The Cosby Question

By: S. Davis

Recently while on Hollywood Boulevard, a woman passed by with her family and I overheard her say that she stomped on Bill Cosby’s star. From there she glanced at me and I shook my head in agreement and said, “You’re right.”

How will his most culturally relevant contribution – the original Cosby Show on NBC –be viewed in light of his heinous actions?

Growing up, my siblings and I weren’t allowed to eat dinner anywhere else other than the dinner table aside from two exceptions: Most Saturday evenings when my mother refrained from cooking and told us to raid the refrigerator – and Thursday nights when The Cosby Show and A Different World were the in the 8pm-9pm time slot. Leaving the table with a plate full of food on any other night was an easy way to get slapped in the head.

To this very day I consider the show to be an absolute treasure, especially being that it highlighted that the family structure in America doesn’t have to be white to be a successful, hard-working and a loving unit. My mother liked a lot of people in the entertainment business but she always spoke of Cosby in a way that even as kids we knew that he was a seminal figure to her. Over the years I understood his impact and how he was helping shape the narrative that minorities could be more than what the majority of society thinks they can or should be. I loved all the actors on the show and at some point in time I had serious crushes on all the daughters in the cast.

I’m not one for hyperbolic statements but there is no disputing that Cosby helped save NBC and put it on the path of being the Thursday night juggernaut that would eventually spawn “Must See TV.” A little block where shows like Mad About You, Seinfeld, Will & Grace and a tiny sitcom named Friends (probably my second favorite sitcom) reigned over the airwaves and actually forced people to be home in order to watch. “Must See TV” then led into “Comedy Night Done Right” which showcased hits like 30 Rock, The Office, Parks and Rec, My Name Is Earl and Community. The Cosby Show began the blueprint for NBC with their sitcom programming.

How can the show escape being tainted? In a multitude of ways it’s already suffering from the fallout of Cosby drugging and taking advantage of women without their consent. Can the show’s impact be separated from its creator? You can barely find the show in syndication anymore when it’s been a fixture there ever since around 1998. Major networks and smaller cable outlets have pulled it from their respective schedules and there’s no telling if it will ever end up being picked up again. Can you imagine the show being lost in the passing of time? Honestly, I can.

However it cannot be understated how monumental, powerful and inspiring the show was/is for all families but specifically to families of color. My mother hoped that I would have a family in the image of what the show portrayed on those Thursday nights. Whether my wife was black or not didn’t matter to her but since my kids would at least be mixed she wanted me to be a positive role model for the entire family. She wanted me to be an African-American man who was present in the home. A man, who respected, valued and cared for his wife and children while establishing a bar of excellence, with my wife, for the children to aspire to reach. My mother always pointed that out to us; strong parents, strong parents, strong parents…she drove that home, surely because my father was a waste of organs and bones.

Honestly, I haven’t viewed a single episode since all the women started coming forward in droves and the truth finally came to the light. I hope every single woman who was wronged by Cosby gets some form of justice that they can accept. I’m conflicted on whether I can still watch the show – and I wonder how I’ll feel whenever it is that I decide to sit for an episode.

I’m able to separate the artist from the transgression but said transgression will never dissipate and nor should it. I wonder how my mother would feel about this were she still alive. One thing I do know is Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable would be ashamed of Bill Cosby.

 

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