiments.
His silence is damning. It's just not how an innocent man would react. Were it me, I would be screaming bloody murder that these women were lying, and be suing them for defamation! But Cosby just sits there and takes it! Letting show after show, contract after contract, be cancelled rather than address the accusations. We know that he was taken to court for this sort of accusation before, and it ended in a plea deal. Could part of that plea deal have been a gag order on one or both parties? Could Cosby make himself vulnerable to another lawsuit if he talks? That's again the only thing that makes any sense to me. After all, throughout his entire life, Cosby has been anything but silent!
Ultimately, it's his comment about how he felt that only the black media would treat him fairly that makes me believe he is guilty. A man who has spoken against racism his whole life suddenly playing the race card? That's an act of desperation if I ever saw one! And a de facto admission of guilt.
(Anybody want a used portrait of Bill Cosby?)
So now what? I really want to make him a pariah, but damn it all, I love him too much! Even if he has been a deplorable rapist ever since his first lay! He has done a lot of good in spite of being a closeted shit. He's done his best to improve the condition of the inner city. He's given generously to charities. He's given young black men the kick in the ass they so badly needed at times - and which the rest of us are too terrified to do.
But mostly, he's made us laugh.
He even made a joke out of the accusations recently. During his (latest?) stage performance, when a woman in the front row got up to leave during one of his recent shows, Bill asked her where she was going. (It's common to include the front row of the audience in the comedy act.) She said she was headed to the bar to get a drink. Bill responded by saying, "You have to be careful when drinking around me."
The audience laughed, and rightly so. It was a clever joke. Cosby, like all good comics, has the ability to poke fun at himself. But some women aren't laughing, and for good reason. They're his victims, and they don't appreciate it.
So how do I square this circle? Can I forgive him? That's out of the question! Can I say that the good he's done washes away the bad? Certainly not! That's just empirically false. Can I at least give him credit for drugging his victims first to spare them the trauma? (I'm sure the damned fool rationalized something like that to himself.) Not a chance! I'm condemning him for rape, not sadism, and rape is rape!
To my mind, there can be only one solution to this situation. From now on, there are TWO Bill Cosbys. The first one is the one we know and love from stage and screen: The clever, witty and nice gentleman, good with kids, loves Jell-O pudding, and can make us laugh at the trials and tribulations of parenthood. The other one is the private monster: The college kid who slipped some girl a little something at his first frat party (my own reenactment, mind you - I have no footage), had sex for the first time with her, and from then on found that sex any other way just didn't have that secretive little thrill for him.
At my age, I know perfectly well I won't ever be a stage performer or television personality. Even if I somehow manage to do that, chances are, Cosby will already be dead before I become so lucky. As such, if Bill and I ever cross paths, I will not be meeting the first version of him. I can never meet the on-stage Cosby. Instead I will only be meeting the second version, the off-stage version, the one who is not only a caught-in-the-act rapist, but won't man up about it or even apologize. I would feel quite awkward around such a guy. Who wouldn't? And it's really quite a shame. The first Cosby sounds so much better.
I would have really loved to have met that man.