On Bill Cosby And Living Through The Gray

Matt Archer/Getty Images
Matt Archer/Getty Images

My favorite episode of The Cosby Show begins innocently enough. Claire Huxtable walks in the house from a long day’s work, kicks off her shoes and falls into the arms of her doting husband, hoping to slumber. Rudy refuses to let her parents rest, though. She traipses down the stairs with a story to tell, a fairy tale she’s penned.

Advertisement

It’s a clumsy, but simple story. That’s why it resonated with me so much when it first aired. I was 8. My life was simple. There was good and bad. Right and wrong. Black and white. No gray area.

In the episode, there were good and evil people, including a henchman portrayed by Heathcliff Huxtable. The evil people show up in the good people’s town and take over. After some rancor in the good people’s land, Rudy’s character, The Flower Girl, tells the evil people to “stop.” This was her story.

The episode cuts to the Huxtables asking their daughter what happens next. Surely there had to be turmoil, they thought. Rudy says “they all stopped.” She explains that The Flower Girl told them to stop, so they stopped.


There are currently 17 women who have accused Bill Cosby of sexually assaulting them. That number is damning.

For argument’s sake, and to pacify people who believe Cosby is innocent of each of these crimes, let’s say that the likelihood of a woman lying about rape is 50 percent. This would also mean there’s a 50-percent chance that each woman is telling the truth. A coin flip.

Flip a coin 17 times and it will land all heads (all lies) roughly .0000076 percent of the time. That’s almost never. The probability it will land on tails at least once (at minimum, one truth) is 99.99999237 percent. DNA results are not this conclusive, and, remember, this projection is based on a coin flip. Not a collection of almost 20 women telling the exact same story.

Advertisement

In American terms: it’s like asking a baseball team down 7-4 in the bottom of the eighth inning to come back and win given the same situation…17 times in a row. It never happens.

It’s damning.

Yet, a crowd exists that refuses to believe these women are telling the truth. Their narrative, and Cosby's, paints him as a victim of his celebrity, the women attempting to extort him for his hard-earned fortune. Their queries are common to rape culture:

Why not come forward when it happened?

Why not use a method to prevent your sexual assault?

Surely they just want his money.

Why has no court convicted him of any wrongdoing?

It’s a concoctive mix of irrational fear, branding and bullshit attempting to cloak Cosby in a Teflon coat because no one wants to believe that Bill Cosby, a deified figure in modern American culture, is a serial rapist.

Advertisement

When the allegations first came to light in 2005, I didn’t want to believe it. I refused to let the reported rumors linger in my thoughts. Not because I didn’t believe it, but because I didn’t want to believe it.

Thirteen women were willing to say in a courtroom that one man had raped them. But once Cosby settled out of court with the litigant, the story dissipated. Assuaged, most everyone seemed to look away. Cosby’s brand, America’s best father figure and a mythical pillar of our society, trumped all.

Advertisement

It trumped all until comedian Hannibal Buress told Cosby that he needed to stop in mid-October. More pointedly, Buress said that a rapist had no right to moralize to poor black people through the failing guise of respectability politics, including not cursing.

“But yeah, you’re a rapist so we’d take you saying lots of motherfuckers on Bill Cosby Himself if you weren’t a rapist” said Buress in a blunt punchline from a Philadelphia stage. It drew laughs, some of them clearly uncomfortable. But it was also a truth: No one wants an alleged serial rapist moralizing to anyone about anything. A concertgoer taped Buress’ bit and uploaded it to the Internet. It went viral. There had been other pieces and stories about the allegation's facing Cosby — years worth of them, actually — but Buress' act served as a bit of a tipping point.

Advertisement

Since then, some of the 13 accusers, who remained anonymous, have come forward with their stories.

Those of us who have long seen Cosby as an idyllic, transcendent figure and comedic savant, are forced to reconcile what we thought we knew with what is obvious:

Bill Cosby is not Heathcliff Huxtable. He never was. Huxtable’s only true transgression from 1984 to 1992 appeared to be his love of foods that might send him to an early grave.

Advertisement

Bill Cosby — a complex, talented and flawed man — happened to play the role of America’s most affable television father, so well that we thought Cosby was playing himself. He apparently is a much better actor than we've given him credit for.


Rudy Huxtable, the author, grows even more ambitious in those seconds after reading her story.

Advertisement

She tells her parents that she plans to be “president of the world,” continuing on a missive about achieving world peace. Rudy wants everyone to throw their bombs and guns in the ocean. Her plan is simple: She gonna tell them all to “stop.”

It worked in her story. Why not now?

A sated Rudy leaves her parents, who turn on the television to news of terrorist actions somewhere in the world. The message couldn’t have been clearer to me at 8 years old. There was no grey area. Just black and white.

Advertisement

For a long time, that’s how we saw Cosby — as a white knight, a pillar of good, the doting husband and father on the couch in that Brooklyn brownstone, his arms around his loving wife. Now we see him on the opposite end of a confounding spectrum of gray space.

How do you reconcile the idea of a person held in such esteem, a brand really, with…unfailing allegations of sexual assault? How do you watch his brilliant stand-up comedy without this in mind? Hell, how do you watch reruns of The Cosby Show or A Different World? Should you?

Advertisement

For me, these are complicated issues. I realize that Cosby made great contributions to our culture, but he also likely committed horrific crimes against women. I, personally, can still appreciate the art — evident in my favorite episode — for what it is. I can separate Cosby from it. But I can also understand anyone whose moral compass won’t allow them to do so.

It’s an individual’s choice, one nowhere near approximating the one Cosby, considering his alleged methods and actions through the years, took from so many women.

Advertisement

Damon Smith is a freelance writer based out of Kansas City

DISCUSSION

iluminati
Todd

I remember when I read the original allegations in the 2007 time frame that Bill Cosby was much like Marvin Harrison, the former All-Pro wide receiver who bodied someone on a Philly street but got away with it because no one was willing to talk in court. Shady as the reports were back then, no one was willing to go on the record or go to court about it. The few people who went to court got their checks, shut up and moved on. I was disturbed, but the lack of women speaking out combined with his then-low profile in the public eye allowed me to move on.

Ever since Champ put out that infamous blog about r*pe, I've made a point to educate myself so that I could discuss it with actual facts and come up with possible solutions to what is rightly a touchy subject. One of the things that has struck me is how r*pists not only groom victims but entire environments. R*pe culture is definitely real and creates the potential for grooming. However, it's interesting to me how time and again, serial r*pists make a point of either selecting for people who won't ask questions to be around them or convincing the world of how pure their motives are. It's forced me to question how I deal with dudes so I don't become the next useful idiot.

Taking this back to Bill Cosby, think about how much his squeaky clean image was as much as a weapon as those drugs he was handing out. Until Hannibal Burress came at the king and didn't miss, how many people out there would have connected Bill Cosby to drugs, period, not to mention knocking them out and him using chicks like they were nothing but life support systems for Fleshlights? He fooled the heck out of a lot of people. If that doesn't scare you nothing will.

Still, Cosby's body of work speaks for itself. In between all those r*pes, he was a groundbreaking actor and probably made the most important TV shows of all time. His work is his work. Maybe he can use his fortune to help women somehow as much as he hurt him. I'm not sure, but it's clearly RIP to his career…and deservedly so.