In an old shoebox in my aunt's house, sits a collection of VHS tapes that were once Christmas gifts for my grandmother. If you traveled in your time machine to find a VCR, you could pop one of these tapes in to find me and my mother along with all my aunts and cousins, lip syncing to various Christmas carols and a random mix of non-holiday songs. It was my grandmother's favorite gift. We started making these videos because of The Cosby Show.
Once a season, the fictional Huxtable clan would decend their home's staircase while belting out Motown classics, lip sync-style. These episodes were not just a favorite of my grandmother, but of viewers across the country who tuned in each week to laugh and learn along with the cast of The Cosby Show. As one of those viewers, I watched the Huxtable kids struggle with difficult topics and marveled at the loving and honest way their television parents advised them. Even at a young age, those epsiodes made me think about how I might speak to my children one day.
This is how the lines of fantasy and reality start to blur: you watch people recite well-crafted lines and portray idyllic traits of a make belive character and forget that they are different people in real life. But Bill Cosby had us believing he was living a real life close to that of the beloved Cliff Huxtable. We thought he was one of the good guys. As more information is revealed in the sexual assault cases involving Bill Cosby, I find myself experiencing a slew of emotions. I keep coming back to the question, What do you do when you discover a hero is really a monster?
Disbelief was my first reaction. How could the man who made me beg my mom to buy Pudding Pops, be capable of drugging and assaulting women? Upon first learning these truths, I was disillusioned. It seemed unjust that Cosby could do such a stellar job of stringing us along for all these years. I wondered how someone's professional and private lives could be so dichotomous.
Then I remembered how many times Hollywood has told us this same story. Arnold Schwartzeneggar, John Travolta, Pee Wee Herman, Miley Cyrus, Stephen Collins – they were all pulled in two directions by their double lives, until the tension split them open and the truth poured out. We wanted them to be someone they were not; they didn't hold up their end of the deal. Our initial reaction is to reject that we could have been fooled.
After my disbelief passed, sadness and anger set in. I felt sad for the women who – like the rest of us – trusted Cosby. Many of these women have been carrying a heavy load for decades. I hope they can find some peace in finally being able to set that load down. I also felt angry for all the good work Cosby did in public that is now tarnished by his actions in private. The Cosby Show broke many racial barriers for the portrayal of Black American families on television. Cosby's stand-up was notably clean and often times focused on parenting. Cosby's Fat Albert cartoon showcased a group of teens trying to overcome the daily obstacles of inner city life. It is hard for me to see the sincerity in these accomplishments when I have other context for the doer of these deeds. It's like discovering The Great and Powerful Oz is just a small man with tricks up his sleeve; but instead of hiding behind a curtain, Cosby hid behind a Quaalude.
The more I read about what happened to these woman at the hand of Bill Cosby, the more emotions I experience. Maybe as more truths are revealed, I can start to make sense of why a man I admired had a terrible secret. Or maybe I will never understand what inner demons ruled Cosby's private world. Either way, it's time to start moving on. I questioned if I would allow my children to watch syndicated episodes of The Cosby Show, but it looks like that may not be an issue. Networks such as BET and Bounce TV have ceased re-running any of the 202 episodes they own. But I wonder if, once the attention burns off Cosby, we will slacken into a state of forgetting. Will we put our faith in celebrities and fictional characters, only to be disappointed again? Or will we all move on in the direction of change? My hope is for some good to rear its head in the mist of these tragic assualts. Let us stop expecting celebrities to be our heroes and start to become heroes ourselves.