As we age, many situations and things that were “certainties” of yesteryear are the “uncertainties” of our later times. Early black and whites nearly always are seen through much older eyes in muted shades of gray. Rocks of principle and learned things are – in some cases – no longer firm and unyielding – often a bit skittish and harder to nail down.
Thus it is I’m faced with a story of our recent days – a story of possible multiple cases of sexual abuse and forced submission of women – in which I’m having a hard time applying a lifetime of certainties. And I am, in fact, dealing with five decades of empathy for the accused. Not the accusers.
The accused is Dr. William Henry Cosby Jr. He’s a dozen months younger than me so interest in his career has been a part of my own life 50 years or so. Because his is a type of humor that is a favorite, I’ve followed him from his earliest days in coffeehouses, college campuses and small clubs.
With no sincere apology to media kids who ignorantly label him a “comedian,” he’s not. Nor has he ever been. Cosby is – like Mark Twain or Mort Sahl or Mark Russell or Garrison Keillor – a humorist. He doesn’t tell jokes as comedians do. He’s made a highly successful career of just finding humor in the daily events we all live with. Humor we don’t see.
One of my favorites of this “humor where there is no humor” is a Cosby routine about going to the dentist. “You spend your whole life being told to keep sharp objects out of your mouth,” he says, “And the first thing this guy does is stick a pointy steel spike in there and starts poking things.” Humor where you don’t expect it.
Or, when arguing with a teenage child – definitely no humor there. Right? Except when Cosby says “I brought you into this world and I can take you out!” What exasperated parent wouldn’t chuckle? Finding simple humor.
But there’s nothing funny about Cosby’s life and career now. Now, he stands accused of rape and other sexual charges proffered by a growing list of women he’s alleged to have had contact with over the last 30 or so years. Cosby faces what likely will be career-ending accusations that could – if pursued – become criminal charges meaning jail for the rest of his life.
What the hell happened?
Cosby’s name has been linked to similar situations in the past. Once, he even reportedly paid a cash settlement to someone who had claimed sexual mistreatment at his hands. But now, the list of women coming forward to point to him for alleged past crimes grows weekly.
If you look at the totality of his life, Cos has been nothing if not a voice of reason and accomplishment in a world of racial discord. He developed a love of education and learning mid-life and even got a doctorate in elementary education from the University of Massachusetts.
He undertook hundreds of private efforts to improve classrooms and schools in the Black community. He donated millions and raised millions more to build schools. He criticized and often lectured Black men on their responsibilities to be part of their kid’s lives. He was vilified by some for using his wealth and fame gained in a largely white world for being critical and seemingly judgmental of those in the Black world. He kept it up.
He’s received hundreds of awards and been loudly acclaimed for doing what he’s done – for standing for the family issues he has – for using his own wealth and fame to help millions of others – for “walking the walk.”
But here we are. All he’s done and all he’s stood for could be reduced to ashes blowing in some wind. Good works and leadership in difficult roles mean nothing now. His huge contributions of humor and joy in people’s lives must be put aside. Whether these charges have merit and what to do about them are the only issues to be considered. Must be considered.
Media kids – still trying to learn how to use a toilet without getting their hands wet – are falsely “reporting” no other public performer has ever faced such charges. Of course, they don’t know who Fatty Arbuckle, Errol Flynn, Charlie Chaplin, W.C. Fields, Clark Gable, or Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. were, either. Sexual accusations against public figures are nothing new.
But, for me, the Cosby story IS something new. The charges that keep mounting say there is some fire under the smoke here. The willingness of so many to put themselves and their families under public and official scrutiny do deserve our attention. Cosby’s refusal to confront any of the stories simply amplifies issues being brought up without rebuttal.
The “newness” is, deep inside, I continue to admire the performer I’ve known for 50 years. I continue to chuckle at issues of daily life only Cosby found and shared. Whether Fat Albert or the Huxtable clan or the solitary person in the spotlight in a 50,000 seat arena – Cos has been a favorite.
So now comes the issue. Now I – and millions of others like me – have to separate all of that from the real person that may well become a criminal defendant charged with crimes we all hate.
Damn it, Cos!! DAMN IT!!!