Beyond the fundamental creepiness of the behavior attributed to Bill Cosby by a growing number of women, there are a bunch of creepy aspects to the mess now swirling around the beloved comedian. Of all of them, perhaps the creepiest is that hardly any of it is news. As New York Times
media columnist David Carr notes, "the accusations had already been carefully and thoroughly reported in Philadelphia magazine and elsewhere" at least as early as June 2006, when the Philadelphia
magazine piece, "Dr. Huxtable and Mr. Cosby
," by Robert Huber, appeared.
The matter received little or no attention:
• by Mark Whitaker in his recently published "almost 500-page biography," Cosby: His Life and Times
• by Ta-Nehisi Coates in "a long and seemingly comprehensive article" for The Atlantic
• by Kelefa T. Sanneh in a September New Yorker
• and by Carr himself in a 2011 Q-and-A for United Airlines' in-flight magazine, Hemispheres
. Hence the title of Carr's column today, "Calling Out Bill Cosby's Media Enablers, Including Myself
"We all have our excuses," says Carr, "but in ignoring these claims, we let down the women who were brave enough to speak out publicly against a powerful entertainer."
Ta-Nehisi Coates, he notes, "recently expressed regret
on The Atlantic website"
that he did not press harder on Mr. Cosby’s conflicted past. In the course of his reporting, he said he came to the conclusion that “Bill Cosby was a rapist.”
He added: “I regret not saying what I thought of the accusations, and then pursuing those thoughts. I regret it because the lack of pursuit puts me in league with people who either looked away, or did not look hard enough.”
And in the wake of the appearance of the Carr column, the Hollywood Reporter notes
, biographer Mark Whitaker "admits he was wrong to not mention any of the sexual abuse allegations against Bill Cosby," declaring in a tweet: "David, you are right. I was wrong to not deal with the sexual assault charges against Cosby and pursue them more aggressively."
As for his own case, Carr owns that he "read the Philadelphia magazine article when it was published," but "knew when the editors of the airline magazine called that they would have no interest in pursuing those accusations in a short interview in a magazine meant to occupy fliers."
My job as a journalist was to turn down that assignment. If I was not going to do the work to tell the truth about the guy, I should not have let him prattle on about his new book at the time.
But I did not turn it down. I did the interview and took the money.
He says, though, that he "paid for that in other ways," but in this case we're the beneficiaries, because he provides us with this vivid picture of what it can mean to be a certified media icon:
The interview was deeply unpleasant, with a windy, obstreperous subject who answered almost every question in 15-minute soliloquies, many of which were not particularly useful.
After an hour of this, I mentioned that the interview was turning out to be all A. and no Q. He paused, finally.
“Young man, are you interested in hearing what I have to say or not?” he said. “If not, we can end this interview right now.”
Mr. Cosby was not interested in being questioned, in being challenged in any way. By this point in his career, he was surrounded by ferocious lawyers and stalwart enablers and he felt it was beneath him to submit to the queries of mere mortals.
He was certain of his own certainty and had very little time for the opinions of others. Mr. Cosby, as all of those who did profiles on him have pointed out, was never just an entertainer, but a signal tower of moral rectitude.
Which brings us to another creepy aspect of the Cosby mess: the now-clear gap between our image of The Cos and this not-so-newly-revealed image.
From the beginning, part of his franchise was built on family values, first dramatized in “The Cosby Show” and then in his calling out the profane approach of younger comics and indicting the dress and manner of young black Americans.
Beyond selling Jell-O, Mr. Cosby was selling a version of America where all people are responsible for their own lot in life.
He seldom addressed bigotry and racism. Instead, he exhorted individuals to install their own bootstraps and pull themselves into success. And while they were at it, they should pull up their pants and quit sagging, a fashion trope Mr. Cosby found inexcusable.
Carr notes that this theme found more favor with white audiences than with black ones. "A generation of black comics who revered other pioneers like Richard Pryor," he writes, "found Mr. Cosby’s lectures tired and misplaced."
"In the end, " he says, "it fell to a comic, not an investigative reporter or biographer, to speak truth to entertainment power, to take on the Natural Order of Things," and he quotes from the October 16 Philadelphia stand-up performance by comedian Hannibal Buress
, in which he decried The Cos's "smuggest old black man public persona that I hate. Pull your pants up, black people. I was on TV in the '80s. I can talk down to you because I had a successful sitcom." And: "Yeah, but you raped women, Bill Cosby. So, brings you down a couple notches."
I'm not entirely sure, though, that this entirely qualifies as "speaking truth to entertainment power." Yes, the revelation of The Cos's massive hypocrisy brings The Cos down a couple of notches. However, I don't see how it raises Hannibal Buress -- or any of the targets of The Cos's scorn -- the littlest fraction of a notch. A guy who refers to The Cosby Show
as '[being] on TV in the '80s" sounds to me awfully like a screeching imbecile.
Of course The Cosby Show
, for all its sustained brilliance over eight blockbuster seasons (being "on TV in the '80s," indeed), is now pretty much lost to us. As David Carr notes, TVLand has already yanked its reruns from the schedule. Washingtonpost.com's Alexandra Petri made a valiant effort the other day
to see whether perhaps the person of Bill Cosby might somehow be separable from the show -- as are, after all, so many luminous creations produced by and/or with fairly creepy people. In this case, though, the contradiction between Dr. Huxtable and Mr. Cosby seems to me too fundamental to bridge.
One final note on creepiness, though a lighter one (I think). In an AOL.com piece, Ryan Gorman notes
Model Jewel Allison told the New York Daily News that Cosby drugged and forced her to touch his genitals during a dinner. Female staffers with CBS' "Late Show with David Letterman" said he forced them to watch him eat curry before every appearance.
Cosby's latest appearance on the show was canceled amid the torrent of rape claims being made against him, and Letterman's staffers expressed relief at not having to go through the "hated" pre-show ritual with the accused pervert.
Forced to watch the man eat curry? Oh, the horror!
Labels: Hypocrisy, violence against women